How do we get our Pastor?

The United Methodist tradition unites John Wesley’s tradition of Protestant theology with the traditional catholic form of church organization as adapted by the Church of England. Therefore, The United Methodist Church has a system of deployment for clergy different from much of the Protestant church community. Many Protestant churches have “Congregational” systems of organization. The local congregation is the ultimate authority in matters of faith and doctrine, ordination of clergy, and selection of its clergy leadership.

The United Methodist Church has a “connectional” system of organization. United Methodist churches are connected in the Annual Conference. Clergy are elected to be ordained and to full membership in the Annual Conference. The bishop ordains and appoints the clergy members. The “General Conference” meets every four years with members of the connection from The United Methodist Church around the globe to determine matters of faith and doctrine and to set the rules of the church outlined in The Book of Discipline.

Who makes the appointment of our pastor?

The Book of Discipline places the authority for appointing pastors in the office of the bishop. Our bishop is assigned to the Greater Northwest Area, which includes the Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho and the Alaska Conferences. The bishop consults with the district superintendents in our conferences in making appointments.

How does the bishop know about our church?

The district superintendents are extensions of the Bishop’s office and communicate through regular consultations with the staff/pastor-parish relations committee (S/PPRC), the pastor/s, and the Charge Conference of each church. The bishop also travels extensively to be present in churches in our conference. The S/PPRC prepares a profile of the church for use by the cabinet.

Who is on the Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee?

The S/PPRC is made up of 5-9 persons elected for three-year terms by the annual Charge Conference. Members include a young adult, a Lay Leader, and a Lay Member of the Annual Conference. One member may be a youth.

How do I share my concerns and hopes for a pastor?

Since the S/PPRC is the primary path through which the district superintendent learns about pastoral needs of a congregation, the S/PPRC members are encouraged to consult with other members of the church. Any person can contact members of the S/ PPRC with concerns about pastoral leadership or about their vision for the church’s leadership in the future. You are welcome to write the S/PPRC chair with your concerns or to ask for a hearing with the committee.

How are the needs of my pastor heard?

Your pastor is encouraged to share needs and hopes in regular consultation with the S/PPRC and the district superintendent.

How do the bishop and cabinet choose our pastor?

In January, the cabinet begins meeting to make appointments that match the gifts of pastors with the missional needs of each church. It’s important to note that appointments are made without regard to race, ethnic origin, gender, marital status, or age, except for the provisions of mandatory retirement. A process of prayerful discernment leads to a decision by the bishop in consultation with the cabinet to return or move a clergy person.

Can pastors say “no”?

Pastors make a pledge to be “itinerant” when they are ordained. They commit to serve the Church. However, the bishop and cabinet will seriously consider the needs of clergy and families in the process.

What can the local church say?

When the bishop seeks to appoint a new pastor to a church, the district superintendent consults with the S/PPRC about its needs and conveys the information to the bishop and cabinet. When a person is selected by the bishop, the district superintendent shares the background on that pastor with the S/PPRC and arranges to introduce the bishop’s designated pastor to the S/PPRC. This meeting is for the purpose of introduction and assistance in the transition of pastoral leadership. It is not an “employment interview” since in our system the pastor is not employed by the local church. In rare instances this meeting may result in factors being discovered which call for reconsideration. The district superintendent will communicate this to the bishop and cabinet, and this may or may not result in a different decision. After the meeting, the district superintendent will coordinate the announcement of the bishop’s intent to make this appointment.

When will we learn about a change of pastors?

When your pastor is designated to be moved, the S/PPRC chair or your pastor will typically make the announcement in Sunday worship. In some cases, a letter will be sent out. It’s important to remember that the appointments of pastors are not final until they are read by the bishop at the Annual Conference, which is held in June.

What can we do to help the process?

First, pray for your pastor and family, your local church, your district superintendent, the bishop and cabinet, and the Annual Conference.

Second, help your local church’s S/PPRC effectively understand the needs of your congregation and needs of your community.

Third, when a pastoral change occurs in your church, encourage your leadership to participate in a Pastoral Transition Workshop sponsored by the your Annual Conference for churches changing pastors. For churches receiving a cross-racial appointment, additional consultation and assistance is offered.

Image Credit: A UMNS photo, ©2009 Foundery Pictures.