One of the primary responsibilities of the Bishop and the Appointive Cabinet (the District Superintendents, Director of Connectional Ministries and Director of Congregational Development) is to make pastoral assignments to provide the most effective leadership for the church. Although most pastoral transitions occur in June each year, pastoral transitions can occur throughout the year.
Whenever appointments are under consideration, the Cabinet tries to follow a standard operating procedure for researching the strengths and the needs of the church, the strengths and the needs of the pastor, and the impact that making a change will have on the larger picture of providing effective clergy leadership for the annual conference.
Here is a look inside the process of how a pastoral appointment is made.
Long before a decision is ever made to make a pastoral change, the District Superintendents (hereafter referred to as DS’s or the DS for the singular reference) survey the churches in their district trying to determine how things are going. The first means available to do this is through observing the Benchmarks. Since moving to weekly monitoring of these vital statistics of a local church, DS’s review these numbers by noon on Wednesday of each week. The most immediate indicator of what is going on is the trend in worship attendance but other important indicators of vitality are the number of baptisms, the number of new members, and especially the number of those new members who are joining through profession of faith. Not only are the actual numbers important to analyze, but you can tell a lot about a church if they consistently fail to register their benchmarks!
A second evaluative tool is a church’s Natural Church Development (NCD) score. Since 2005, the North Alabama Conference has had the benefit of being able to measure a church’s healthfulness and to monitor its progress as it works through ongoing cycles of the NCD process. Understanding a church’s greatest barrier to growth (referred to as the Minimum Factor) and its strength for growth (referred to as the Maximum Factor) gives a DS the insight needed to determine if the current pastoral leadership is capable of leading a church to greater healthfulness. When you couple this evaluation of the church with a Strengths-Finder assessment of the pastor you begin to see possibilities as well as the challenges that are present with the leadership as it is.
Of course, one of the greatest ways to assess the health and the well-being of a church is through direct observation as DS’s engage with the church through visits, through interaction via email, phone calls, or at training events. Many pastors and laity also serve together with the DS in various contexts. It’s important to note that the Bishop and your DS engage with you and your congregation through regular prayer for pastors and churches, listening for God to speak to them through the Holy Spirit offering guidance and direction as well.
Most of the time this monitoring by the DS results in no change in pastoral leadership; however, when the Bishop or the Cabinet initiates a pastoral transition it is usually in response to several of the factors listed above.
By far, the most common reason for a pastoral transition is a direct request from the pastor or from the congregation. Generally, a DS is made aware through a pastor or a chairperson of the Pastor-Parish or Staff-Parish Relations Committee (hereafter referred to as the PPRC) that there is a need for a pastoral transition. For moves made in June, this contact is generally initiated in January or February of the year.
Sometimes pastors initiate a move because they feel they have accomplished something significant and they are ready to move on while at other times they request a move because they feel like they have reached an impasse in the congregation. The accomplishment may represent what the pastor feels is the limits of what he/she can do with the given resources and opportunities available in that congregation while the impasse may be manifested in a variety of ways including chronic conflict or persistent anxiety in the congregation. Just because a pastor requests a move does not mean that a move is automatic. The DS may choose to keep a pastor in place and assist them in working through a situation to greater effectiveness while at other times the DS may determine that a move is in the best interest of both the pastor and the congregation.
A congregation may only appropriately request a pastoral transition through its PPRC who represents the congregation to the DS. It is never appropriate for an individual member of a congregation or even a leader in the congregation who is not the chairperson of the PPRC to independently contact the DS requesting that a pastor be moved or insisting that a pastor stay.
Congregations may initiate a move when they have determined that the current pastoral leadership is unable to lead the congregation in mission and ministry. This could be the result of the changing needs in the congregation and in the community and the gifts and abilities of the current pastor not lining up with the needs. Again, a request by a PPRC for a pastoral transition is not automatic. Your DS will carefully evaluate what is in the best interest of both the congregation and the pastor and represent to the Cabinet their understanding of what should be done.
In the event that a DS determines that a move is in order, either through the DS’s own assessment of the situation, the request of a pastor, or the request of a PPRC, the DS notifies the remainder of the Cabinet that a pastoral transition is anticipated for your congregation. After a series of steps are taken, a master list of all the potential moves is compiled and presented to the Cabinet for consideration.
It is the responsibility of a pastor who requests a move to relay this information to the PPRC. It is most helpful if the pastor shares honestly and openly with the PPRC so that the PPRC understands that the move is being initiated by the pastor. It is the responsibility of the PPRC that requests a pastoral move to relay this information to the pastor. Again, it is most helpful if the PPRC shares honestly and opening with the pastor about the reasons for requesting a change. It is the responsibility of the DS to consult with the PPRC of a congregation and with the pastor if the DS is initiating the move and to inform them of the reasons why the DS feels this is necessary.
The process of discussing the possibility of a pastoral transition is known as “consultation” and is specifically called for in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: 2008 and the entire process is outlined in ¶430-¶435. It is important to note that even with consultation that the PPRC’s role is advisory to the Bishop and Cabinet and it does not have the authority to determine their own pastoral appointment. This is also true of pastors who, through the benefit of consultation, offer their perspective but who do not have the authority to reject a particular appointment by the Presiding Bishop.
In the North Alabama Conference once it has been determined that a pastor may be up for a move, the first step is for the pastor to prepare a DVD of a sermon preached in an actual worship service to be presented to their DS and to the Bishop. The Bishop will not appoint someone who has not presented a sermon for review.
The next step in the consultation process is for the pastor to meet with a Triad Interview Team in late January or February. A Triad Interview Team consists of three members of the Appointive Cabinet who serve in other districts and who then conduct an interview of the pastor while the pastor’s DS observes the process without input. Generally, the pastor has previously been asked to respond in writing to a brief series of questions about his/her ministry and his/her congregation and the reasons why a move is being considered. The responses are distributed to the Triad Interview Team members prior to the consultation so that they can prepare further questions for clarification and insight to ask at the interview. A pastor’s spouse is welcome to participate in the Triad consultation.
One of the reasons that the Cabinet decided to engage in Triad consultations is so that each pastor has at least four members of the Cabinet who have spent time with him/her and who have been given the opportunity to understand the dynamics related to the anticipated move—both to provide the best opportunity for the pastor to utilize his/her strengths in a new appointment, but also to understand the needs of the pastor’s current congregation to assist in finding the right pastor to follow in their appointment.
The Cabinet is continually working at ways to improve this process of consultation and so each year it has been improved in an effort to eliminate weaknesses of the process and maximize the strengths of this new way of doing things.
Once the master list of moves has been compiled and the Triad consultations have taken place, Bishop Willimon encourages the DS’s to begin to talk openly with one another about possible appointments and to begin to try to piece together the complex network of inter-related parts known as pastoral appointments. Of course, through the Triad consultations, a host of factors have been introduced that include special needs of a pastor’s family, unique congregational situations requiring a specific type of leadership and skills, varied levels of pastoral leadership available for appointment, the balance between appointments coming open due to the number of anticipated retirements and the number of people who will be approved for ministry and in need of an appointment, and other complicating factors.
When the Cabinet meets together for the First Round of Appointments, there has already been much discussion between DS’s and several potential lines of appointments have been shared just to “try them on for size” and to see all the implications of these projections. In spite of all the leg work, when the Cabinet finally is faced with the task of coming out of two to three days of meeting with a list of appointments, the task is daunting and often heart-wrenching because although the goal is to make perfect appointments, in the end there always has to be some compromises and these compromises impact pastors and churches.
The overarching goal of making pastoral assignments is to make a series of appointments that maximizes the leadership capability of the pastors who are up for a move while providing the best possible leadership for those congregations who will be receiving a new pastor.
Unfortunately, there are times where there seems to be a missing piece and no matter how much tweak and shift, it’s obvious that the Cabinet is going to have to “open up” an appointment. Opening up an appointment usually involves having to contact a pastor and his/her congregation and bring them into consideration for a move when there were no other factors that indicated a move was necessary. On the surface, opening up an appointment sounds like the move might be detrimental to the pastor or to the congregation; however, by adding this pastor and congregation into the equation the Cabinet is often able to maximize the pastor and congregation for greater effectiveness and ministry.
For every pastor who is moving, a one-page information sheet is prepared that contains the following information:
Whenever someone is being discussed or a church is being talked about, the Cabinet members have at hand empirical data to review and discuss. Pastors need to understand that when their appointment is being discussed one of the pieces of information that is readily available is the pastor’s leadership in regard to connectional giving. Many pastors have missed opportunities because of their poor record of leading churches in that uniquely Wesleyan concept of shared ministry.
A visual process has been devised to ensure that all the Cabinet members are working with the same information as pertinent information is projected on a screen. Each appointment is discussed at length and all the factors are reviewed. After each Cabinet member has offered input, the Bishop asks if the Cabinet is ready to “pencil in” that appointment. It can only be “penciled in” because as each appointment is discussed and evaluated, it may be necessary to re-visit a previous tentative decision and reconsider another option.
For at least the past two years, the Cabinet has been faced with the dilemma of having more Elders to appoint than there are churches that are open for an appointment. This is partly due to the lower number of retirements but it’s also due to the increasing pressure that churches are facing to provide a full-time pastor’s salary.
The total minimum financial obligation for having a full-time pastoral position filled by an Elder/Deacon or a Probationary Elder/Deacon is right at $70,000 including salary and benefits. Lovett Weems of Wesley Theological Seminary says that a church must average 125 adults in worship to sustain the ability to fund a full-time pastor’s salary, an adequate program for growth, an appropriate mission program, maintaining its facility, and to participate fully in connectional giving.
More churches are responding to this financial pressure by moving from full-time to part-time pastoral appointments. Each time a church does this, unless there are fewer full-time pastors to appoint, another full-time appointment has to open up or be created.
When the Cabinet adjourns from making the appointments each DS is charged with reporting to the pastors and PPRC chairpersons in their districts on the proposed appointments. The pastors and the PPRC chairpersons are given an opportunity to offer further input but unless there are serious mitigating circumstances the proposed appointments are upheld. Once pastors and PPRC chairpersons are notified, a date is set for an announcement to be made on a Sunday to the congregation, followed by a posting of the appointments-to-date on the North Alabama Conference website.
As part of a pastoral transition, all pastors who are moving are required to attend a First 90 Days Training Event to help them prepare for the transition and to learn how to develop a plan for entering their new appointment. Lay Leadership in churches that are receiving pastors are also invited to attend an event called “Getting Off to a Good Start: The First 90 Days for Local Church Leaders.” This training is designed to facilitate dialogue and partnership between the new pastor and their church. The outcome for pastors is having a written plan in place that they submit to their DS who reviews it and monitors the implementation of the 90 Day plan. Part of this plan is shared with the leadership in the local church through a series of conversations held over the initial 90 day period. This training is led by staff from Connectional Ministries, United Methodist Pastoral Care and Counseling, Stewardship Resources, and some additional laity from local churches.
Moving is always a stressful time for pastors and it can be stressful for congregations, too. The conference insurance program offers assistance for pastors and pastors’ families through United Methodist Pastoral Care and Counseling and when facing a move, many people have found this to be a useful benefit. Congregations can also benefit from many of the consultation tools available through your district or through Connectional Ministries to assist in dealing more effectively with a season of transition.
The system of clergy deployment in the United Methodist Church is certainly unique and with its uniqueness comes misunderstanding—especially for those who are not familiar with a deployment system that “sends” clergy instead of a system of deployment where clergy are “called” by an independent congregation. United Methodist pastors, by virtue of being licensed or ordained, have committed to the itinerancy system whereby all clergy are appointed by the Bishop to serve faithfully wherever they are sent. Congregations are also bound to this system of clergy deployment as a means of being in ministry together, not as a system of independent churches, but as one church, the United Methodist Church, serving in many locations.
If your church is experiencing a pastoral transition this year or if you are a pastor who is moving, God is giving you another chance to demonstrate once again your faithfulness to the Kingdom of God as you dream of the possibilities that lie ahead and move forward with faith, believing that your best days are yet to come. That’s the United Methodist way!
Feedback and comments are welcomed.