I’m going to the last meeting of a church ─ under my supervising responsibility ─ receiving a new pastor tonight. After five months and countless hours of Cabinet and local church work, the appointments/assignments are finished, at least for me, for this year.
As I reflect on that, I also think about the challenges of our appointive system. The first challenge is getting the right pastoral leaders into the right churches. I can honestly say I have been amazed at how God works in this process. Over the four years that I have been a part of the appointing of pastors to churches, I have seen God, through the creativity of Superintendents and our Bishop as well as the willingness of pastors to go where they are sent and churches to receive new pastoral leaders, bring about some wonderful ministry. It is awesome to watch as God leads and guides and moves in this practice to get the right pastor to the right church. And it is truly humbling to be a part of bringing it about and seeing it happen.
Now, does it always work out wonderfully? Of course not. As with any “system” it has flaws. Probably everyone reading this blog has a story of a church or an appointment that didn’t go well. You can tell me of a situation where it was a bad “match” and the church suffered, or a pastor suffered and things were a mess. It is not perfect. But no system is. I am certain that there are lots of stories of churches that did exhaustive searches and interviews and hired a pastor who seemed perfect only to discover six months down the road that it wasn’t working out.
Our itinerant/appointive way of sending clergy to churches is built upon trust; trust in the Bishop and Cabinet and trust in God. In the four moves I’ve experienced as a pastor, I never requested any of them and the church I served never asked that I be moved. In every situation things were going well, the church was growing and the relationship was good. But in the needs of the broader church the Bishop and Cabinet appointed me to a new place. And while it was always hard to leave those whom we had grown to love, in the place that had become home, and to let go of the ministry that was going well, we trusted that God was leading and we always discovered grace and fresh mission in every new setting. For my spouse who was a teacher it meant getting tenure again in every new place. She moved through the tenure process three different times before retiring in 2012! That was not easy either, but we again trusted that God was good and would lead us in the new place as God had in the one we were leaving. And every time, God did.
I understand that my experience is not reflective of everyone’s. I understand, as I said before, that every system and organization is imperfect. But as pastors prepare to go to new appointments, and churches prepare to receive new clergy this summer, my prayer for all is that God will use this change in deep and significant ways. That the change will bring about new possibilities in ministry for everyone involved and that in the midst of it all, new disciples will be made for Jesus Christ and the transformation of the world.