By Keith Boyette
The decision on who will be the pastor of a congregation is among the most important decisions impacting the vitality, vibrancy, and fruitfulness of a local church. As the spiritual leader, the pastor has tremendous influence on a congregation’s mission and its vision for fulfilling it. Because the pastor generally addresses the church family at least once a week through the sermon, she or he often sets the tone for all that occurs as the congregation serves in its given mission field. Consequently, the right clergy deployment decision can result in a new season of growth, deepening discipleship, and greater impact for the kingdom. A poor deployment decision often results in decline, conflict, and malaise.
The Holy Spirit surely empowers both local church members and appointed clergy to advance the Kingdom of God. When they work well together, churches thrive. When they do not, churches often languish. The Global Methodist Church understands the critical nature of clergy deployment decisions and so has adopted a system that is highly consultative, collaborative, and covered in prayer. The clergy deployment process is set forth in ¶¶ 509-513 of the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline (“TBD&D”).
Historically, Methodism has embraced a “sent” system of clergy deployment. A bishop, working together with a cabinet composed of district superintendents, identifies and deploys pastors to a local congregation by appointment. When working well, such a system ensures a broad level of input and perspective on how to advance the Kingdom of God in a given community. Alternatively, some Protestant denominations use a “called” system where local church members interview and then vote to “call” a person to become their pastor. A “called” system elevates the preferences of a particular church over the broader connectional considerations in Methodist denominations.
The Global Methodist Church continues the historic, connectional Methodist practice of clergy being “sent” to local churches. Paragraph 509.2 of the TBD&D says, “To strengthen and empower the local church to effectively carry out its mission for Christ in the world, clergy shall be appointed by the bishop, who is empowered to make and fix all appointments in the episcopal area of which the annual conference is a part.” However, the exercise of this authority to appoint and send is not done in isolation.
Convinced that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts and mind of all its people, the GM Church strongly believes successful clergy deployments occur after a season of consultation and collaboration between a bishop, his or her cabinet (composed of “presiding elders” in the GM Church), and a local church’s pastor-parish relations committee. As ¶ 510 of the TBD&D provides, “Consultation is the process whereby the bishop and/or presiding elder confers with the pastor and pastor-parish relations committee, taking into consideration the criteria of ¶ 511, clergy performance evaluation, needs of the appointment under consideration, and mission of the Church” at large. “Consultation is both a continuing process and a more intense involvement during the period of change in appointment. The process of consultation is mandatory in every annual conference.” The process is “mandatory” because the GM Church believes local church members, bishops, presiding elders, and pastors all need to hold one another accountable to prayerfully, faithfully, and diligently making such an important decision in the life of a local church.
Ideally, a presiding elder will engage a local church in ongoing conversation about its clergy deployment needs. When a change in clergy occurs, a presiding elder and a bishop will engage in more intense consultation inviting the local church into substantive dialogue about the congregation’s pastoral needs. In this process, various candidates for clergy deployment will be identified. Consultation includes collaborating with the pastor-parish committee in identifying the qualities, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses of each candidate for deployment. In most instances, collaboration will result in agreement between the bishop and the pastor-parish relations committee on the deployment decision and then the appointment will be made.
For a variety of reasons, complete agreement on a deployment decision may not be achieved in every situation. If complete agreement is not achieved, ¶ 510 states, “The [pastor-parish relations] committee must be given the opportunity to give input on the suitability of a proposed appointment and to raise any concerns it might have. When a committee raises substantive and missional concerns about the suitability of an appointment, such concerns must be addressed by the bishop and cabinet in considering whether to make the appointment. The bishop and cabinet must provide a rationale for their decision to the committee if they make the appointment.”
To date, a number of clergy deployment decisions have been made as local churches have aligned with the Global Methodist Church. In most instances, pastors and congregations have moved together to the GM Church. Where pastors have retired or not moved with a local church, the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council has consulted and collaborated with church lay members, ensuring that the newly appointed clergy person was a mutually agreed upon candidate. As provisional annual conferences commence operations in the coming months, this practice will be continued.
A transition in clergy leadership for a local church should be a time of celebration – giving thanks for a pastorate just concluded and rejoicing in the new opportunities being embraced. In the GM Church, we are committed to achieving the best possible clergy deployment decision for each local congregation.
The Rev. Keith Boyette is the Transitional Connectional Officer of the Global Methodist Church, its chief executive and administrative officer.