I was just nosing through the news items from the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Once again, it's hard to say anything of significance changed. The extension of our mission statement from "Making disciples of Jesus Christ" to "Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" is hardly noteworthy. And the continued debates on the issue of homosexuality, as usual, generated more heat than light.
One item of interest caught my eye, however:
Delegates to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference rejected two petitions dealing with clergy ineffectiveness and guaranteed appointments.
The delegates followed the recommendations of the ministry and higher education legislative committee and voted 824-25 to not amend paragraph 334.1 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. The petitions asked that bishops appoint an ineffective pastor to less than full-time service.
Because the petitions were placed on a consent calendar, delegates also voted on April 30 to reject an effort involving clergy evaluations. The legislation would have allowed a district superintendent to initiate changing the pastor's conference relationship after three evaluations found a pastor to be ineffective and not likely to become effective through training and counseling.
As I read it, this refusal to hold clergy accountable is pretty much a signal of continued decline. Any organization that doesn't hold ineffective leaders accountable need not sit around and wring its hands over why we're not doing better than we are. In addition, the voting down of the legislation pretty much continues our dysfunctional system of guaranteeing appointments, even to individuals who have never, under any circumstances, been effective as pastors.
I realize this may seem somewhat hypocritical since I'm one who has benefitted from the standard of a guaranteed appointment. I do, however, think that most of my work has been effective as a pastor. And, I think my colleagues would probably express a simliar opinion if asked to weigh in on that subject.
It doesn't bode well for us as clergy, however, if we take the track that we're "entitled" to an appointment simply by virtue of having completed seminary and successfully endured the process that leads to ordination. That's a different skill set than the one required to be an effective pastor. Getting through the process is largely a matter of knowing how to navigate a set of pre-determined turns and twists without a lot of surprise along the way; a much different lion than the local church, which has no preset rules and a good number of surprises.
Either way, I think that we, as clergy, need to get over ourselves and stop protecting our brothers and sisters who, while certainly viable church leaders, are evidently not cut out for pastoral leadership. If we can't move beyond this, then there's little use in wondering why our churches aren't growing.
But, then again, I wasn't a delegate to general conference, so I didn't actually see the legislation. But, based on what I read above, it doesn't seem like they're just interested in kicking people out. There's a lot of talk about training and counseling, which means that the process would be involved (and probably long) and would allow for some growth in this arena.
The way I see it (and, keep in mind, this is just my opinion), a tenure system for ineffective leaders is a major contributor to our ongoing decline. I know that we have problems in the pew, as well, but by and large, these can be dealt with through capable leaders who have a bigger agenda than keeping their pension intact and their appointment secure.
All of which leads me back to that mission statement revision as one more puff of blown smoke: After all, we can't very well hope to transform the world when we can't even transform our own denomination.