A lot of people have been asking what the appointment process of The United Methodist Church is and how it is handled. Here is a synopsis that explains it very well.
I believe that it is most often a fair and good process. There are certainly times when appointments are made that don’t work out very well. It is something that the SPR Committees and the Pastor’s have some say in but overall, the Bishop and the Cabinet which is made up of the District Superintendent’s make those decisions through prayer and much struggle in the Word.
Every local church needs a pastor. The United Methodist Church has a unique way of matching pastors and congregations. Rather than local churches hiring and firing their own pastors-as in some denominations-United Methodist bishops appoint pastors to serve in local churches and other ministry settings.
One advantage to this process is that a local church never has to go without a pastor. Likewise, a pastor (specifically, a full member of an annual conference in good standing) never goes without a setting for ministry. The primary goal of the appointment system is to match the gifts and graces of a particular pastor to the ministry needs of a particular congregation at a particular time.
This itinerant system, where pastors move from one appointment to another, dates back to American frontier days when circuit riding preachers traveled on horseback from town to town. At that time, bishops matched preachers to circuits four times a year. Now bishops typically fix appointments once a year.
WHERE THE UMC STANDS
To understand the appointive process, it helps to know a little about how the United Methodist Church is organized. We are a connectional church. That means individual congregations are part of a larger network known as an annual conference under the leadership of a bishop. Most annual conferences consist of several districts. Ordained clergy are members of an annual conference rather than a local church.
Bishops are responsible for assigning pastors to charges. A multi-point charge consists of two or more congregations that share a pastor. Ordinarily, district superintendents assist the bishop in prayerfully making appointments. They generally meet with pastors and representatives of local churches every year to assess the effectiveness of ministry there.
The pastor-parish (or staff-parish) relations committee represents the congregation officially in this process. Usually, when everyone agrees that a current pastor’s gifts and graces are a good match for the specific needs of a ministry setting, the pastor is assigned to remain for another year. Sometimes, however, a particular pastor is needed elsewhere or a local church requires someone with a new set of gifts and graces. In that case, the pastor will move and the church will receive someone new. The process always involves consultation, but the details vary according to the conference and the bishop.
Appointments are formally ‘fixed’ at the regular session of annual conference and they take effect on a designated Sunday, usually in early summer.
WHAT WE’RE DOING IN THIS WORLD
Our appointment process puts The United Methodist Church in a unique position to help local churches broaden their understanding and experience about who can do effective ministry. For instance, many churches who would probably not have ‘hired’ a woman pastor on their own have learned to love and appreciate the clergywomen who have been appointed to serve them. (See “Memories and Dreams: Four Clergywomen Reflect on Their Calling” by Erik Alsgaard in Circuit Rider magazine.) Likewise, cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments invite congregations to value diversity in new ways. (See “Celebrating Diversity” on the East Ohio Conference web site.)
Of course, nontraditional appointments also create challenges for both pastors and local churches. Our connectional system allows for training and support in the face of these challenges. We are always working to improve our appointment process in light of our mission to make disciples. One current trend is to foster longer term appointments so that pastors and local churches have more time to develop truly effective ministry.