Methodist Panel Wants to Nix Clergy Job Guarantees

Job guarantees for elders should be dropped, said a United Methodist Church panel in an interim report.

The Commission to Study the Ministry declared that the so-called "guaranteed appointment" system is a major factor contributing to mediocrity and ineffectiveness among leaders, as reported by the United Methodist News Service.

"It allows people to coast rather than to continue to strive and to grow," said Seattle Area Bishop Grant Hagiya, a commission member. "What we need is the flexibility to maximize our leadership to those who are going to make a difference."

The commission noted that guaranteed appointments or lifetime job guarantees have become a barrier to the church's mission as it places more emphasis on the ministers' needs rather than the mission.

The guarantee that ordained leaders have stems from The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline, which states, "All elders in full connection who are in good standing in an annual conference shall be continued under appointment by the bishop."

Commission members recommended that the language be changed from "shall" to "may."

Considering the policy was originally adopted to protect pastors from arbitrary, sexist or racist abuses of authority, the commission recommended that United Methodists in each region put in safeguards and determine a clear method for evaluating clergy effectiveness.

"Specifically, how will we protect against discrimination on the basis of gender or race, or against individual retribution, in the appointment process?" the commission asks United Methodists to respond to.

The commission was set up in 2004 with the aim of removing obstacles and rules to allow "creative ministry to thrive."

Guaranteed appointment of clergy was being recognized as one of the biggest hurdles to reviving the church. Some contend the practice has also worked against the ability to attract and find jobs for younger clergy. Young local pastors (under age 35) make up only 5.25 percent of all pastors in the 7.8 million-member denomination.

A petition to completely eliminate the guaranteed appointment provision was rejected in 2000, but Methodists in 2008 approved a petition to amend, and not remove, the paragraph in the Book of Discipline dealing with clergy appointment.

A final report by the Commission to Study the Ministry is expected to be released next year.