The Clergy-Laity Disconnect

“The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.” – 2016 Book of Discipline, ¶ 127, “The Ministry of the Laity” 

When Methodism was getting on its feet in the 18th Century, the movement was largely one spread by… wait for it… the laity! That’s right, it wasn’t ordained or licensed pastors who were out beating the bushes with the good news of the gospel for all people who the church either couldn’t or wouldn’t reach – it was lay persons who were trained in Wesley’s teachings and on how to preach. Laity were the class leaders and the primary leaders within their societies and congregations. The pastors were there to be the spiritual leaders whose primary job was to equip the laity for ministry. The laity were expected to make most of the major decisions and to be the movers and shakers within the church.

Read that again: It was the laity, not the pastors, who were charged with the responsibility of doing ministry. These were not the prominent people of their day, rather they were the marginalized of British society – the poor.

There were first of all the itinerating lay preachers, assigned in pairs to circuits throughout the British Isles, and eventually sent in pairs to America. There were also the non-itinerating local ministers and the stewards who oversaw the various societies. Most important were the leaders of classes, who provided spiritual oversight for those under their care.

What Wesley did is open the door for hundreds of men and women to become leaders in the vast missionary endeavor of spreading scriptural holiness across the nation. Since most of these were not from the upper classes, British society did not provide avenues of leadership. Indeed some evangelical pastors criticized Wesley for disrespecting the class distinctions they believed God had established. But Wesley recognized their gifts and commitment, and enlisted them into God’s service.

“Wesley and Lay Leadership” – Dr. Henry H. Knight, III – St. Paul School of Theology https://www.catalystresources.org/consider-wesley-51/

At some point this began to change. Dr. Knight points to the merger that created the United Methodist Church in 1968 as a major turning point where the laity became passive consumers – largely due to their lack of education on our doctrine and theology – and the clergy were highly educated providers of religious services for the congregation, specialists in the same vein as lawyers and doctors. As Dr. Knight states, “This was hardly a recipe for vibrant outreach into their communities.”

That perception has only increased as the years have passed. Today, the UMC is hardly the movement where the laity are the primary leaders and the clergy are the equippers and providers of guidance and teaching. Today the pastors are expected to be the CEOs and to make most of the decisions. In the typical UMC congregation, the laity are not involved beyond roles such as Sunday School teacher or the lay leadership roles mandated by the Book of Discipline (which, let’s be real, are often only on paper in many congregations). This is a major problem for many reasons, but the main reason is because the widening gulf between the clergy and laity is yet another way in which we have forgotten who we are.

It’s time for Methodists to get back to our roots.

I was reminded of the width of this gulf is yesterday when I published my proposed re-write of WCA’s proposed church clergy deployment plan. I want to digress for a moment and express my appreciation for most of the feedback given being constructive and helpful. As the comments on social media continued, I realized that the tone and type of the feedback differed between clergy and laity. The reason is because we have different points of view on what is most needed in our churches and how to meet those needs. As I mentioned to someone yesterday, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. I believe clergy and laity ought to come together and to hear one another. You know, like John Wesley and the early Methodists did.

We need to get back to our roots.

In the United Methodist Church, we say that we believe in the priesthood of all believers – but do we really? Our Book of Discipline affirms the ministry of the laity but as I read the paragraph that contains this affirmation, I can’t help but question how we actually practice this aspect of ministry.

“The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.”

2016 Book of Discipline, ¶ 127, “The Ministry of the Laity” 

Spoiler alert: We suck at this.

There is plenty of blame to go around for how we got here. Part of it is societal norms changing where worship attendance is now largely seen as optional, therefore so is becoming involved in the ministry and leadership of the church. The clergy also have been afraid of feeling less important and have failed to equip their laity for ministry in addition to other failures to teach the doctrine of the church that would not be popular with many within their congregations. I could go on but you get the point.

Pastors, you may not like what I’m about to say but I’m going to say it anyway: We need to give the laity their church back. What I mean by that is, we need to reclaim our roles as the spiritual leaders and the equippers of the laity to conduct the ministry of the church. We need to allow our people to take the lead and we need to let go of some of the control that we have claimed. This is more than a great thing that Wesley taught; allowing the laity to lead is a biblical mandate.

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT)

I realize that this is not the case in all congregations. I’m thankful to be able to say that I know of many churches that are doing great work because the laity took ownership of the ministry of their church. But when it comes to the majority of congregations, we still have a major disconnect and we need to address it quickly. We, the clergy, certainly have our place but so do the laity. It’s time we set aside our pride and our ambitions, took a step back, and started equipping the saints again.

Sports teams are made up of individuals with different responsibilities but with the same goal in mind: To win. On scoreboards, teams are shown as winning or losing, just one individual on the team. The same goes for the church: We all have different jobs but we are on the same team and we ought to have the same goal: To win souls for God’s kingdom. Our job is to minister to the people with the gospel but also by being the hands and feet of Christ. By being doers of the word, we allow God to use us in this endeavor. If the church is failing, it’s because we have failed to carry out this mission. We have all become power hungry or consumers. It’s time for this to change.

It’s time to get back to our roots.

Sending Forth: A Proposal for a Modified Appointment System

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)

Background
It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The first time they came onto the scene, I told my wife that I could guarantee that they would seek to become a church (denomination if you’re so inclined) even though they, at least at first, insisted that that was not their plan. I became put off by being told by WCA leadership that forming a church was not going on when the signs were all there. But I digress… Lo and behold, as the situation within the United Methodist Church has evolved, they changed began to lay the foundation for a new church body. This came closer to fruition with the release of their proposed Doctrine and Discipline document. It’s important to note that this document is still a draft and is even only half of a draft at this point. In spite of my apprehensions of WCA, I find that their doctrine seems spot-on with expressions of orthodox Methodist/Wesleyan belief. High regard for the sacraments – including baptism of children and babies – is retained and other important Methodist distinctives are contained. I like that WCA has incorporated the creeds as foundational doctrinal standards as well. I have to admit, overall I like what they have put out so far.

Well, except for one thing: Their proposal for clergy deployment.

The proposed system of clergy deployment is a modified call system. The short version: Congregations would call their own clergy from approved lists provided by their annual conference. There is also a provision included where congregations must include at least one woman and one person of color on their list of candidates to be interviewed. A friend and colleague who is part of the committee putting the discipline together asked for comments and I expressed that I saw the possibility for a lot of unintended consequences. As we talked, he invited me to submit my own proposal and promised to bring it before the rest of the committee working on this portion of the proposed Doctrine and Discipline. I thanked him and believe this was very gracious even though he knows fully that I’ve been critical of WCA’s tactics since its formation. I took him up on this offer and sent my proposal, which I am posting here for you to read as well.

This is far from perfect and I’m sure needs a lot of cleaning up but here it is. All I did was copy and paste the proposed clergy deployment paragraphs, crossed out the portions I wanted to change, with my own proposed language in bold. Several of the unintended consequences I mentioned previously are included at the rationale I included at the bottom of my proposal. I emphasize that this is not perfect. I’m not a parliamentarian or a legal scholar. My goal was to propose a system that would be equitable in allowing congregations to have a say in who their pastor is as well as providing a fair process for qualified clergy to be considered for an appointment.

The Highlights
The system is a modified appointment system. The presiding elder (proposed terminology for what’s now a District Superintendent) would consult with the congregation’s Committee on Staff-Parish Relations to discern the needs, hopes, and desires of the congregation (I know that’s what’s supposed to happen now but…). The PE would then make a recommendation for a pastor to be appointed to the congregation to the Bishop who must give their approval. All parties – the PE, clergy, bishop, and Staff-Parish – must give their consent before an appointment can be made. The initial length of the appointment would be for three years (except in extraordinary circumstances). After three years, the pastor and SPRC would submit consultations and, if both parties agreed to continue the appointment, the appointment would become indefinitely fixed until either the pastor or the congregation wanted to change. The Bishop could still ask the pastor to move but the pastor would be able to say no.

I also included language to give the proposed Hosier Rule (gender and racial equality rule) some teeth.

What follows is what I have submitted. Feel free to share your thoughts on social media or in the comments (but be respectful and civil – I don’t believe that’s asking too much). My proposed additions are in bold. Also, I apologize for some of the paragraphs being split but you should be able to get the general idea.

¶ 518. CONSULTATION AND CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. Consultation is the process whereby the

presiding elder confers regularly with the pastor and the staff-parish relations committee of the

local church to evaluate the ongoing pastoral needs of the congregation. Clergy deployment

should take into account the unique situation of the local church and also the unique gifts and

evidence of God’s grace of a particular pastor. To assist local churches, clergy, presiding elders,

and bishops in the deployment process, church and clergy profiles, a clergy evaluation, and

deployment advisory forms must be completed or updated annually. annual conference boards

of ordained ministry may develop the appropriate forms to fit their context.

1. Church Profile. The presiding elder shall develop with the pastor and the staff parish

relations committee a profile that reflects the needs, characteristics, and opportunities for

mission of the local church consistent with the overall mission of the ___________________

Church. The profile shall be reviewed annually and updated when appropriate, particularly

when a pastoral change is anticipated. The profile shall include:

a. The general context of the geographical area in which a congregation finds itself,

including demographics and economic factors.

b. The size, financial condition, quality of lay leadership, history, and special needs of

the congregation.

c. The congregation’s service programs, evangelism efforts, discipleship model, and

mission to the community and the world.

d. The qualities and functions of pastoral ministry needed to fulfill the mission, goals,

and special needs of the congregation.

e. A tentative job description for the pastoral position the congregation seeks to fill.

2. Clergy Profile. The presiding elder shall develop with the pastor a profile that reflects

the pastor’s gifts, evidence of God’s grace, professional experience and expectations, and the

needs and concerns of the pastor’s spouse and family. This profile shall be reviewed annually

and updated when appropriate, particularly when a pastoral change is anticipated. The profile

shall include:

a. An overview of the pastor’s personal faith, call and commitment to ordained

ministry, and the integration of his or her vocation with personal and family well-being and

lifestyle.

b. A vitae of the pastor’s academic and career background, including his or her

professional experience, academic degrees, professional experience, and publications.

c. A listing of the pastor’s skills and abilities as they relate to pastoral ministry.

d. A statement of the pastor’s preferred type of ministry setting.

3. Clergy Evaluation. The staff-parish relations committee shall conduct an annual

written evaluation of the pastor’s ministry, using forms prepared by the conference board of

ordained ministry, which shall be shared with the presiding elder and the pastor. The presiding

elder shall meet with the pastor annually to review this evaluation.

4. Church-Clergy Advisory Form. At the end of the third year of a pastoral appointment, the pastor and staff-parish relations committee shall

each complete an advisory form annually to declare their desires for continued ministry for the

next ministry year. The advisory form shall offer several options, each of which must be

supported by a descriptive narrative. The advisory options shall be:

a. Stay — The pastor and/or congregation have a missional reason to remain in

ministry together for the coming year.

b. Either — The pastor and/or congregation are ambivalent about whether to

remain in ministry together for the coming year.

c. Go — The pastor and/or congregation believe that it is time for a pastoral

change.

d. Help — The pastor and/or congregation requests that the presiding elder

provide mediation or advisory help to resolve an issue between the pastor

and congregation.

e. If the pastor and committee do not match in their desire for the coming year,

the presiding elder shall meet with both parties to seek resolution or to

advise a pastoral change. No pastor may be removed from a pastoral charge

without the consent of the resident bishop.

f. If the pastor and committee do match in their desire for the pastoral appointment to continue, the appointment shall become fixed until such time as the congregation and/or the pastor express a desire for a pastoral change. Such declaration shall be made during the annual consultation period within the annual conference. Note: This provision does not prevent a Presiding Elder or Bishop from consulting with the pastor about serving another congregation where the Presiding Elder/Bishop believe the pastor’s gifts and graces for ministry are needed. In such a situation, if the pastor desires to remain at their current appointment, they may do so without penalty.

¶ 519. THE PROCESS OF CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. The process used in clergy deployment shall

include the following:

An opening for a pastoral charge may be initiated in a number of ways:

Voluntarily

The pastor chooses to leave a charge to take another pastoral position

in a different church. The pastor must receive written permission from

the presiding elder before interviewing for another pastoral opening.

ii. The pastor retires.

iii.The pastor chooses to go on transitional leave, unpaid leave of absence

or surrenders his or her credentials.

Involuntarily

The pastor dies or is incapacitated for an unreasonable length of time.

ii.The pastor is removed for misconduct after due judicial process.

iii. The local church requests a change of pastors and the change is

approved by the bishop.

When a pastoral charge has been declared open by the bishop, the presiding elder

consults with the local church’s governing board to determine the process by which

clergy candidates for the opening may be identified. the ministry needs of the congregation in order to assist the presiding elder and the Bishop in determining appropriate candidates.

The presiding elder and governing

board may choose together from one or more of the following options:

The governing board may choose to develop its own list of potential clergy

candidates for the pastoral opening. The presiding elder must approve any

candidate(s) before they may be interviewed by the local church.

The governing board may choose to request the presiding elder to conduct a

search and present a candidate or a list of candidates for the pastoral

opening.

The presiding elder may choose to offer additional candidates for

consideration.

The presiding elder shall advise the governing board on the nomination, formation,

and election of a transition team to manage the deployment process, the outgoing

pastor’s exit, and the first year of the pastoral transition.

The transition team consists of up to 15 persons, chaired by the chairperson of the

staff-parish relations committee, which will include the chair of the church governing

board and may include the staff-parish relations committee, or a subset thereof, and

other at-large members elected by the governing board. The pastoral transition within the congregation shall be overseen by the Committee on Staff-Parish Relations in consultation with the Presiding Elder/Bishop.

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations are responsible for managing the steps in the deployment process and conducts transition planning with both the incoming and outgoing pastors:

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations advises the outgoing pastor (when applicable) to

ensure that he or she leaves well and provides the incoming pastor with

necessary information.

The transition team develops a list of candidates for the pastoral opening

and submits a preferred list to the presiding elder for approval, or receives a

recommended candidate from the presiding elder.

The transition team conducts interviews of a clergy candidate presented

by the presiding elder or candidates on a list approved by the presiding elder

and chooses its preferred candidate.

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations advises the incoming pastor, prepares an appropriate

congregational welcome, and meets at least monthly with the pastor through

the first year of the transition to identify opportunities for early wins,

potential points of conflict, and to assist the pastor in learning the

congregation and community.

A list of available clergy candidates for a pastoral opening may be generated from among the

following sources: shall be maintained by the _________________

Church.

A database of available clergy maintained by the _________________

Church.

Clergy who apply for a particular pastoral opening via the presiding elder.

A list of clergy generated by a search firm employed by the local church.

Clergy currently serving another church may be contacted by a local church

to gauge interest in a pastoral opening but clergy must obtain written

permission from their presiding elder before interviewing.

Other sources as determined.

Any list of clergy candidates for a pastoral opening must be approved by the

presiding elder before interviews take place with the transition team. The presiding

elder will also ensure that the list of approved candidates available clergy to be considered for a pastoral appointment conforms to the provisions of

Paragraph 517.

The transition team shall interview clergy candidates using its preferred method. The

presiding elder may act as advisor and coach for the interview process. The Presiding Elder shall make a recommendation of a clergy person to fill a pastoral opening to the Bishop. This recommendation shall be based on discernment through prayer and other means in order to identify the best available candidate with the gifts and graces needed for a congregation or charge. In the case of two Presiding Elders desiring to place the same candidate within their district, the Bishop shall determine which congregation the candidate shall be appointed to.

The transition team shall identify its preferred candidate. After consultation with the

candidate, the presiding elder informs the bishop and cabinet.

The bishop, presiding elder, transition team, Committee on Staff-Parish Relations, and incoming pastor must all give

written consent to the pastor’s placement prior to declaring the position closed. If any of these parties does not give consent, the Presiding Elder will meet with the party that withheld consent to identify and mediate issues that caused the party to withhold consent. As a last resort, if issues cannot be resolved, the process begins again with consultation

between the presiding elder and transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations.

In the placement of associate pastors, the senior pastor of the church must also give

consent prior to declaring the position closed.

When a pastoral opening is declared closed, the appointment shall be for a period of three years commencing at a time determined by the Bishop. This minimum term is to allow the pastor and the congregation to form a strong relationship, to establish the pastor’s ministry, and to allow a thorough assessment of the pastor’s ministry and the congregation’s vitality. This three year period shall not be shortened except in extraordinary circumstances as determined by the Bishop.

¶ 520. DIVERSITY IN CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. Consistent with the values and mission of a global

church, recruiting, developing and retaining talented and gifted clergy that can reach all people

is a priority. We welcome and rejoice in the expansion of racial-ethnic and multicultural

churches within our movement. We also encourage and affirm clergy who may be called to

cross-cultural ministry as they follow the pioneering and teaching leadership of the Holy Spirit,

along with both male and female clergy who enhance the witness of the church with their

different lenses and intrinsic gifts and graces. In particular, we seek to attract, equip and deploy

women and those of all ethnic backgrounds so that their ministries may thrive.

To that end, establishing a diverse pool of clergy is critical, as is offering deployment

opportunities for both male and female clergy, from diverse races, ethnicities, and cultural

backgrounds. Each annual conference and bishop shall be charged with developing and

implementing demonstrable recruitment strategies and best practices for attracting gifted and

diverse clergy.

¶ 521. THE HOSIER RULE. The interview slate developed for each clergy opening must comply

to the following parameter, hereby known as the “Hosier Rule,” named in honor of Harry

Hosier, a black Methodist preacher recognized as one of the greatest orators of his time who

often accompanied Francis Asbury during the Second Great Awakening in early American

history. The list of candidates approved to interview with a local church or other

___________________Church entity with a clergy opening for an elder, deacon, or local pastor

in any position, as well as those interviewed, must include at least one cross-cultural and one

female candidate from outside of the church or organization involved All qualified candidates shall be considered for appointment regardless of gender and/or ethnicity.

The ________________ Church will maintain a current record of available female and clergy

interested in a cross-cultural ministry opportunity within its denomination-wide database that

the presiding elder and local church will draw upon for the slate. The presiding elder and local

church may also honor the Hosier Rule by finding qualified female and candidates interested in

cross-cultural appointments to interview from other external resources as well.

Records of interview slates showing a good faith effort to comply with the Hosier Rule shall be

kept by the presiding elder and shall be periodically reviewed by the bishop’s office.

Compliance with the Hosier Rule may only be waived if the transition team of the local church

or entity, along with the presiding elder and bishop, all certify in writing that such compliance is

not feasible in a particular instance, specifying the reasons why such is not possible. Barring

such certification, evidence of failing to abide with the integrity and spirit of this rule In the event that the Presiding Elder or Bishop determine that a congregation has refused to accept the appointment of a qualified pastor based solely on the pastor’s gender or ethnicity, such determination shall lead

to corrective actions as determined appropriate by the presiding elder/Bishop and restricted resourcing to the local church/entity, up to and including withholding a pastoral appointment for a period of up to one year or until the Presiding Elder or Bishop are satisfied that corrective measures have been effective.

RATIONALE

There are numerous reasons for proposing these revisions. While I believe that the modified call system of clergy deployment proposed was created in good faith, I further believe that several unintended consequences were not considered or simply overlooked. Among them:

  • Undue difficulty for women and persons who are not Caucasian in obtaining an appointment/call. The reality is: Numerous congregations will simply refuse to seriously consider candidates that are not white males. This is a sad reality of our fallen world but one that the church must acknowledge and discourage. Especially in a connectional church, a system of clergy deployment that relies on a congregational committee to “do the right thing” with little actual accountability is not wise and is not equitable to women and minorities.
  • Allowing a congregation to contact clergy who are under appointment about serving in their context is unethical. Congregations should not be in competition with one another for pastors. Such competition does not promote a spirit of cooperation or connection. This further would lead pastors to simply go where more money can be offered without regard to their particular calling or the actual missional needs of the church.
  • A modified call system does not offer any sort of security for the pastor or their family. When clergy can be released at any time for any reason, one can argue that this will motivate them to do all they can to be effective in ministry. An effective pastor should not be motivated by fear but rather by the calling that God has placed on their lives. Providing clergy with a set amount of time for an initial time at an appointment will allow both the clergy person and the congregation ample time to discern whether or not the appointment is a good long-term fit and, if not, to begin making necessary preparations.
  • Small membership congregations would suffer. In the early days of the Methodist movement, clergy deployment was conducted by appointment in order to send the best clergy to the places that had need of their gifts and graces. This system further ensured that all congregations desiring a pastor would have one assigned to them. Under a modified call system, small congregations would be particularly hard-hit because they would have difficulty finding clergy to serve them for what is often a very small salary. Without some sort of appointment system being in place, our small congregations would be at a distinct disadvantage.
  • Any sort of congregational call system is antithetical to our Wesleyan heritage. This amalgamation of connectional and congregational polity would lead to confusion and further dilution of the historic Wesley practice of Methodists. We’re either Wesleyan/Methodist or we’re not: A modified call system would lead the church further down the road to being something different.

An Ignored Injustice Within the UMC

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818If you follow my social media, you may know that I have just completed the 2017 edition of what I have dubbed the “Tour de Annual Conference,” where I attend sessions of the Mississippi and Kentucky annual conferences. I feel that since Mississippi is giving me financial aid for seminary it’s vital that I continue to participate in the life of that conference. Likewise, as I am serving in Kentucky I am there to represent my congregation and to participate in the conference which is allowing me to serve.

Just as other annual conferences have done/will do, Mississippi and Kentucky took up the proposed constitutional amendments that General Conference passed for affirmation or defeat by the annual conferences. Both Bishop James Swanson (Mississippi) and Bishop Leonard Fairley (Kentucky) issued a reminder that while the ministry of licensed local pastors is important, they are not allowed to vote on these amendments. I do believe that their words were sincere but it was also a reminder of a major injustice that has been allowed to take place in the United Methodist Church that has been mostly ignored.

In a nutshell, licensed local pastors are not treated as equals.

Currently, I am a licensed local pastor (LLP). I became licensed during the 2013 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference, the last class of new licensees to be part of Mississippi’s Ordering of Ministry service (the explanation is that LLPs are not actually licensed until they receive an appointment, so now they are recognized and presented their licenses once appointments are set). I affirm this vital part of ministry because I am doing it now, but I do intend to pursue ordination after I complete seminary.

For various reasons, some LLPs – either by calling or their life circumstances – choose to remain as LLPs for their ministry careers. In order to do this. LLPs are required to complete the prescribed Course of Study (which takes several years) and to participate in continuing education. Under our current polity, LLPs are not ordained and can only perform the duties of an Elder within the parameters of their appointment. Elders are always Elders but one is only an LLP as long as they are under appointment. No appointment, no license. In that vein, LLPs are also not guaranteed an appointment.

Most of the LLPs I have had the pleasure to know are committed to their church. While some, like me, are not cradle Methodists, LLPs are no less committed to their church and have invested much time and energy into becoming better pastors and in serving their congregations well. Most participate in the life of their annual conference and districts.

And yet, LLPs are not allowed to vote on constitutional amendments or to serve as delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference.

Increasingly, the United Methodist Church is having to rely more and more on LLPs in order to ensure that as many congregations as possible have a pastor, lest we return to the circuit rider model where a pastor may oversee many churches at once, often serving the sacraments and preaching at each congregation once a quarter and utilizing lay preachers to fill in the gaps. The numbers from the Lewis Center tell the story. Here’s a quote from an article that United Methodist News Service ran about the rise of LLPs that uses numbers from GCFA and the Lewis Center:

The denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration reports that from 2010 to 2015, the number of ordained elders and provisional member elders serving churches dropped from 15,806 to 14,614.

Though the denomination was shrinking in the United States, local pastors appointed to churches climbed from 6,193 to 7,569 in that time. Both full-time and part-time local pastor numbers grew, with the latter growing faster.

The Rev. Lovett Weems, director of the Lewis Center, has long followed United Methodist clergy trends. He notes that in 1990, elders outnumbered local pastors 5 to 1. That ratio is roughly 2 to 1 now, and drops further when looking just at those in church appointments.

Conferences vary widely in clergy makeup, but the West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma Indian Missionary and Red Bird Missionary conferences had more local pastors than elders serving churches as of summer 2015, according to GCFA. Some other conferences, such as Upper New York, East Ohio, North Alabama and Missouri, are close, and still others acknowledge they are highly dependent on this growing category of clergy.

In other words, the ranks of the ordained are shrinking and the ranks of LLPs are growing. It seems fair to speculate that this trend is not going to change anytime soon.

Other research which has been widely publicized indicates that the numbers of bi-vocational pastors are going to rise to the point that there will come a day where one who is truly in full-time pastoral ministry will be limited only to the largest of congregations.

There are all sorts of reasons why one would choose not to attend seminary but one is certainly the cost (even with financial aid, students often come out of seminary with a heavy load of debt). There also has to be consideration given to the number of people who are coming into pastoral ministry as second or even third career persons.

All of this is to say that the UMC must change the way it treats LLPs as the church’s reliance on LLPs increases. This is not to say that ordination does not still have a place (remember, I plan to pursue ordination) but we must start treating LLPs as equals. Currently, the Book of Discipline indicates that LLPs do not have a vote on constitutional amendments, can not vote for or serve as delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences, and there is also virtually nothing that an LLP can vote on in the clergy executive session to which they are amenable to.

It should be noted that lay delegates to the annual conference have full voice and vote on constitutional amendments, lay delegates to GC and JC, and other matters not related to ordination and clergy connection. The LLP who potentially serves their congregation does not. If for no other reason than the equalization of clergy and lay representation, this issue needs to be addressed.

I also note that there is a disconnect between how LLPs are treated by leadership and the ordained clergy. I have not personally experienced this but I have heard from many LLPs that they feel very disconnected from the conference due to events and other matters seemingly geared more toward the ordained clergy. Some LLPs do not even feel obligated to participate in district and conference events or even Course of Study due to the perception that they are viewed as second class or that the leadership does not care about them. I have to acknowledge that this is sometimes due to the LLP choosing not to participate in the life of the connection but I also do not doubt that some have been outright mistreated. Conference and district leadership must begin to take LLPs seriously and to hold them accountable.

So I’ve given my thoughts on this topic long enough so now I would like to propose some changes that I would like to see made. I do not have all the answers. I also do not know how some of this would be implemented, but others do and I hope that they will be willing to take some of this on.

  • LLPs must be held accountable so that they finish their educational requirements, take continuing education, and participate in the life of the larger connection. With greater respect and responsibility comes greater accountability. This is probably one of the biggest issues with LLPs at this time. I know for a fact that there are LLPs who have been continued for many years and have made little to even no progress in Course of Study and do not attend anything dealing with the conference or district. LLPs must be connectional and must be willing to submit to fulfilling their educational requirements of they want to be treated as equals.
  • If an LLP refuses to abide by these standards, they should be discontinued. There is no reason to keep someone in an appointment when they refuse to be held to the standard simply for the sake of having a warm body. This does not serve the church or the Kingdom. LLPs who refuse to pursue their education, who refuse to participate in the connection, or who are found to have doctrine and practices that are contrary to that of the United Methodist Church should be removed. To do otherwise is unacceptable.
  • LLPs who have completed either Course of Study or seminary (some with seminary education choose to remain LLPs) should be given full voice and vote in the clergy session (except on matters directly dealing with granting probationary status or the ordination of Elders and Deacons), be allowed to vote on constitutional amendments, to vote for and be eligible to be elected as delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. With the number of LLPs rising, it simply does not make sense for LLPs to not have representation.
  • Upon the recommendation of the LLP’s DCOM and approval of the Clergy Session, an LLP who is making satisfactory progress on their education should be allowed to vote for delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference (but not allowed to serve as delegates) and to vote on constitutional amendments. Again, a LLP who is serving and following the standards and rules should not be deprived of their voice and vote on matters that will impact them. This is not fair and, frankly, does not make sense.
  • Course of Study should be offered with the traditional classroom method along with the option to complete CoS online. This would give more flexibility for LLPs to complete Course of Study faster and in a timeframe and method which would be more conducive to their schedule. This is with bi-vocational pastors in mind but all LLPs would be able to potentially complete Couse of Study faster.
  • Those who pursue seminary should be allowed to complete their Master of Divinity degrees entirely online. Currently, one can complete 2/3 of work online with the remaining 1/3 being obtained in residential classes (often as intensives which meet for a week or two on campus). With modern technology, there is absolutely no reason why one should not be able to complete seminary online. The ability to complete the degree online should not be a replacement for the traditional classroom model but should be allowed to be an option for those who do wish to pursue a seminary education. Not only would this be a benefit to one who wishes to remain an LLP but would also be wonderful for those who wish to pursue ordination.

Licensed Local Pastors are vital to the ministry of the United Methodist Church. Licensed Local Pastors provide vital ministry to small rural churches, at least one megachurch in Texas, and in congregations in between. If current trends hold, LLPs will outnumber Elders at some point. It’s time for LLPs to be treated as equals but also to be held to the same standards of participation and sound doctrine as their ordained brothers and sisters. This injustice in the UMC has been ignored for far too long. It’s time for this to be made right.

And if others won’t work toward it, someday when I’m able… I will.

Send Me to Kansas City

li17_promoslide_speaker_720x486If you follow me on social media, you may have seen that yesterday I started and shared a GoFundMe page. If you didn’t read it, the reason I’m asking for some help is so that I can attend the Leadership Institute at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. Over the years I have heard nothing but great things about this time of learning and everyone I have ever talked to about this conference all have the same response: “Go!” So, I hope to do just that.

Why a GoFundMe page, you ask? Jessica and I are very blessed in that we are able to pay bills and live in a nice house (it’s a parsonage provided by the church if you didn’t know). However, this does not leave much money left over for things like the Leadership Institute. I’m in seminary and, needless to say, seminary is expensive. I do things on the side such as umpiring and such but this is money that we would rather put toward paying down things such as student loan debt. Anytime I have been able to attend a conference recently, these have been of little to no cost to me and have been within driving distance. This particular one will be a bit different, in that I will be better served by flying and that this conference will be a bit more expensive than the others I have attended. However, I do feel that this will be a valuable time of growth and, if at all possible, I would very much like to go.

The goal I have set will pay for airfare, hotel, rental car, meals, my registration fee, and the other expenses associated with attending the conference based on my estimates. Anything left over or raised in excess of my goal will go toward my seminary expenses and/or my student loan debt.

Some advice I heard a few years ago was that pastors should try to attend at least one conference every year that will help to transform their leadership. I feel that L.I. is such a conference. While I am in seminary and I am learning a lot about theology, the practical side is something that seminaries just are not very capable of teaching effectively. L.I. will help me to learn some practical things I can do as a pastor to be the best leader for my congregations that I possibly can be.

Your help is greatly appreciated. If you can’t donate funds, I certainly understand. Any other help you can give, such as your prayers and sharing the GoFundMe page, are just as appreciated and needed. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I will post an update soon.li2017_simplelogo_small