Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Appointments, Itineracy, and Young Adults: I Disagree!

I promise I didn't write my previous post just to set the stage for this one, but nonetheless, the timing seems a bit fortuitous. The latest edition (April 4, 2008) of the United Methodist Reporter discusses three pretty big issues, and I have points of disagreement with all three.

And so, fellow United Methodists, I love you, and I disagree with you, too.

(Numbers in parentheses are paragraph numbers in the 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline.)

First issue = The guaranteed appointment.
Firstly, way to go Dennis Harper for making the front page picture! (And that's the top of my grandfather's head in the middle there, too.) Kudos to Missouri AC for the front page publicity!

Secondly, I disagree with the initial premise: that clergy are guaranteed appointments. We are in covenant with each other, and "every effective elder in full connection who is in good standing shall be continued under appointment by the bishop" (334.1) because we have promised to "offer [ourself] without reserve to be appointed and to serve as the appointive authority may determine" (335). This is a relationship centered on trust and covenantal love, and as such all of those invovled offer something - clergy will go where we are sent, the conference will send us somewhere.

Thirdly, there is already language in place that addresses the concerns that some have expressed. Clergy are to be appointed unless, among other things, we "have failed to meet the requirements for continued eligibility" (337.1). And those requirements include "growth in vocational competence and effectiveness through continuing formation" (334.2.b). Seems to me that addresses the major concern, namely that incompetent and ineffective pastors continue to be appointed, with no check or accountability from teh conference. Continued growth vocationally is already a part of the covenant relationship of the clergy, and if that part of the covenant is not being met, the language is in place already for addressing that. Dare I say: Bishops, take thou authority! Claim that language and act on it before more Disciplinary tinkering.

There is no need to add more bureaucracy to an already top-heavy system.

Second issue = The future of the itineracy
The itineracy is an imperfect structure, created by imperfect people, and it definitely doesn't work for everybody.

With that said, my disagreement with those who call for a drastic change in the itineracy is that their points of conflict with the current system are mostly mythical. My position is that the itineracy HAS changed, and is always changing, and will change organically and naturally, without any need to foist upon it yet another decree from "up top."

Myth 1, the big secret:
My great-grandfather used to pack up his belongings in order to travel to Annual Conference, not knowing if he would be returning to the same charge or moving on. Today, my name has been posted on the Missouri Conference website since March 24th, announcing my upcoming move to my new appointment. One of the biggest changes is the openness of the process.

Myth 2, a rigid hierarchy:
Here in Kansas City, we are celebrating a ministry that has lasted for decades as Emmanuel Cleaver III is transitioning out of the lead pastor role at St. James UMC. (Did I mention it lasted for decades?) Nearby, pastors at UM churches such as Woods Chapel and Church of the Resurrection have been appointed for extraordarily long periods of time. My point being, the itineracy is already fluid and flexible, and there are exceptions to how it happens everywhere you look.

Myth 3, no choice:
This very year, one of my colleagues and friends was offered an appointment, visited the place, and then politely and firmly said "No thank you." And that request was honored. When I was first discussing my new appointment, I was given time to pray, discern, and talk with my wife about the move, having recieved permission to say no if I felt like it. While I was in seminary, a fellow student met with a Staff/Parish Committee about a possible appointment, and the SPRC told the Superintendent that it wasn't going to work out, and the person was appointed somewhere else.

The itineracy is changing, and that change is emerging from the real lives of the people invovled in the covenant relationship among clergy, conference, and congregations. There is no need to enact denominational legislation from above when it is already happening from below. There are horror stories, I know - but those stories are mostly about people in power who are abusing that power, not about the system iteself.

Third issue = Young Adult Clergy
AGAIN with the young clergy issue! "Come and save us, under 35 year olds!"
"Look, up in the sky - it's a bird, it's a plane! NO! It is a young clergy person! Hooray, the day is saved!"

OK, out of my system.

I love and respect Lovett Weems, and I disagree with his premise that age is an automatic qualifier for being "adept at reaching emerging generations." I flat out disagree that an arbitrarily chosen age, in this case 35, makes somebody "closer to culture, to the life experience of young persons." One problem with that assumption is that people get older. I'm turning 37 on Saturday, and so I'm out of the category - automatically less adept at reaching young people, automatically more distant from culture (whose culture, by the way?), automatically unable to appreciate the life experience of someone in their 20s.

And the flipside of that: when I was in my 20s, I was as out of touch with the "Pop Culture" scene as it was possible for someone to be. I was a choir director, for goodness's sake, directing a traditional church choir, putting together orchestras and choruses to perform masterworks of classical music, singing with a professional chamber choir, performing in community theaters ... listing to NPR!

Dr. Weems (whom I love and respect, as previously mentioned) said that young clergy bring "energy, vision, vitality that's always needed from young leadership in any organization." Why is the word "young" in that sentence? Is that not what is needed from ALL leadership, no matter how old they might be?


If you have read this post and made it to this point, congratulations! I know this post has been kind of long and wordy, but I read my Reporter yesterday and got all worked up, so I needed this outlet. Others have, too - my brother Brad and my friend Erika have posted on these issues.

I hope that you will comment if you want to, and please feel free to disagree - I know I have!


RevErikaG said...

A couple of thoughts to your thoughts-- I do agree with you that there are plenty of people over 35 that can reach persons under 35. In fact, you and I have talked about my concerns that I've met Y.A. clergy who seem closer to 80 than their actual age! But I still think it is important for us to look at how the lack of young people going into ministry is a symptom of the need for deeper, adaptive change in our system...
As for guaranteed appointments and itinerancy-- While your points are valid and important (the itinerancy issue was big when I visited KC a couple of months ago...wrestling with the long-term appointments you raised... I also know that again, they are symptomatic of deeper issues. Sure, the Discipline has some great wording about things, and the system has loosened up a bit. But I also know that it is very difficult to remove ineffective pastors gracefully and quickly. I also know that to do that hard work takes courage and leadership....
All of which is to say, our system is imperfect...and could certainly use some work!

Anonymous said...

And the flipside of that: when I was in my 20s, I was as out of touch with the "Pop Culture" scene as it was possible for someone to be.

LOL, I resembled this comment!

Congrats on your new appointment, and Happy Birthday!


Off topic:
I owe you a response regarding immigration from a while back, but too much life and too little time; perhaps I can send you an e-mail or post in the future regarding the topic.

Adam said...

To me, it seems like the UMC and young clergy is akin to an ugly, smelly dude always attributing his high standards for why he never gets a date.

I can speak from experience here- in being a somewhat smelly dude, at one point involved in the candidacy (sp?) process, and being the son of an elder and former DS.

To me, ordination in the United Methodist Church is right out. First off, you're not even given the opportunity to Pastor until you're pushing 30, and thats assuming you go straight through from undergrad to seminary. It's been my experience that when you're young is when you're crazy enough to take big risks, because you're still naive and idealistic enough to take those risks!

Secondly, I don't want to have a room full of disconnected people decide where my family is going to live, and I don't want to be sent to Memphis Missouri just to "get my feet wet". I know this, because I was born in Memphis. Are there good folks there? Sure. But many times there is a "ladder" to climb, and you use the rural churches as a lab. This is neither fair to those churches, nor the clergy sent there for development. The rural churches get people either on their way up or on their way down. Meanwhile the newly ordained clergy person is put in sent to the outskirts for on the job training, regardless of call or previous culture.

It should infuriate Brad that he'll be ridiculously more educated than me, and I'll make a significant more amount of money than he will fresh out of seminary. It should infuriate Brad that I won't have to sit around and wonder if I'm going to have to move. It should infuriate people because these things are done for the sake of the system, not for the sake of the kingdom. Now, can the system and kingdom instersect? Sure. Are all systems bad? No. But the UM's ordination and itinerary system is bad.

The joke of all this is that I don't expect anyone to care what I think, but as a 24 year old person in ministry, I feel at least mildly qualified to comment. Sorry my comment was so long.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Young people who don't want to go through seminary to get appointed can do what more than half the pastors in the South Indiana Conference - get a license to preach.

Or become a lay preacher.

They'll put you in a church.

If you want to then go down the path to ordination, it will still be there waiting.

Brad said...

Hey bro,
Good stuff. I'm with you on the savior mentality and the effective pastors should be effective with any age.

But, as my post suggests, I agree with Dr. Weems concerning the treatment of young adult clergy. The appointments made last, the isolation, the "get the feet wet" attitude. it's all bad.

The fact is, our father's generation is getting ready to retire and we're not quite sure how we're going to replace all those pastors.

And, Mustoe, it DOES infruiate me. I could've been a youth pastor, or gotten a real job and have a pretty well started career by now and some financial secruity. But I chose to continue my candidacy, stay with the process, and my career gets threatened because I missed one committee meeting. Argh!

Here's an idea, all readers of the Rainbow or the Bustle or Internationally Known on the Microphone and all you other bloggers out there part of this conversation: Let's not blog about young adults, young adult clergy, problems with the UMC, etc. for at least a month.

I hereby pledge, Brad

Zach said...


Glad to see your response to the study from Dr. Weems. I enjoy seeing different responses. Being a delegate to General Conference in two weeks, I have a lot of "issues" I am concerned about and this is one of them.

It will be hard to take Brad's pledge to not blog about those issues, as I am sure I will need to get my thoughts out while I'm in Ft. Worth for 10 days.

Brad said...

Delegates to General Conference are exempt from the pledge.

Tim Sisk said...

I agree with you one hundred percent on this issue.

Tim Sisk

Anonymous said...

That picture of me is getting a lot of play because to quote Fred Koenig from our Conference staff, I didn't have "a full football team" huddled around me when I came forward for ordination. Thanks for the shout out.


Anonymous said...

As I often find myself posting, attitudes toward young adult clergy vary from conference to conference. My conference loves young clergy and is doing a great job of helping us find relevant appointments.

Sometimes the people are the problem. One of the greatest challenges I face as young clergy is people not thinking I'm experienced (or male) enough for their needs.

Anonymous said...

wait, a minute...aren't you the guy who used to go to a "gen-X" covenant group. How is that any different? Is that because you felt that people in "your generation" were able to see and understand your needs better? If not then what is the point of a "gen-x" covenant group? Just a point to ponder.


Pastor Dave said...

Great post and great comments. As a 45 year old, and clearly now exempt from any possible relevant commentary on people 20 years younger, I struggle with the issues of "younger clergy" and "emergent." I agree we need to attract younger clergy, as we do need to attract younger families, and younger people to the church, and younger... whatever. Young is the lifeblood of the church.
I was just at a conference on youth ministry at Willow Creek and one presenter said that a study on active church youth shows that 50% will leave their faith when they get to college. So "young" needs to be a focus for us. However, do we need to write new laws to force us to do so?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Well that one certainly needed some new laws, 200 years later, before we would actually begin to treat all as equals. Sometimes it takes a prophetic nudge to cause a system to wake up to its original path.
So, maybe we need some new rules and regulations for the bishops to awaken from the slumber you point out in this post and acutally dare to "take thou authority."

Anonymous said...

Andy, I think you're just bitter because you're old.

Oh no, I said "bitter" - I hope that we don't get hours upon hours of unwanted press about this...HA!

Good to be home - see you on Monday!