Waiting is the Hardest Part: Appointment Challenges

Moving. It’s what’s on the minds of a lot of pastors these day. Thankfully not mine. In my first year at a church, I’m a pretty sure bet to stay put. Nevertheless, many of my friends are about to move this year.

The thing is, some know it; others don’t. Some are waiting eagerly by the phone for the call, others are blissfully unaware that the next phone call is about to change their life. It’s an awkward time of year for pastors.

It’s a time of life Jay Voorhees captures well in his recent post Betwixt Here and There – The Consultation Dance. Jay is moving this year, and he puts well into words the hopefulness and frustration that every UM pastor has ever felt while waiting for the final call that will confirm his or her destiny.

On the one hand, we’re excited about the possibilities of the future. On the other hand, we’re frustrated by an appointive process which is anything but clear and straightforward. Go read Jay’s post for his unique take on it. It’s well worth the read.

However, it gets me to thinking about how we can improve the appointive process. There are several challenges to the current process. Foremost among them is the secrecy.

Who hasn’t gotten that call from a DS which hinted at all sorts of possible changes in the near future and then at the end swore us to secrecy? “Now, don’t tell anyone. This is just between us.” Go, try to preach an Easter sermon with that on your mind. It’s nearly impossible.

Mind you, if your church is expecting that change, it’s bearable. We all know a new appointment is coming. It’s just who it will be and when we’ll all know for sure.

However, it’s another thing altogether when the church has no idea it’s about to happen. It’s a terrible thing to walk around as a pastor knowing that you’re about to move, and all your church members are acting as if you’re not.

Certainly, there are good reasons for all this. The appointive process has a lot of flux to it. Things are seldom finalized until the very end. Possibilities are being floated. Ideas tried out. None of this is certain yet.

So, you can’t tell your congregation. This could all change tomorrow. You might be reappointed, after all. Or a different appointment altogether might materialize. You never know. So it’s best not to upset the cart by telling anyone. Don’t burn any bridges.

All the same, this secrecy strains the pastor’s relationship with the congregation. What’s more, it highlights one of the other challenges of the appointive process: The local church has little input into what happens.

Now, pastors are used to this. We have very little input, but we signed on to that at ordination. That’s what itineracy is all about. However, churches probably should have more input than they do. It’s always seemed strange to me that a SPR chair will get a call on Thursday and announce on Sunday, “This is our new pastor.”

Then, in my conference at least, the consultation between pastor and church is held after the announcement has already been made. Could we make it any clearer that our laity have no real say in the future of their own church? Yes, we want you as laity to invest your lives for the gospel in the local church. But, no, we don’t want you to have any real say over who your pastoral leader might be. We’ll decide that for you.

Let me be clear. I am not advocating that the UMC switch to a congregational model (though I know several laity who would). I am, however, suggesting that it might distinctly improve our appointive process if we lessened the level of secrecy (and misinformation) and increased the level of lay participation.

I might be wrong, but I think it would make for better matches between pastor and church. What do you think?

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