As our two Cabinets here in Indiana work their way through the appointment season, once again we are involved in a balancing act -- trying the balance the number of pastors with the number of appointments. In our United Methodist polity of "guaranteed appointments", every church is guaranteed a pastor and every commissioned or ordained clergy is guaranteed an appointment. That fact produces an incredibly difficult balancing act of trying to keep everything in perfect balance.
Factors which affect that balance of numbers include: pastors who are retiring from active service, pastors who die while serving a church, pastors who decide to leave pastoral ministry, pastors who go on some type of Leave of Absence (including Family Leave or Incapacity Leave) or return from Leave of Absence, pastors who return to pastoral ministry from Extension Ministry appointments, seminary graduates returning for their first appointments, pastors who return to school for advance degrees, church which add clergy staff positions, churches which can no longer afford to have full-time pastors or choose to go part-time, churches which eliminate associate pastor positions in order to hire lay staff (often to try to save money, but I worry about the loss of positions to train future senior pastors), churches which choose to close, Extension Ministry positions which are eliminated by other institutions, etc. As you can readily see, our two Cabinets are involved in a constant balancing act, trying to provide every pastor with a place to serve, every church with the number of pastors they request, and in the midst of that trying to make the best possible matches of pastors and churches. It is a balancing act, and it is constantly moving target.
This year, the North Cabinet is facing an over-supply of a minimum of 7 more clergy with guaranteed appointments than we have positions to appoint them. Meanwhile the South Cabinet is "short" 3 clergy. One would think that is easily solved, since Indiana is served by one bishop (me), but the mechanisms of appointing pastors from one conference to the other are not easy: we have different "start" dates for conferences years, the two conferences have different insurances plans, and some pastors don't want to move from one conference to the other. If we were one conference in Indiana, those problems might be a little easier to solve, but that is not our current reality.
I share this to remind all of our pastors and all of our churches that our United Methodist system of appointing pastors has many, many advantages. But it is also a constant balancing act. Both Cabinets struggle with issues such as: do we tell a capable and effective Local Pastor that he/she no longer has an appointment just because an Elder wants to return to pastoral ministry here in Indiana and is guaranteed an appointment? Do we encourage a church which is struggling financially to keep a full-time pastor because we need the appointment position, or do we encourage that church to balance its budget and go to a part-time pastor they can afford? Do we put two or more part-time parishes together to try to make a full-time appointment? Do we work harder to help ineffective pastors to find another career, and will the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session of Annual Conference support that effort? Do we tell all Supply Pastors who are not guaranteed an appointment that they are out of a job, even if they are growing their churches? Do we encourage pastors who are near mandatory retirement to move into retirement and make room for younger clergy? In the midst of all of those issues, can we make the best possible matches of pastoral leadership to fit the needs of the 1250 churches of our two conferences?
I am reminded of something Bishop Leroy Hodapp told me when I was appointed to the Cabinet in 1990: "Anybody can make one good appointment; the real trick is to make hundreds of them every year."
Please keep both Cabinets in your prayers this appointment season as we seek God's guidance and our best wisdom to keep this "balancing act" and make the best appointments possible for all of our churches.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner