Benjamin Franklin said: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Franklin was obviously not a United Methodist. Each year, when pastoral appointments are made, bishops must do one thing. They must appoint every elder in good standing to a church. Methodists call this a “guaranteed” appointment.
The General Conference Ministry Study Commission, which will present its report at the 2008 General Conference, states,
“The Discipline affirms that “all elders in full connection who are in good standing in an annual conference shall be continued under appointment” (¶337.1). This is described as a “guarantee” of appointment, as if it were an entitlement for which one achieves permanent eligibility or an insurance policy on which one has paid the premium.” (Q84.2, page 33)
The Discipline never uses the word “guarantee”. In most jobs, a yearly performance review is required. If you don’t meet the standards of the company, they send you on your way. Accountability is a Biblical teaching, yet where is the accountability for elders? There is none. What happens if an elder doesn’t get their continuing education? Nothing. What happens if an elder is ineffective? As long as they don’t break the law, they are sent to another congregation.
The Ministry Study Commission continues, stating:
The Discipline’s affirmation of continuous appointment should be read, rather, within the context of the elder’s order of mutual support and accountability, which commits its members mutually to a rigorous program of covenant group participation, lifelong learning, and professional growth. Continuous appointment means continuous practice of the disciplines of the order. . . (Q84.2)
Elders should be held accountable. How, you ask? It may surprise you to know that the Book of Discipline provides a process for the assessment of an elder’s competence and effectiveness:
“Allegations of incompetence, ineffectiveness, or unwillingness or inability to perform ministerial duties” are to be referred to the board of ordained ministry. A fair and just process of review is described and a variety of “remedial actions” are listed (¶362). The Commission urges bishops, district superintendents, and boards of ordained ministry to use these processes to address the performance of persons who do not meet the conference’s professional standards, and to help such persons find an appropriate place of ministry among the many ministries of the whole people of God. (Q84.3)
The study commission makes some good points. Local churches and district superintendents could file complaints against ineffective elders. Bishops may have to appoint elders, but they don’t have to appoint them at the same salary level and they certainly are not required to grant a pay raise if they are ineffective! Historically, ineffective elders are not appointed to lower salaries – they move laterally and some even receive pay increases. Why would an elder change if they know they are assured of a place to go and no reduction in pay?
Is there an elder that shows incompetence, ineffectiveness, or an unwillingness to perform their duties? There is a remedy and it doesn’t require sending them to another unsuspecting congregation.