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WESLEYAN WISDOM: ‘Signs of the times’: Pages from my ’95 notebook Donald W. Haynes, Feb 1, 2012
By Donald W. Haynes UMR Columnist
Kennon Callahan revolutionized my ministry in the 1980s when he wrote, “The age of the local church is over; the age of the mission station has come.” Then he followed with, “The age of the local pastor is over; the age of the missionary pastor has come.”
Later, George Hunter’s How to Reach Secular People and his The Celtic Way of Evangelism reformatted my local church evangelism. Len Sweet let me read his manuscript for Faithquakes (1995), which emboldened me to embrace postmodern culture with the gospel. Similarly, Lyle Schaller taught me that the most important question every pastor and every parish must ask is, “What time is it?” (He said most thought it was still 1957!)
In 1995, the Rev. Lovett H. Weems had just published Church Leadership in which a professor at Harvard Business School had written in the Foreword, “Leaders are not satisfied with the status quo. Leaders therefore must be change masters.”
Dr. Weems himself wrote, “The only way to preserve values over time is to be involved continuously in renewal and change.”
Cleaning out an old file this week, I found a memo entitled “Signs of the times—prepare and prevent or postpone and repent.” I sent it out just before the annual conference in 1995 when I was ending my brief tenure as a district superintendent.
If you read this, you will quickly see why my term as a “D.S.” was short! My memo included some zingers, such as: • “Laity want pastors who are magicians; pastors want churches that are plum trees.” • “We are more excited about purging rolls than saving souls.” • “We are more dedicated to the care, feeding and shearing of sheepfold sheep than rescuing and redeeming hillside sheep.” • “We spend more energy battling over established turf than expanding new frontiers.” • “We are more skilled in defining and defending process than in achieving measurable results.” • And, regarding appointments, “I don’t care what is happening to the ship; give me a lifeboat.”
In the memo, I concluded that “Managers climb the ladder of success while leaders determine if the ladder is enabling us to climb the right wall.”
Following an introduction with those radical words, I became more iconoclastic and perhaps out of touch with the reality of the times in 1995. Now we are 17 years down the road and I am retired and replaced everywhere except at the computer and in the pulpit of a rural church!
’95 proposed paradigm
So let’s look at those proposals from my 1995 memo.
“District and conference Boards of Ordained Ministry must be better ‘gatekeepers’ for those entering the ministry, recognizing that this generation is in need of ‘Gideon’s Army.’ By the same token, we must develop a faster lane” for those with obvious gifts, track records, and high interview reviews.
“It is frightening to think about it, but guaranteed appointments must go. We shall soon be like many industrial labor unions that fought for sustained protection from emerging reality until the plant closed. Though these paradigms are foreign to our system, we must encourage more ‘tentmaker ministries,’ allowing people to remain at least part-time in secular work and serve churches part-time.
For pastors who are “perennially in a mode of conflict [or] forced moves” and whose churches consistently show membership loss and attendance decline—“[they] must be moved to smaller parishes where they once excelled or counseled to take retirement.”
“Appointments should reflect merit, not seniority. Only those with continuing measurable excellence should expect ‘promotions’ to larger churches after they have served sufficient years to have developed standards of excellence. If, upon looking at one’s profile, no church at the present level of appointment will welcome a pastor of demonstrated mediocrity, he or she will be moved to a place of less compensation. By the same token, there should be more dramatic ‘jumps’ for pastors of demonstrated excellence without regard for seniority.
“We need to abolish the norm of June appointments and let the bishop and cabinet make appointments throughout the year, especially in September, January, and just after Easter. This would require no constitutional change. This would give a longer time for the cabinet to look at the ‘missional profile’ of the church and the gifts, energy, and leadership style of any number of pastors until a match could be made for the benefit of the Kingdom, not the ‘system.’ It might also lead to more clergy asking to remain for longer pastorates and move us away from our ‘itinerant ethos.’”
“More pastoral appointments are ‘land-mined’ by entrenched staff than any other single cause. Before any appointment is finalized, there should be a parish visit that provides both parties a candid, on-site analysis of the church’s needs and the pastor’s gifts. This enhances the role of all stakeholders. This should include the right of the possible incoming pastor to interview staff. The incoming pastor could either recommend some staff changes if he or she were coming, and give appointed staff an opportunity to ask to be moved along with the senior pastor. This might be more crucial if the incoming pastor is a woman. Women should not have to fight ‘gender battles’ before they get their books unpacked!
“Bishops should be elected for eight years with the options of being re-elected for unlimited subsequent eight year terms, but always in a different episcopal area. Some bishops have the renewed vision to serve many years. . . . All should have to go back to their jurisdictional base for affirmation after eight years. The Council of Bishops should be the primary ‘think tank’ of the denomination.
“The district superintendency should be retained but they should be nominated by the bishop, elected by their peers (a policy first suggested in 1792), and reconfirmed annually. Again, some clergy make more effective superintendents than they do pastors, but being an effective pastor does not mean that one will be an effective ‘D.S.’”
“Disperse conference staff geographically and have a diversity of skills and training. These would be ‘experts’ available to the local churches. They must also initiate training, supervise missional ministries, and work more closely with district superintendents. “Have three general program boards—Evangelism, Nurture, and Missional Outreach; two boards for the ordained clergy—Ordination and Pensions; and GCFA as it is today. Representatives to general boards should be elected by the annual conference, not the delegations to Jurisdictional and General Conference.
“Allow apportionments to be a contractual agreement between the D.S. representing the connection and the local church. This need not require a Charge Conference. This provides dignity for the church to make a true covenant and provides the district, conference, and general church a much more accurate expectation of payments.
“Let pensions be a required personal benefit paid for the pastor of a charge, not payment into a connectional fund. Like a 401(k), the pastor could designate more or less of the total compensation to pension. He or she also, with responsibility for investment risks, may be allowed to ‘go outside’ the Board of Pensions, but this could not be an ‘in and out and in again’ decision. Once out, always out.”
Update and conclusion
So it was written in 1995. Some I would change today, but many of those ideas still have some merit.
In January 2012, I am still reading Lovett Weems except that now he is director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership! He most recently quoted Tom Friedman: “We can either have a hard decade or a bad century.” Dr. Weems also referred to an article by Daniel Burke from the Religion News Service, titled, “Mainline Protestants seek internal reforms, stir anger.” He points out that the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and United Methodist Church are all in membership decline and are all trying to “downsize the denominational structures, focus more on congregational ministry than denominational ministry, permit more flexibility for congregations and less regulation by headquarters, reduce denominational budgets, and meet in assemblies less often.” Dr. Weems insists that if we “devalue legitimate concerns,” people will become more turf-protective. Heretofore turf protection has been mostly among the clergy controlled arenas, but the new breed of protectionism might be the laity if we do not respond realistically and willingly.
He quotes Gil Rendle: “Norms outlive the people who develop them.” That is much like George Santayana’s wisdom saying, “If you marry one generation, you will be widowed in the next.” Change happens, whether proactively or reactively.
Looking at my memo of 1995 to the Charlotte District, I recall the outcry of negative reaction. Upon leaving I was given a pair of dimes and told that what they would remember about me was my always calling for “new paradigms.” Interestingly, a lot of these concerns and proposals are reflected in the 2012 General Conference “Call to Action” proposal.
The rest. . . . Well, God is not yet through with this Methodism; let us pray for the General Conference delegates!
Dr. Haynes is a retired member of the Western North Carolina Conference. He is the author of On the Threshold of Grace: Methodist Fundamentals. Email: email@example.com.