I originally wrote this a number of years ago, but with the recent post by blogger John Murdock, I decided to post it again. Murdock writes eloquently of the problems smaller churches face with the frequent rotation of clergy. Here’s the situation from the point of view of a pastor (now retired).
One of the reasons I chose United Methodism as my place of service is the connectional system. I think such a system ultimately reflects more health and has more opportunity to be fully transformational than stand-alone isolated churches.
Just as I don’t think there can be a spiritually healthy Christian who refuses to interact with other Christians, no matter how challenging that can be, I also don’t think that churches can be spiritually healthy when they choose to disconnect from other Christian bodies and act fully independently.
I’ve been a part of the independent Bible church movement, and I know how easy it is for such a place to become cult-like and scarily ingrown.
There are those who have great power in this organization by virtue of position, salary, status and influence. This has the potential for great good, for good leadership must exercise holy power to actually lead and make important decisions.
But power, as most of us know, is also addicting. Once achieved, very difficult to give up. And that is where I wonder if giving even more power to Bishops not only to make and fix appointments, but to able to deny someone an appointment for undefinable “ineffectiveness” reason has crossed the danger line.
Ideally, an itinerant clergy offers so much to so many. At its best, congregations are given the right pastoral leadership for their particular time and place of ministry. Messages are fresh, and the laity know that the church is ultimately theirs to love, nurture and grow, and not a personality cult of a particular clergy person.
At its worst, it is punitive, both for clergy and congregations, and extraordinarily unequal in its manifestations. Instead of a means of graceful service where needed, it becomes a career path. Reward appointments go to those who know the right people and can play the game well, but who are not necessarily the right person for that particular church or administrative ministry setting.
One question I’ve often pondered: what would happen if some of the clergy who have the proven gifts and graces to facilitate great growth in churches or have served with exceptional competence in high-level administrative positions were to be appointed to small, struggling, entry-level pay and substandard-parsonage churches? Would they find it part of their connectional responsibility and receive the word of their moves with joy?
I firmly believe that most clergy with the high-status and high-pay appointments work very, very hard to serve the greater good of the Conference and for the kingdom of heaven. Most are not sitting back in isolated luxury, ignoring their responsibility to the connection. But they are also not going to be left out of the next round of appointments while the far more vulnerable ones, those who do serve the struggling churches, could easily get axed because they can’t show visible results.
I am just very, very concerned. It’s too much power in the hands of too few. And it is increasing the distrust level that already exists among the clergy. We are not modeling the gospel message here.