Accountability is hard to argue against. In theory, no one wants ineffective people in positions of power. We want our teachers to teach well, we want our doctors to practice medicine well, and we want our pastors to minister well. Very few people would argue that we want ineffective teachers, doctors, or pastors.
My struggle with accountability is: what do we hold people accountable for? Should a teacher be held accountable for the students standardized test scores? How much of the blame or praise should the teacher be assigned? In most cases, the teacher did not share their genes with the student or nurture the student. A student usually has several teachers. The teacher is not responsible for the larger web of systems that the student lives in. Does the teacher play a role in the education of the student? Yes. Should the teacher be accountable for the role the teacher plays in the life of the student? Yes. The hard part though is clearly delineating what the teacher should be held responsible for and what is beyond the teachers control.
It appears that General Conference has voted to remove “Guaranteed Appointments” from the BOD. The idea that if you were an elder in good standing, you were guaranteed an appointment. This is being lifted up as a major step towards accountability and vitality. Ineffective pastors could be held accountable. (Let us ignore for the moment that the Book of Discipline already had a means and a method to remove ineffective pastors and some bishops have used that means quite effectively.) We all pray this will lead our churches to vitality.
I have no inherent problem with the removal of guaranteed appointments. Accountability in the proper context is incredibly appropriate. What I have a problem with is that it is not clear to me that pastors will be held accountable for things they can control. Our ministry takes place in a complex web of systems. Many of those systems are unhealthy. There are things the pastor controls and there are many more things the pastor does not. The unhealthiness of our church as a whole and in local congregations is not all the fault of pastors.
If the issue is really about ineffective pastors, why are the current safeguards in our Book of Discipline not enough? Is it because we do not communicate well as a church, or have problems resolving conflicts? If bishops and District Superintendents have ineffective clergy, why not have the conversations needed now? If you read Bishop Willimon’s new book or read one of his print interviews, you get the impression he had little problem having conversations with ineffective pastors and exiting them from the conference.
My guess is that we struggle with honest communication and conflict resolution. We also struggle with being honest when we frame issues. All those who only want to talk about this in terms of ineffective clergy are playing a slight of hand trick. Bishop Schnase in a question and answer article before General Conference suggested that the end of guarenteed is not really about ineffective pastors. He seems to suggest the problem is that there are too many pastors for too few appointments. If this is the real problem, we will have to do what we have to do as a church, but let us be honest about it.
It would be helpful to define the terms we are talking about. What does a “missional appointment” mean? What does it mean to be “effective?” Are we talking about church growth or discipleship? When we talk about fruits of ministry are we talking about numbers or spiritual maturity? If it is a “both/and” which one takes priority?
Will only the pastors serving local churches be held accountable? Will bishops and district superintendents be held accountable for the appointments they make? What about local churches? Will they be held accountable? If the pastors are the only ones being held accountable in the system will we have the church vitality we pray for?
Accountability is great when people are held accountable for things they can control. If a person is given a clearly defined job, with the appropriate power, resources, and responsibility to accomplish the job, accountability is powerful. Most of time though, pastors are not given a clearly defined job, they are given a lot of responsibility, but little power. Resources are often lacking.
I think we need a system where we define what we expect. We need to define what we mean exactly when we say the mission statement of the UMC. It would be helpful if we are going to hold pastors accountable, we hold congregations accountable as well. If bishops and district superintends are the ones who are going to hold pastors and congregations accountable, then they should at least ensure that they define what they expect from the pastors and congregations. If we are going to make missional appointments, please define what all this entails.
“Sword” ©2006 Copyright Adam Rose. Licensed Under Creative Commons.