From Bishop Grant Hagiya’s brand-spankin’-new book:
“This leads to another deep-seated systematic constraint of The United Methodist Church, and perhaps other denominations: namely, the culture of entitlement over service in ministry. With the professionalization of ministry in North America and the setting aside of full-time vocationally compensated clergy members, a culture of entitlement over service has crept into our clergy orders. It works in two ways, one for the clergy and one for the laity of local churches. As it plays out for clergy, there is a built-in expectation of a livable salary and accompanying benefits for full-time ministry. Because The United Methodist Church currently has a guarantee of full-time ministry employment for life in its polity, there is the expectation of that entitlement by the clergy. As it applies to the laity, there is the built-in expectation that they will receive a full-time minister, even if they cannot sustain the cost of that minister.” (pp. 64-65)
It would not be difficult to twist this into a screed about a culture of entitlement writ large over 21st century Western life, but that is not my purpose here. Rather, it is to name what is a great part of our problem in the church: entitlement. While the above quote hints at the entitlement mentality of churches (and he does develop it somewhat), as a pastor I want to focus on the clergy.
General Conference 2012 was disappointing in many respects. I remain hopeful that some lessons will be learned and that meaningful changes can grow from the seeds planted last year. What we know is that the one meaningful thing that passed – ending the (yes, admittedly, “so-called”) guarantee of appointment – was later rejected by the Judicial Council.
As Bishop Hagiya concludes, “entitlement has become embedded in the fabric of the church culture itself.” Culture doesn’t change overnight, and evidence suggests it may not change from the top down. It starts with me and with you, it starts with a focus on the responsibilities of the gospel and not just the benefits of the church. Changing the culture of entitlement means focusing more on my duties and my God-given call as a pastoral leader than my rights as a member of the clergy; it means thinking more about what I owe (and to Whom I owe it) than what I am owed.
One person, one church, one conference at a time. That is how the entitlement plague ends. As the old hymn goes, “Let it begin with me.”