Power

After reading Tom Berlin’s blog post about Guaranteed Appointments, I am glad he feels great about the loss of guaranteed appointments.  Undoubtedly he is feeling better that he now knows the conference wants him and is not merely putting up with him.  It was nice of him to acknowledge, a bit, that he was not in the most vulnerable of positions.  After all as a popular clergy person (he is a delegate to GC from his AC) serving a large membership church, he probably does not have much to fear from this sudden loss of job security.

An aside: I realize my snakiness is a little mean.  I really like The Rev. Dr. Berlin.  He came to speak at an ordination retreat I attended.  Out of all the pastors I have heard speak, who lead large membership churches, his words on change make the most sense.  Still, his post was rather blasé. He retweeted it at least four times as of last night.  In his blasé style, I think he ignores what makes the removal of guaranteed appointments potentially problematic.

What troubles me most about his post is that he does not talk about the uneven power dynamics or power at all.  The loss of guaranteed appointments changes the power dynamics between the bishop and clergy of an annual conference.  Maybe for the better.  Perhaps for the worst.  More likely somewhere in-between.

After the 2004 General Conference I talked to a delegate about the people who had openly suggested schism as a way to deal with our conflicts related to homosexuality.  As an outside observer it seemed to me the conflict was all about homosexuality.  The delegate suggested that it was really all about power.  Different sides using the issue of homosexuality as an issue to try and  shape the church to their liking.  Sure the surface issue of homosexuality was part of the conflict, but below the surface were power struggles.  Only talking about it in terms of homosexuality ignored the larger power struggle.

As I mentioned in my post on Accountability, there is more to the loss of guaranteed appointments than the issue of ineffective pastors.  While most would like to focus on the easier issue of ineffectiveness (who wants ineffective pastors?), the other issue is that there appears to be too many pastors wanting full time appointments at a time when full time appointments are disappearing.

This is obviously a problem.  It needs to be dealt with.  Hopefully, the safe guards in the General Conference’s legislation on the issue will help us move towards vitality in healthy ways.  I think though it has to be acknowledged that issues of power are at work here too.

I keep reading about the need for bold action.  The need for accountability and leadership.  Ultimately, some have a vision for the church where leaders with the right amount of power will steer us towards vitality.  People unhappy with the current structure are also unhappy with the current power arrangements.  Its not simply about leadership, it is also about power.

Any change to the structure is a change to the power.  Some will benefit from the changes in power, others will not.  Power is neither a good or bad thing, it all depends on how it is used.  When we don’t talk about issues of power as part of the discussion and we only discuss part of the problem, we are not being honest with ourselves or each other.

What troubles me the most is that the majority of the people at General Conference making these decisions (Young Clergy?) are the ones who have the least skin in the game.  On the elder end of things, most are popular, many are established in ministries that are fruitful, they are not in vulnerable positions.  For the laity and deacons, they have nothing to lose and it is easy to blame elders for the problems of the church than taking collective responsibility.

This change in power is one sided.  We weaken the position of the pastor, but we do not make congregations or the superintendency weaker or more accountable.  As we strengthen, at least in some ways, the congregations and the superintendency at the cost of pastors, we have to ask will stripping the pastors of more power lead to vitality?

I would contend that pastors have too little power as it is.  We have a lot of mandated responsibility in the BOD, but where do we have the power to live out those responsibilities?  Congregations do not inherently kowtow to the pastor.  In fact, in my experience, they do not.

I contend that if we want vitality, we must empower both pastors and congregations.  Congregations, pastors, and the superintendency must all be held accountable.  We must define what want, what we see as fruit, what we expect from pastors, what we expect from congregations, and what we expect from the superintendency.  Healthy power dynamics need definition.

As a church we need to talk about power and how we use it.  We must be aware of how our changes in power will empower and marginalize.  When we make changes that are necessary, but will lead to harm we need to acknowledge it.  One example is for pastors not being appointed for missional reasons, but who could be effective clergy in the right context.  In our new system it could happen.  In an annual conference with too few appointments and too many clergy, it maybe necessary.  Not every clergy person will be effective in every context.  This does not make the pastor inherently ineffective.  We should work to mitigate the harm and acknowledge the sadness of the situation.

We also have to ask, to what end are we using our power?  Are we at cross-purposes?  If we say we want young clergy in one breath, and than use our power to weaken the position of young clergy in the next, will our words or our actions speak louder?  How do we judge our use of power?  I think Dan Dick explores this better than me, so I refer you to his posts: “Safety in Numbness” and “Value-Addled.”

Fist.” ©2006 Copyright Randen Pederson.  Licensed Under Creative Commons

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