By Keith Boyette
Local churches need faithful, creative, and energetic pastors to partner with them in worshiping God, growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, and being passionate and diligent in the mission field God has given them. Clergy have a significant impact on the effectiveness and fruitfulness of local churches, so how they are deployed is extremely important in achieving the church’s mission.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) envisions a clergy deployment system where laity are fully invested partners in the appointment of a pastor to their churches. While robust consultation with a local church is supposed to occur when an appointment is made in The United Methodist Church, in actuality this is not always the case. Sometimes laity are not fully integrated in the decision-making process. Consequently, they are not as invested as they should be, and in worse case scenarios they feel disenfranchised and powerless. Too often, laity become passive bystanders in deployment decisions, which then leads to passivity regarding their local church’s mission.
The deployment process set forth in the WCA’s proposed “Book of Doctrines and Discipline” (see paragraphs 517-521) envisions significant collaboration, consultation, and consensus building between a local church, the office of the bishop, and a clergyperson. The goal is to match gifted and highly motivated clergy with local churchs that can leverage a given pastor’s skills for their particular setting. That being the case, the “Book of Doctrines and Discipline” encourages everyone involved to widen their horizons during pastoral changes. Local churches, pastors, and bishops will be allowed to search beyond their annual conferences to find the best match possible for everyone involved.
Recognizing the wide diversity of needs and considerations in any deployment situation, the proposed process permits a local church to choose between identifying their own list of candidates or allowing the annual conference leadership to propose a list. Providing local churches with an option recognizes that deployment situations are different for many reasons and therefore flexibility is the best path forward. In either case, local church leadership would interview a pool of potential candidates, and throughout the process they would regularly consult with the bishop and his or her representatives. Either path would necessitate a greater degree of involvement on the part of laity and clergy.
The proposed deployment process retains significant involvement on the part of the bishop, who must approve candidates under consideration for a particular deployment and ultimately make the appointment of the clergyperson to a local church. However, if there is disagreement between the church and the bishop regarding the appointment, the process of consultation continues until agreement is achieved. In short, every effort is to be made to reach a decision all parties believe is best for a given situation.
In this system, a high value is placed on permitting clergy and local churches to identify and agree on the most important objectives of a deployment. As local churches are more intentional in defining their missional objectives and leadership requirements, and as clergy are more intentional in defining their preferred ministry setting, the likelihood of an effective and fruitful match is heightened. At the same time, the bishop and his or her conference representatives ensure proper credentialing, necessary background checks, and a history of service for all the candidates. Furthermore, conference leaders will bring their wisdom and experience to the deployment decision.
The WCA is fully committed to the deployment of women and men, people of color, and all ethnicities as clergy in a new Methodist movement. It also affirms the importance and power of cross-cultural appointments. To ensure that women, people of color and all ethnicities are considered for every deployment opportunity, it has proposed the Hosier Rule. Named in honor of Harry Hosier, an African-American Methodist preacher recognized as one of the greatest orators during the Second Great Awakening in early 19th century America, the rule requires that at least one woman and at least one cross-cultural candidate or person of color be interviewed and considered for each deployment situation. Ensuring the elimination of bias and prejudice will be at the heart of every deployment decision. The WCA believes a new Methodist movement must be committed to a process that ensures local churches consider and reap with joy the gifts and graces all properly credentialed candidates could bring to their ministry settings.
The deployment of gifted and passionate clergy to serve in local churches is essential to a healthy, vibrant, and connected movement. The ultimate goal of clergy deployment is to ensure laity and clergy are excited about worshiping God together, committed to working as a team to achieve God’s purposes, and fully invested in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
The WCA believes our times require greater flexibility, creative thinking, and an openness to new possibilities in the process of deploying clergy. Critical to that process is the full integration of laity. We believe their enhanced participation will lead to the deployment of passionate, gifted clergy, and to an ever-widening connection of healthy and vibrant local churches committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and a retired elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.