An Inside Look at the Appointment Process

Date Posted: 4/25/2013

Ever wondered about the rationale behind clergy appointments? Over the last few years, the process has moved from one that was typically reactive, relational and internally focused to a data-driven externally-focused ministry model that facilitates disciple-making and accountability. Embracing this new direction for the Texas Conference, District Superintendents and TAC Center Leaders work together as the Cabinet to make appointments based on the needs of each respective mission field. Learn more about the inner workings of this rather-complex-but-critically-important system.


Anyone sneaking into a TAC Cabinet meeting during the appointment-making season would not see leaders drawing names out of a hat in the center of the conference table or hear anything resembling the results of a clergy popularity contest. Instead, they would see the Core Values inspiring these careful decisions on colorful posters plastered in plain view from all angles around the table. “We are guided by our conference mission statement and core values of our purpose as we work through each appointment season starting in December and culminating each May,” says B.T. Williamson, Assistant to the Bishop.


New Model for Ministry

While the Texas Conference is home to outstanding clergy and ministries of worldwide significance, the Texas Conference is also known for emphasizing the steps toward transformation in the currently challenging church environment. In fact, the Cabinet has been tweaking a new model for the appointment process for over five years.  Why? In preparing for the appointment season of 2007, Bishop Janice Huie explains, “We realized our old model of appointment-making—that focused inwardly had become a significant deterrent to vibrant, growing congregations reshaping futures for Jesus Christ. In one of those A-ha moments, we realized that our focus should not solely be the pastor or the congregation, but rather it needed to be the mission field. We felt God was inviting us to appoint in a way that would best facilitate pastors in leading congregations to reach out to people of different backgrounds and ages who had not yet heard the gospel.”


The Cabinet starts the appointment process by identifying retirees, first time appointees, and churches that are adding or reducing staff. He adds, “We have a record 20 retirements this year from churches of all sizes, so all kinds of discussions come in to play as we work to get the right pastor in the right church at the right time.” The appointment process is data supported, with year-end reports, transformation assessments, SPRC summaries and other indicators of growth or decline. A pastor’s placement decision is also guided by individual factors such as the pastor’s:

·         Ages and stages of children in school

·         Medical needs

·         Spouse (career status, etc.)

·         Tenure

·          Metrics of effectiveness

·         Size of the current/ prospective church.

“Each opening is a moment in time for a pastor as well as the church,” adds Clergy Excellence Center Director Rev. Gail F. Smith, “and we discuss what kind of leader will it take to move each church forward. The Bishop refers to our District Superintendents as our Chief Missional Strategists because we depend greatly on their in-depth knowledge of pastors and congregations to make the best matches.” District Superintendents provide a baseline for decision making by submitting written documents outlining their district’s distinct missional successes and opportunities and immediate priorities. “I have been in the Texas Annual Conference as an ordained minister for 40 years under three bishops. Over the past 18 years I have served on two cabinets under the authority of three bishops and I often say as I leave the Cabinet room that I am amazed at what I discern to be the Holy Spirit at work helping us put the appointments together,” says North District Superintendent Bill Taylor. “I come into the meeting expecting one thing, and leave thinking how exciting it is to witness the Holy Spirit’s influence on our decisions in surprising ways.”


South District Superintendent Rev. Kip Gilts offers, “I have been impressed, as one of the newer members of the Appointive Cabinet, at the amount of time and attention given to every appointment. There is no such thing as a less significant congregation or a less important pastor. The multi-dimensional approach to appointments provides us with the opportunity to prayerfully and strategically employ the two most important resources of the Texas Annual Conference, called pastors and called congregations, who are commissioned to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I have often told pastors, SPRC members, and church leaders that statistics and stories combine to give a clearer picture of a congregation. Neither can do this alone, but together the statistics and stories help to relay what God is doing through a community of faith. One of the roles of the District Superintendent is to become familiar with those elements so that every appointment can be a strategic deployment of resources.”


Methodists on the Move

United Methodists are known for moving clergy throughout their careers. “Every church is unique,” adds Gail, “and challenges change, so this variety of experiences strengthens our clergy in leadership skills over time.” She believes the net result has been a new appointment-making model that faces the unprecedented opportunities to meet unparalleled hunger for God more effectively. “Spirit-led, excellence, fruitfulness and accountability are the new drivers in our 21st Century methodology,” adds Bishop Huie. “Open itinerancy,” explains B.T., “drives the placement of pastors in relation to needs in the mission field, as marked by problem solving, risk taking and possibility building.”


Work In Progress

Notes Gail, “The Cabinet begins every meeting with devotionals, prayer, and special focus on the needs of clergy and congregations throughout the conference before we discuss gifts and graces and leadership strengths. Because of the challenging ministry climate, every pastor needs to be a transformational and entrepreneurial pastor in 2013 and the conference has many leadership programs to help each pastor avoid feeling like a lone ranger.”


Strong Laity Involvement

In the final analysis, the SPRC is also a source of insight and input during the appointment season. “We consider ourselves to be conversation partners,” adds B.T., “as we work together with congregational leaders to recognize clergy excellence and fruitfulness in the mission field.” Shifts this dramatic in conference culture do not come quickly, but transformational processes always involve change. “We want to be transparent about the purpose, process and values in the appointment process,” adds Bishop Huie, “in order to invite clergy and laity to more fully enter with us in holy conversation on how to equip congregations to engage the mission field.”


Easing the Transition

CHANGE has been said to mean: Choose to Have A New Growth Experience. Yet, change of all sorts always requires adjustments and transitions along the way. Each spring, the Texas Annual Conference hosts a special workshop in two locations to help both clergy and congregations work together to ensure a comfortable, smooth transition for incoming and outgoing clergy. The “You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello” Itinerancy & Relocation event is hosted by TAC’s Center for Clergy Excellence. Based on “The Right Start,” by Dr. Lovett Weems, and required by the Bishop for P/SPRC chairpersons or representatives and relocating clergy to reduce the stress of relocation and facilitate a graceful transition. The session provides information on how to track moving expenses, parsonage guidelines and insight on managing transitional emotions and in includes Worship, a Blessing of the Itinerant, and special performance by Buford, Lula, Little Skeeter and Sissy in “A Tuna Move.” The 2013 events are scheduled for Saturday, May 11 at FUMC Conroe or Saturday, May 18 at FUMC Longview from 9am-1:30pm ($10 per church includes lunch).