"After living with their dysfunctional behavior for so many years (a sunk cost if ever there was one), people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them." — Marshall Goldsmith, from Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back If You Lose ItSome lessons learned very quickly as a new district superintendent...
If you want to get United Methodist clergy bent out of shape, mention some of these things:
- guaranteed appointment
- parsonage/housing allowance
- rising apportionments yet little accountability from general agencies
- being sent ineffective clergy
- being "sold" on the idea that a housing allowance will be cheaper than maintaining a parsonage
Has anyone ever given any thought to the fact that maybe, just maybe, some of those things we have held dear just might be part of the problem?
Guaranteed pastoral appointments sounded like a great idea: women and minorities would be assured of a place in the pulpit instead of prejudices dictating church leadership. The unintended consequence? Exiting someone who is an elder in the church yet ineffective in ministry is a tough row to hoe, and regardless of how well the letter of the law is followed and how much documentation you have, it is an even bet that you'll be sued (or at least threatened with such) as an annual conference.
Most pastors want/expect/require a raise in salary and a larger church whenever they receive a new pastoral appointment. Problem? In a denomination with shrinking resources and membership, this is becoming less and less of a possibility. It is becoming more common in pastoral moves that there is little or any "raise", and sometimes it is even to a smaller church or a church that pays a lower salary. In most cases, it's not punishment, but a simple reality of availability and congregational need.
Apportionments sound like a great idea too - doing more with a dollar in mission nationally and globally than you would ever be able to do as a single church. However, in some cases general agencies morphed from being missional agencies working for the local church into entities to themselves, often with agendas that run tangent to the very congregations that support them (as well as sometimes playing footloose with the Book of Discipline, making it hard on superintendents like me to defend paying some apportionments).
Giving housing allowances in lieu of parsonages also sounded like a great idea: church and conference trustees could get out of the housing maintenance business, pastors could build equity not previously had. But it soon led to making it more difficult for pastors to itinerate. Churches started doing the math and realized it wasn't always cheaper to sell off their parsonages and pay housing allowances after all, and some now face the real possibility of not being able to afford to pay a housing allowance OR buy a parsonage. Some preachers found out that selling their house or recovering their investment wasn't as easy as the realty experts told us.
All of these things were done by committee. All done with good intentions. Problems? Lack of vision. No long-range planning or direction. Unwillingness to adjust and say, "That was a good idea at the time, but no longer works well."
These are just a few of the things we have to revisit as a Church and denomination - not because of what we did before was bad, but simply because it no longer works or is effective.
The good news is that Jesus Christ is still Savior, and still very much alive - and can redeem anything. There are a lot of churches and people who are doing marvelous work and walking by faith!
So what do we need to be willing to change? What no longer works? And how do we muster up the courage to change? I invite your responses.