Monday, March 30, 2009

The Sending of Pastors

United Methodism is distinguished from many other churches in that we practice a “sent ministry.” Our pastors are appointed to churches, not hired or called by churches. We therefore continue the biblical and historic practice of sending pastoral leaders to places where they are most needed for the accomplishment of that congregation’s mission. Our pastors promise to go where they are most needed.

The District Superintendents share with me the responsibility for the deployment of our pastors. We attempt to keep ever before us that our particular calling is to find the very best pastoral leadership that will enable each of our beloved congregations accomplish the mission that is given to that congregation by Christ.

It was my judgment that too often the appointive process functioned in the past on the basis of seniority of the clergy, or by the Cabinet’s hunches about pastors rather than on the basis of careful, fact-based assessment of how God actually used individual pastors for the furtherance of the Kingdom. We must attempt to assess and to place pastors on the basis of facts more than feelings. We must send pastors only after a careful look at the pastor’s productivity and the needs of the churches.

The Cabinet has been engaged in a few years of evaluation of our appointive procedures. We are pioneering some new ways to assess and place clergy. This year we will utilize a set of new procedures:

  • We shall look at the church statistics on the Conference website to get a longitudinal picture of the pastor’s leadership at the present appointment.
  • We will examine the statistics on the Conference Dashboard to get an up-to-date report on the results of the pastor’s leadership.
  • Every pastor to be moved will complete a Strengths Assessment Inventory (available through the book by Buckingham, Now Discover Your Strengths). The Cabinet has used this Inventory on ourselves and found it marvelously revealing. This enables us to get an accurate assessment of each pastor’s individual strengths, focusing on the specific gifts and talents of the pastor, rather than focusing upon any alleged weaknesses. This gives us the ability to match a pastor and his or her strengths with the needs of a congregation.
  • Every fulltime pastor who may be moved will be interviewed by a team of three District Superintendents who will guide the pastor through a conversation that will uncover a pastor’s own dreams, abilities, and strengths. Those conversations will then inform the discussion in the Cabinet.
  • The Bishop and District Superintendent will listen to and respond to a sample sermon from each full time pastor who is moving.
  • Every church will be asked for a statement of mission and goals for the future so that we can match a pastor’s gifts with a congregation’s needs.
  • Each District Superintendent will present the proposed new pastor to the congregation’s lay leadership and explain why the Cabinet believes this pastor is the leadership suited for this congregation’s mission.
  • Every newly appointed pastor will be asked to design and present to the DS and to congregational leadership a “First Ninety Days” plan for ministry in the first three months of the pastorate. This is after participating in a workshop that trains pastors how to devise these plans. The execution of this plan will be observed and shared with the DS who will work with the pastor on any needed modifications in the plan.

If you have been around our church for awhile know how different this way of appointing pastors is from our ways in the past. Those of us who are charged with the responsibility of sending pastors have got to show our pastors that they are being evaluated fairly and accurately, that their good work is being noted, and that every pastor is utilized in a congregational setting that is appropriate to that pastor’s God-given gifts and abilities.

The Cabinet and I welcome any insights or feedback you may have on the process of appointment because we are committed to constant improvement of the process. God calls and the church sends our pastors. God continues to call us some wonderfully faithful servants of Christ and the church. The church must do its part faithfully to utilize the gifts that God gives us in our pastors.

Will Willimon

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tom Bandy on Mission

Church development guru, Tom Bandy, has been most helpful to us in North Alabama as we think our way into the future. Tom Bandy has made a number of helpful visits to the North Alabama Conference in the past few years. I’m sure that those visits are part of why we enjoyed such overwhelming support for our district reformation. In a recent book, Mission Mover, Bandy notes something that got me to thinking. Bandy says to us clergy, “Once a time when preparing for ministry meant meetings, political activism, counseling, now it’s preparing to interject Jesus into the conversation and a willingness to relinquish control.” (Pg 27)

We clergy are called by the church to talk about God, to interject Jesus into the conversation and, in Bandy’s words, to be willing to “relinquish control.” Alas, most of us who have been to seminary are better trained to analyze and to construe the human condition through mainly sociological, political, or economic categories than essentially theological ones. We adopt the language of anthropology and relinquish our peculiar theological speech.

I agree with Bandy that we must reclaim our essentially theological vocation. We are to be “God people,” those who “interject Jesus into the conversation” in a world that would rather think in exclusively anthropological categories.

Recently somebody wrote to me complaining about some political statement that was made by the National Council of Churches, criticizing their stand and saying that it was “unpatriotic” and “not supportive of our troops” and the “war effort.” I replied that, while I had no great interest in the waning influence of the National Council of Churches, I was a preacher, a person who was supposed to talk about Jesus and the Bible rather than be concerned with matters like “patriotism” and “the war effort.”

I think that we clergy must discipline ourselves to talk about peculiarly, specifically biblical concerns rather than allow ourselves to be drawn into and preoccupied with essentially secular (that is, godless) matters.

Bandy goes on to say that, “Yesterday’s challenge was to find leaders who could help people discern Christ in the midst of godlessness, today’s challenge is to find leader who can help people discern Christ in the midst of rampant godliness.” I like that. Yesterday, we were worried about secularism, atheism. Today, our concern is “rampant godliness,” vague and free-floating, vacuous “spirituality.” Our task is to help people look at their lives, not in terms of some vague sense of the “spirituality.” Our task is to help people look a their lives, not in terms of some vague sense of the “spiritual,” but specifically in the light of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace. We have got to give some content and challenge to the “rampant godliness” that infects our culture, to point to the specific, discipleship demands of Jesus Christ, rather than allow folk to slip into an inconsequential morass of the merely, vaguely spiritual.

At least that’s what Tom Bandy has got me to thinking this week.

Will Willimon

Monday, March 16, 2009

Educational Indebtedness of New Pastors

One of our Conference Priorities is a new generation of clergy leaders. The United Methodist Church has a long tradition of high educational standards for our clergy. Not long ago, because of the Ministerial Education Fund and the scholarships given by our colleges and seminaries, few pastors entered ministry with any indebtedness. Today the cost of ministerial education and the indebtedness that our seminarians are incurring are major challenges.

The North Alabama Conference contributes (through the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment) over a million dollars per year for ministerial education. Our Conference is able to retain about $100,000 per year for scholarships given directly to our seminarians to help defray seminary costs. In addition, a few of our congregations (to my knowledge, Gadsden First, Anniston First, Highlands Birmingham, Huntsville First, and Tuscaloosa First) have ministerial scholarships. This past year the Northwest District created a ministerial scholarship fund to honor Jarvis Brewer (retiring Dist. Lay Leader). The frustrating thing is that, despite this annual expenditure of over 10% of our Conference funds in order to prepare our future pastors, colleges and seminaries are passing on to us an increasing burden of ministerial education indebtedness.

Our Board of Ordained Ministry monitors the indebtedness of our candidates for Full Connection. The numbers are deeply troubling. In the past three years, nearly half of the persons we have ordained have each accumulated educational debt above $20,000. In 2006, 8 of our 16 ordinands accumulated $416,430 in educational debt. In 2008, the educational debt total for 4 of our 17 ordinands was $241,000.

You can see that many of our candidates come out of seminary with a debt load that will be a significant factor in their lives far beyond graduation and ordination. Clergy salaries are not sufficient to handle this level of indebtedness. Young marriages will be placed under stress as will the appointive system due to this burden of debt that is accumulated by our new clergy in order to complete the exacting educational requirements for ordination in the United Methodist Church.

As a new member of the University Senate I am going to push for a reform of the way that funds are allocated by the MEF. It is frustrating to have our Conference invest so much in ministerial preparation only to have this much indebtedness passed on to us through the educational debt of our newly ordained pastors. I also hope that our districts and congregations will follow the lead of the Northwest District in establishing ministerial scholarship funds. If your congregation is fortunate enough to have a young person who has been called to ministry in our church, I hope you will do everything possible to ensure that that person’s ministry will not be unduly burdened with indebtedness.

Patsy and I have started ministerial scholarships at Duke Divinity School and (beginning this year) at the Candler School of Theology. Our gifts to Candler are designated specifically for students from the North Alabama Conference. I invite our pastors who are alumni of our seminaries to join us in designating your gifts to help a new generation of clergy.

William Willimon

Monday, March 09, 2009

Lessons We Have Learned in Leading Transformation (continued)

Paul Borden is the Executive Minister of Growing Healthy Churches, formerly American Baptist Churches of the West. This region of 220 congregations saw over 70% of their churches transformed and is now focusing on congregational reproduction through out the United States and around the world. Paul has been very helpful here in North Alabama in renewal. This week I continue with some of Paul’s thoughts on church change.

6. There are only two valid reasons for denominations to exist. One is to help congregations transform and the second is to help them reproduce. Denominations play other key managerial and administrative roles. But if the mission is not prominent in terms of how resources are expended in our nation and in nations around the world, then denominations have no right to exist.

7. Most pastors are unwilling as well as incapable of leading the kind of systemic change that is demonstrated in the story. This is why they need help to both know what to do and to have someone stand with them as they do it. The bottom line is all about leadership and pastors being willing to be or act like leaders who risk their jobs if necessary.

8. The cost is terrible until one achieves the change. After the change comes, the pastor finally gets to lead ministry in ways that all pastors imagined they would when they entered seminary. However, the biggest cost to leading change is usually borne by the pastor and the pastor’s family.

9. There is a major difference between creating change that lead to systemic change and leading systemic change. However, the more pre-systemic change that is implemented the easier it will be to lead systemic change. Pastors, particularly those who do not have outside help may need to make small, incremental changes for one to five years before leading systemic change. However, once systemic change is initiated, the pastor has only from one to two years to make it happen. It may then take another three to five years to make sure the congregation does not go back to old ways of behaving.

10. Congregations who say they want change mean something different from what most pastors think. What congregations mean by wanting change is that they want more people in the church and more money in the budget as long as the culture of the congregations does not change and they can still be in control of how things are done. The biggest cost to any change is getting the congregation out of the hands of those who have been running the congregation for years. However, when such happens we have seen awesome results.

--From Transforming Power – Stories from Transformational Leaders for Encouragement and Inspiration. Complied and Edited by Hugh Ballou, Discipleship Resources, P.O. Box 340003, Nashville, TN 37203-0003

William H. Willimon

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lessons We Have Learned in Leading Transformation

Time and again, Paul Borden has been so helpful in North Alabama in offering his insights on pastoral leadership and congregational change. Recently, Paul and I contributed chapters to a book on leadership that is edited by Hugh Ballou (who served a church in North Alabama a few years ago). I offer some of Paul’s insights that I found to be challenging and helpful:

  1. Congregations that have been on a plateau or in decline for more than three years require intervention to produce any significant change. Without intervention these congregations will continue to be disobedient to God’s Great Commission for the Church
  2. Leadership is essential. The pastor must be a leader or have the ability to exercise leadership behavior. However, most pastors cannot lead such change alone. Pastors need help from the outside. A key and fundamental role for denomination personnel is to stand with leader pastors and risk the loss of congregational dollars and affirmation.
  3. Pastors and denominations that do not want to disrupt comfortable congregations must understand they are abdicating their responsibilities as Christian leaders to serve God well. Enabling and helping congregations to continually exercise sinful dysfunctional behavior means that such pastors and denominational leaders are practicing carnal co-dependent realtionships that work against God's mission for the Church.
  4. The ultimate issues in congregations that fight and resist change relates ultimately to people wanting to hold and control the power (to influence the congregations), money, and turf.
  5. Leading congregational transformation is much more difficult than starting new congregations. However, the investment is worth it when one sees expensive facilities sitting on valuable properties being used to achieve grand missions that produce changed lives and communities.

-- From Transforming Power – Stories from Transformational Leaders for Encouragement and Inspiration, Compiled and Edited by Hugh Ballou, Discipleship Resources, P.O. Box 340003, Nashville, TN 37203-0003

Will Willimon