The Blog of Bishop Will Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
Monday, October 11, 2010
Pastoral Transitions: Consultations and Triads
We have made major improvements in the way we appoint pastors in our Conference. For the next few weeks I’ll be highlighting some of these changes.
Nearly all clergy moves in our Conference begin with a request from the pastor or from the congregation. Generally, a DS is made aware through a pastor or a chairperson of the Pastor-Parish or Staff-Parish Relations Committee that there is a need for a pastoral transition. For moves made in June, this contact is generally initiated in January or February of the year.
Sometimes pastors initiate a move because they feel they have accomplished their main goals. At other times they request a move because they feel like they have reached an impasse in the congregation. Just because a pastor or SPRC requests a move does not mean that a move is automatic. Sometimes the DS may urge the pastor and congregation to work through their impasse, to dig in and seek transformation of the congregation.
A pastoral transition is requested only through its PPRC which represents the congregation to the DS. Congregations may initiate a move when they have determined that the current pastoral leadership is unable to contribute more value to the congregation in mission and ministry. This could be the result of the changing needs in the congregation and in the community and the gifts and abilities of the current pastor not lining up with the needs. Your DS has been trained carefully to evaluate what is in the best interest of both the congregation and the pastor and represent to the Cabinet their understanding of what should be done.
If a DS determines that a move is in order, either through the DS’s own assessment of the situation, the request of a pastor, or the request of a PPRC, the DS notifies the remainder of the Cabinet that a pastoral transition is anticipated for your congregation. After a series of steps are taken, a master list of all the potential moves is compiled and presented to the Cabinet for consideration.
It is the responsibility of a pastor who requests a move to relay this information to the PPRC. It is most helpful if the pastor shares honestly and openly with the PPRC so that the PPRC understands that the move is being initiated by the pastor. It is the responsibility of the PPRC that requests a pastoral move to relay this information to the pastor. Again, it is most helpful if the PPRC shares honestly and opening with the pastor about the reasons for requesting a change. It is the responsibility of the DS to consult with the PPRC of a congregation and with the pastor if the DS is initiating the move and to inform them of the reasons why the DS feels this is necessary.
The process of discussing the possibility of a pastoral transition is known as “consultation” and is directed by ¶430-¶435 in the Discipline. Even with consultation that the PPRC’s role is advisory to the Bishop and Cabinet. In the North Alabama Conference once it has been determined that a pastor may be up for a move, the first step is for the pastor to prepare a DVD of a sermon preached in an actual worship service to be presented to their DS and to the Bishop. The Bishop and DS respond to the pastor in writing about the sermon. Then the pastor meets with a Triad Interview Team consisting of three members of the Cabinet in late January or February. This is one of our most effective North Alabama contributions to the appointive process. Generally, the pastor has been asked to respond in writing to a brief series of questions about his/her ministry and his/her congregation and the reasons why a move is being considered. The responses are distributed to the Triad Interview Team members prior to the consultation so that they can prepare further questions for clarification and insight to ask at the interview. A pastor’s spouse is welcome to participate in the Triad consultation.
These Triad consultations have dramatically changed our appointive process. Each pastor has at least four members of the Cabinet who have spent the time to understand the dynamics related to the anticipated move—both to provide the best opportunity for the pastor to utilize his/her strengths in a new appointment, but also to understand the needs of the pastor’s current congregation to assist in finding the right pastor to follow in their appointment.