Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > October 2009 > News - October 2009
United Methodists discuss clergy job guarantees

Clergy offer prayers of support as young people place commitment cards
indicating their interest in ordained ministry on the table during
EXPLORATION 2006 in Jacksonville, Fla. A UMNS file photo by
Vicki Brown, Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Should United Methodist pastors have a lifelong job guarantee?

The denomination’s Study of Ministry Commission is examining the practice that has survived in The United Methodist Church even as it is disappearing from other U.S. workplaces.

The Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr.


How guaranteed appointments—which require bishops to appoint every elder in good standing to a local church—have an impact on the quality and diversity of clergy and whether the denomination can even continue to pay for such a system is up for debate.

In a report to directors of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry during their Oct. 8-10 meeting in Nashville, commission members said that while no formal recommendations have been proposed, changes in the principle of guaranteed appointment are being studied.

The Rev. Jasmine Smothers of Atlanta, for example, said her small group studying appointments believes a change is needed.

“We believe that going forward, appointments should not be guaranteed but should depend on missional needs, the health of the congregation and clergy effectiveness,” Smothers said. “We believe this is essential for the continued health of our church.”

Hurdle to church membership

In May 2007, a task force of the United Methodist Council of Bishops identified the system of guaranteed appointment of clergy as one of the biggest hurdles to reviving church membership. Having to deal with ineffective clergy drains time and energy from the denomination’s mission to make disciples of Christ, the bishops said.

We invite you to join the dialogue. Share your comments.

Post a comment

The Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr., distinguished professor of church leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, does not believe the system works well for anyone. “It was done initially as a limitation on the powers of the bishops,” he said. “Then, it became a right of clergy.”

Weems, co-author of “The Crisis of Younger Clergy,” said the concept of guaranteed appointments “sends the wrong signals” to young adults considering the ministry, who tend to view it as a seniority system or a type of exclusive club.

The principle was adopted in 1956 as a way to protect pastors from arbitrary, sexist or racist abuses of authority. While the church would want to retain some protections for women and ethnic minorities, the current system “is having the consequence of supporting mediocrity,” said Pacific Northwest Bishop Grant Hagiya, a commission member.

Hagiya added the church cannot continue to afford guaranteed appointments.

Fewer opportunities for some

Fundamental training and a “universal commitment” to open itinerancy regardless of gender or culture would be needed if job guarantees were lost, said M. Garlinda Burton, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

M. Garlinda Burton

“We’d have to redouble our efforts to be sure we are looking equally at the gifts and talents and graces and calling of all people,” she pointed out.

Burton said guaranteed appointments can have a dampening effect on the ministries of both second-career pastors and young people, who may have fewer opportunities for a placement where their gifts are needed.

“I think we have a system that has benefited some people just because they’ve been around for awhile,” she said.

As the denomination is seeing to attract younger members, the number of people under 35 ordained or on the track to be ordained dropped from 3,210 in 1985 to 910 in 2008, according to a study by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Young elders as a percentage of all elders dropped from 15.05 percent in 1985 to only 4.69 percent in 2005. The average age of elders is 52; for ordained deacons it is 51.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. Vicki Brown, associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, Board of Higher Education and Ministry, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Related Articles

Bishops examine roles, appointment processes

Young clergy evangelize in cyberspace

Leaders share best practices to attract young clergy


Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Commission on the Status and Role of Women

Comments will be moderated. Please see our Comment Policy for more information.
Comment Policy

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW