How do clergy appointments get made?
June 19, 2013 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church gives the responsibility for appointment-making to the bishop and district superintendents of the Annual Conference. While appointment-making is a task that happens year-round, the majority of appointments are made during the months of January through May, and then “fixed” at the Session of Annual Conference.
The rhythm of making an appointment seems to be a mystery to some; and some pretty creative, if incorrect, ideas get shared about how appointments are made. Our hope is to lessen some of that mystery by sharing the foundational process used each and every time.
The Cabinet of the Upper New York Annual Conference began this appointment-making season with an intensive three-day retreat in December, where members attempted to look at the big picture, establish priorities for appointment-making and develop guiding principles.
At the foundation of the appointment-making task is clarity regarding priorities for deploying clergy leadership. As we move through this appointment season, we have established the following priorities that guide our discussions, discernment and decisions.
- Prayer and God’s Agenda – This entire process is bathed in prayer seeking God’s desire for our life together as brothers and sisters in Christ and the ministry of congregations in the Upper New York Annual Conference.
- The Mission Field – What are the needs of the community surrounding the local congregation? How can we better equip the local church to engage the community in ministry?
- The Local Church – What is the current reality of this congregation? What strengths for ministry do they currently demonstrate, and what are the areas of ministry that need to be developed? What kind of pastoral leadership will assist the congregation to fruitfully and effectively live the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in the days ahead? Who is God calling to be the next pastor?
- The Pastor – What are the gifts the pastor brings? How will this pastor help this congregation continue living the mission and move to the next level in their ministry to the community? How does this potential appointment fit within the personal needs/desires of the pastor?
These priorities help us to stay focused on the main thing, which is the mission of the church and equipping the church to more effectively and fruitfully live that mission. These priorities remind us that appointment-making must be responsive – and not reactive – as the church continues to seek transformation and vitality.
While the deployment of clergy is a major part of the appointment-making process, the conversation and discernment process does not start with the needs of the pastor. The process begins with the opportunities in the mission field; the strengths, potential and needs of the local congregation SO THAT they can engage the mission field. It then moves to the giftedness needed in the pastoral leader. These guiding principles and priorities cause us to move away from a “seniority-” and “status-based” approach to appointments toward an approach that always has a goal of focusing on “gifts” and “effectiveness.”
In the midst of the priorities and guiding principles established by the Cabinet to accomplish the work of appointment-making remains the consultation process that occurs among superintendents, committees on Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations and pastors. The information shared through church and clergy profiles as well as on-going conversation with the district superintendent are critical to the work that is done by the Cabinet.
When we actually begin making appointments, we consider full-time appointments first, then work on less than full times.
As a potential appointment is discussed by the Cabinet, we begin with the understandings and needs shared through the consultation process. A common question is: What are the gifts needed in the next pastor to assist this congregation for the future? After conversation, the Cabinet enters into a time of prayer. At the conclusion of that prayer time, names of pastors that the Holy Spirit has brought to our minds and hearts are shared and added to a list of potential pastors for that specific congregation.
Each person is then discussed asking two primary questions – “Why would this pastor fit here?” and “Why wouldn’t this pastor work here?” Potential designations are made, and then the Cabinet leaves the discussion of that congregation.
At the end of the Cabinet meeting, we revisit those potential designations, and a final prayerful discernment is made – or we acknowledge that we do not yet have the right person, and commit to returning to the conversation at the next Cabinet meeting.
Once a designation has been made, the discernment process continues engaging the designated pastor and Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee in conversation to assure the sense of God’s call.
Finally, the Cabinet seeks to provide ongoing support for both churches and pastors when new appointments are made.
One of the challenges we must continue to wrestle with is that United Methodist pastors are itinerant in a time when the practice and reality of itinerancy is being tested and examined in new ways. Our commitment as a Cabinet is to honor our call as United Methodists to be fully itinerant, yet also be willing to engage in conversation that provides space regarding 21st-century realities.
The reality is that our appointment-making process is never perfect. We acknowledge that 13 humans are involved, and while we deeply desire to seek God’s will, there are times that we do not get it right. However, the great truth we celebrate is how often God indeed works in, through and in spite of the process, and effective ministry and mission continue and begin among congregations and pastors. To that we say, “To God be the Glory.”
As the Cabinet continues the appointment-making work this season, we covet your prayers, not only for us but for the congregations and pastors that are responding to the direction of God for their future. May we, together, be found faithful for the work of equipping congregations and leaders for the accomplishment of the mission and for truly living our vision in Upper New York of “living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being God’s love with our neighbors in all places.”