The Bishops are Seeking Leverage

In his Christian Chaos: Revolutionizing the Congregation Tom Bandy says,

The primary link between congregation and denomination and denomination is pastoral relations, the key membership of the pastor is with the denominational judicatory, and the most powerful positions in congregation or judicatory are related to personnel. The judicatory knows that by controlling the pastor, it can control the congregation. The congregation knows that by controlling the pastor, they can manipulate the denominational system. (p. 159)

As a pastor this looks like I’m put between a rock and a hard place. It’s sometimes difficult (or when I’m feeling differently I use the word “scary”) to be under the authority of someone who has absolute control over my life. Oh,yes, the bishop doesn’t have control over my family, just where we live, but that has significant influence over my family. I’m one of those odd characters (and I’m sure there are many like me) who perceive a calling to pastor in the United Methodist Church. But that’s not the way the church puts it. As I’ve heard it said by the authorities, “You may be called by God to be a pastor, but only the United Methodist Church can say whether you’re called to be a UM pastor.” While I understand that logic, I have trouble saying, “God, you didn’t communicate properly when you called me.”

Now the bishops who have absolute control over us want more leverage over us. Apparently some of us pastors are incompetent, and the disciplinary promise of a guaranteed appointment is making it hard to dump us. I have no doubt that some pastors are incompetent. Some of us have already reached our “level of incompetence” (to use “Peter Principle” terminology) the first time we tried ushering.

“The greatest drain on our time and energy that keeps us from leading proactively in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is dealing with ineffective clergy,” said Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Area).

“If we were asked, ‘What are the tools you need to do your task?’ — what would those tools be? Redefining guaranteed appointment.”

Look at those first person plural pronouns. Who is the antecedent – who is the “we” in view? Is he saying that incompetent clergy are the “greatest drain” on the bishop’s “mission of making disciples?” Or is it the denomination’s mission – is the UMC as a whole the “we?” Or is he speaking of local congregations as the “we?”

What’s the big deal about guaranteed appointments? After all, few other jobs (outside of government work, that is) have such job security. One difference is that to even get “in,” a pastor has to submit to years of schooling and acquiring thousands of dollars in debt, many levels of interviews, testing and general hoop jumping. Then (unless they have the right connections) they start off at an appointment where they may or may not make enough to support their family. They may also discover that the seminary recommended by their judicatory propagated a notion and practice of pastoral competence at odds with that held by the current bishop or judicatory. Studies show that pastoring is getting harder – no wonder more of us are showing up as incompetent. We give a decade of our life to prepare to answer the church’s call, then more years doing as we’re told (at least we can point at someone who told us to do what we’re doing) and… oops! we’re incompetent.

But do we have an agreed upon understanding of competence? We have some documents working in that direction, but then we also have long-standing doctrinal statements regarding which we lack agreed understanding. We have a denominational mission statement – “To make disciples of Jesus Christ” – but we lack a shared understanding of what a disciple is (not to mention a shared understanding of who or what Jesus Christ is).

The bishops are looking for leverage. Where are they going to find it? Remember what Bandy says. They certainly won’t find it with the congregations. Their main leverage now is with pastors. And they want more – the whole pie, it looks like.

The bishops have suggestions for themselves also:

  • Increase the length of a bishop’s assignment to an episcopal area beyond the current 12 years, saying conferences need longer-term leadership to accomplish goals;
  • Raise the retirement age for bishops by two years, to 68, to ease the growth rate in the number of retired bishops by allowing them to serve longer;
  • Requiring jurisdictional committees on episcopacy to set up an evaluation process for bishops that would review their commitment to the teaching office, vision for the church, prophetic commitment for the transformation of the church and world, passion for unity of the church, and ministry of administration.

I don’t doubt that the bishops are thinking of the good of the church and the accomplishment of our mission as they make these proposals to add to their power. If Bishops were some sort of superior being, not amenable to the possibility of incompetence or a mismatched conference assignment, these would be more effective ideas. But if guaranteed appointments are a bad thing for regular pastors, why aren’t they a bad thing for bishops as well? What’s a bishop to do if after election and assignment to episcopal duties the bishop comes to conclusion the job is not a fit? That a return to the pastorate of a local church would be more suitable?

I have the same the desire the bishops do – a church more focused on making disciples than taking care of itself. Here are some counter – or complement – suggestions:

1. Find a better way to do consultation and include the results in appointment making. I don’t know about other annual conferences, but our system is very opaque. Consideration of family needs is rare (the bishops want to be able to dump pastors “who do not remain available for itinerant ministry” – often a euphemism for pastors whose family needs don’t match a proposed appointment)

2. Develop a shared understanding not only of competence, but apply it with a sensitivity to the challenging congregations out there. I’ve been an “incompetent pastor” before. I was run off from an appointment. Little note was made (as far as I could tell) that the primary reasons for asking for my removal were that I brought in too many neighborhood kids (unchurched kids who didn’t know how to act like retired people), and over spent the nursery budget by $30 one month, or that that congregation had treated every other pastor the same way for the past thirty years. Such a shared understanding won’t work if it’s simply imposed from above.

3. Get clear on our doctrine. There’s certainly no pain-free way to do this. Confessing Movement people, Soul Force people, Spong-ites and others can all point to good reasons why what they represent is true United Methodism. I just don’t see how it will work – how these contradictory visions of the Christian life and discipleship can co-exist in the same church (or power structure). We’ve tried ignoring doctrine and pushing pragmatics for a couple of generations now. While that may be pat of what is going on with the bishops (“We can’t agree about whether homosexual practice is compatible with Christian discipleship or whether Jesus is truly God incarnate, but we can agree that the UMC needs to do a better job making disciples (whatever that means”), I don’t think the doctrinal disputes will quietly go off into a corner and die, drowned by waves of positivity and competence.

4. Don’t use God as a stick. “The Cabinet prayed and you need to go to ______.” The cabinet needs to pray. Big time. They need God’s wisdom. I want them to hear from God. But with the inequities in the system (I think of the contrast between some pastors whose every move includes a large raise and those who are simply told to “bloom where they’re planted,” and the number of African American pastors who are simply moved from one small, struggling church to another). DSs need to tell a pastor not only that they prayed, but also what went into their thinking when they made a particular appointment (assuming that prayer does not negate the need for thinking). Of course, I’m also assuming that DSs will tell the truth.

5. Instead of seeking more power, the bishops need to give up power. Since people – lay and clergy alike – are accustomed to their wielding great power, this will be very difficult. They need to learn to rely on the power of persuasion instead of the power of their position. Let the rank and file Elders, local pastors and laity see not only their deep spirituality (defined by Christ, not the vague amorphous something currently bandied about in US culture) and their own submission to authority (of the Discipline and General Conference). My take on Bishop Huie is that this is how she is operating, though I also have the perception that a fair amount of people, both in the conference leadership and beyond, simply take her to be a normal power-wielding bishop like they’re used to. Bishops are not judged merely by their press releases, but by how the churches under their leadership do. It’s the same with us pastors. As a pastor I am judged by what WE do. I can’t make my congregation do the right thing. I don’t (at least in my best moments) want the power to make my people do the right thing. I have to not only teach them the right thing but persuade them to do it. It’s hard work. I have no doubt that it’s even harder to be a bishop. But that’s no reason to think more power is the solution.

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10 Responses to The Bishops are Seeking Leverage

  1. Excellent post, bro! I wasn’t too worried about someone working on the guaranteed apointment problem, but when it is combined with a power grab, I’m more than a littel concerned.

  2. One thing that may serve to limit episcopal power regarding appointments is the massive wave of Boomer retirements we are facing over the next 15 years. Not only are Elders guaranteed appointments, but charges are guaranteed pastors. Are we going to close down small churches because there are no pastors?

    My personal feeling is that some of this is motivated by the fact that DS’s and the Bishop keep having to employ pastors who have NEVER been fruitful, who have had issues at EVERY appointment, and who give every sign of simply hanging around until they can collect a pension and still be covered by insurance. Obviously, this could be abused by cabinets, but I think most of what is behind is the desire to deal with that 5% that really are a drain on the system.

  3. rheyduck says:

    Good points, Brian. Serving up here in the Northern Kingdom I’m around people from some of the smaller churches. Their read on what Bishop Huie is up to is that she’s out to close them down. I haven’t thought her to have that objective, but I’m not always very politically astute. I do think the message will become more clearly something like, “Sink or swim” – for both pastors and congregations.

    It is a problem that there are so many hangers-on who are just waiting for their pensions. They’re not only taking their churches down with them, but inasmuch as we’re a connectional system, they take the rest of us down also.

    It’s for this reason that I’m happy the bishops are acting. It’s just that (1) I think they forget that they’re not above the system (as a third order of ministry or something), but are part of it, and (2) They’re starting at the wrong place.

  4. FYI, I was told long ago that the guaranteed apointment for Elders was won by feminists when women were first being ordained in the UMC about 50 years ago, to make sure the new women pastors were given appointments.

    As a woman Elder myself, I do not want to judge their actions then as I was not there and know very little about that situation. But I have always felt that the guaranteed appointment was a drag on the church, the UMC and the Kingdom. It’s ridiculous.

    There is no xuch guarantee in most other occupations, for good reason. It is deadly to effectiveness. Also, I see no reason Bishops should be guaranteed an appointment either, because of effectiveness issues.

    Actually, “flatter” organizations have increasing advantages over those with “steeper” hiererchies, as Thomas Friedman noted in his “Flat Earth.” If the UMC is looking for survival, perhaps we should consider more “flatness” and less hierarchy, at the planning-ahead levels. One way would be to have bishops not elected for life, for instance, but for limited terms. The hierarchy of bishops plus agenciesi is top-heavy. It needs shrinking, with less power and security, not more. Power should be shifted out horizontally, to pastors and lay leaders.

  5. Hi. A friend sent me a link to your post. You bring up important issues. I’ve also been commenting on the article about “incompetent” pastors at http://www.umsource.net/news . So far, I have about 5 parts planned. I just posted part two.

    To be honest, I don’t care that much about the appointment process (although, perhaps I should). By placing the blame of decline on ineffective pastors, I believe, we side step important issues that are really contributing to our decline: changes in culture and society, inability to discover new models of ministry (we are stuck in the attractional mode), power, control and career issues, etc.

    Peace – Dave.

  6. Mitch says:

    One sign of the bishops’ love of power is the increasing use of “the purple” to separate bishops from other clergy. What’s next? Miters? And I’m not about to kiss the bishop’s ring or any other part of his/her anatomy. What happened to the idea that UM bishops were elders who were performing a necessary executive function?

    My preferences:

    1) Make the episcopacy a temporary position – not unlike that of DS. (Of course, the same people seem to move from one district to another, and then to some other job with the bishop. The old-boy system produces a UM curia). Get rid of the idea that the bishops are some sort of uber-pastors in terms of the teaching office or the visible unity of the church. Those ideas belong in another part of the Christian family. Bishops are elders, and their ideas matter no more than that of any other elder. (The Methodist Protestants had a form of government like this).

    2) Increase congregational autonomy. That’s the best way to deal with both pastoral “ineffectiveness” and the more basic problem of a mismatch between the pastor and congregational identity. I think it is also the only possible way for us to succeed together given our wide differences in doctrine and vision of mission.

    3) Reduce the number of denominational committees and meetings. Most good things happen in or through local churches OR voluntary associations of people with a common vision. Little good comes from “we need to have a committee for this” type meetings, even at the global level. Maybe if they didn’t have to attend so many meetings, the bishops could spend more time being pastors to pastors.

  7. Susan says:

    Richard, I hope it’s ok that I added your blog to the aggregator on the TACBlog site I’ve been working on.

  8. Pingback: Episcopal Needs « everyday theology

  9. chae s. sone says:

    Who can drive these bandits out this historic church??
    According to the criminal incidents by clergies, the annual conference, or a independent church civic organization establish a committee to sort out the incompetent clergy, bishop and other leaders from the corrupt group. Otherwise, the innocent ones are victimized as in this church, moral disater, or brual state of the clergy corruption. The offenders should be punshed out the denomination and should be sent to the jail from the pulpit in order to stup the cheating of Jesus, whom they think died long time aga and doesn’t know anything. Please study in prayers of the issues and lead the church into salvation.
    While reviewing pros and cons on the guaranteed appointment for clergy, a major issue seems to have not been properly commented whether or not a given congregation is properly nourished under the properly nourished in a good social or family envrionment.
    The ministry is the process of once’ lifetime spiritual evolution during the dedicated pastoral life.
    I observed many successful clergies in latter although once so lightly treated as incompetent.
    Thus, the congregation has to provide mutually acceptable civilty in mutually nourishrable ground.
    According to our family experience in the Korean United Methodist Church and Institute, New York, as long as one has a strong personal ties with the district superintendent and some clergies closed to the episcopacy, even the looting the church treasury could be done very easily without any objection, of course he has to have a group of power hungry supporters who are seeking for any status in any form in any means, no any moral requirement.

    Rev. Won Tae Chae was skilled able navigator in the murky stream of his own creation, which was only possible in the naive immigrant church.
    He had a moonlighting full time job at New York Theological Seminary for ten years while the congregation in disarray. Who cares? After he was removed, always, the same kind replacement assigned as if in mob connection. In the incidents, why these guys need any job guarantee when they have their own source of the juice?
    Last twenty years, the historic church has been under seize of like these the well trained dishonest clergies and supers, etc. Needless today, the flow of the street guys comes to manage the church. It is noticed once the course established there is endless human resources of the kind to fill in.
    When Rev. Won Tae Cha group took over the church treasury, he filed three lawsuits against us to cover up the looting. For one case, they charge me and my son as attempted mass murders, place us on the trial at the New York State Supreme Court –
    demanded all damage $8,000. Now Rev. Cha works for the Bishop Jeremiah J. Park – very smelly. They should return the stolen church money. Anything can go even in the church if one has the money and power.
    I wonder, If the guaranteed appointment system established, like our church will disappear in time unless the street people stops coming in force to inherit the oppressive corrupt offices.
    I have noticed many questionable characters are serving as trustees or directors in the church organizations.
    I have tried to reflect our experiences to the bishops and other clergies.
    So far no response from any Jesus people as we were not blak enough or white enough at all. Needless to say, it seems to be the moral climate of UMC, very insensitive to any church moral issues but the job.
    I warmed our young assistant pastors not to be a tool of the corrupt ministry. Speaking out is risking their jobs.
    Thus, according to the experience, the UMC’s immediate critical issue is the moral crisis to urgenuly implement an “in-house cleaning.” Then, who needs a guarantee? Endangered species.
    How this story could be told to the Jesus people?
    IS there anybody in UMC?
    Reference; Website. :: ???? Christianity Daily How long the church scandals should go without punishment? … KOREAN UNITED METHODIST CHURCH AND INSTITUTE, REVEREND WON TAE CHA, YOUNG SO KIM, …

  10. chae s. sone says:

    Korean United Methodist Church and Institute’s not so sacret drama ??????????
    UMC Korean clergy ??? ????? ???????????? ?????????????????????????????? Korean church leaders in New York and New Jersey should cloely examine this story help the church return to our Lord Jesus Christ.

    ?????????????????? ?????????????? ????
    ??? ????????? ?????????? ?????? ??? ??????????? ???????????? New York State Supreme Court ???????? ???????? ???????$8,000,000,00 ?????????? ??????? ??????????,???????????????

    According to the trial judge F. Dana Winslow, someone from the Episcopacy deceived the Judge that the mss murder charges were church related. It was false because it was private lawsuit by Steven H. Park under the direction of Rev. Won Tae Cha, Young So Kim and others Bishop Park should know who deceived the judge.

    Bishop Lyght learned about his crookedness and fired Rev. Cha to rescue the church because he was going to destroy the church. One Sunday there were only 24 worshippers during the court battles.

    After many changes, Rev. Chul Chang ??? appointed to the church. When Rev. Chul Wood Chang ??? said on his inauguration day on the pulpit that “Rev. Won Tae Cha is my mentor.” Rev. Chul Woo Chang is stalling the audit of the church finance that would reveal the abused money by Rev, Won Tae Cha, but he is trying to protect his mentor, Rev. Won Tae Cha. ???????????? ??????????? ?????????? ?????????????

    ?????? ????????? ????????? ??????? ???? ???????????? ???? Yang Woo Suck ?????????? ?????? ???????????
    ?????????????????
    ???????????? ????????? ??????????? ??? ????????????? ???????????? ??? wife ??????? ????? ??? ???????? ??? ?????????? ??? korean ??????????????

    ???? ??????????????? ?????? ???
    ???? ??????? ??????????? korean shame ??? ??????????????????? For the church is like under the capitulation of the dishonestly organized Korean criminals. Remember many young people is dying now in foreign lands to protect our value system.

    ????? ??????????????????????????????????
    Rev. Chul Woo Chang, Rev. Won Tae Cha ???????????? ???????????
    ??????Bishop Jeremiah J. Park?????????? Let us pray God to rescue our church
    from the evil and return to our Lord Jesus Christ. We need the consciensious churcch leadership.

    REFERENCE IN WEBSITE
    1.????? > ???? > “?? ?? ??? ????

    2.?????? 88?? ?? ?? ??? ?? ?? ???? ??? ? ??? [2009-04-05 22:09
    3.????? > ???? > “?? ?? ??? ????
    4. How to save our church from the money scandals?
    5. ????? > ???? > “?? ?? ??? ????
    6. Houston Korean church in turmoil
    7. Steve H. Park’s false murder charges against me and my son and …in order to steal the church money
    8. Dear Jesus! I am the Korean Bishop Jeremiah J. Park. What can I do for you in this …
    9.A petition to Bishop Jeremiah J. Park to recover misused Church money … Now, Bishop Jeremiah J. Park must and others.
    10. ??? ?? Korean Bishop Jeremiah Park ??? ????? ?? ? Christmas ? ?? ? ??? ?? ?????
    12. Park profanity Deposition doc 3.6 14 doc

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