Tag Archives: tenure

Breaking Free in the UMC: The Guaranteed Appointment as Relic


Despite our Protestant leanings, United Methodists do indeed revere relics. Not sure what a relic is? Let Webster‘s help:

rel·ic: noun \ˈre-lik\

1 a: an object esteemed and venerated because of association with a saint or martyr

  b: souvenir, memento

2: plural:  remains, corpse

3:  a survivor or remnant left after decay, disintegration, or disappearance

4:  a trace of some past or outmoded practice, custom, or belief

In our case, the relic in question is not the pinkie of some obscure saint. Rather, it is what David Noer calls an “old reality” system of relating the organization to the employee. I am, of course, referring to the ecclesially infamous so-called “Guaranteed Appointment.” The gist: once made an Elder in Full Connection (read: ordained and granted tenure), under our present system it is nearly impossible for the United Methodist Church to exit its clergy. While there are a whole host of offenses possible that could, de jure, lead to de-frocking (basically a clerical defenestration), in practice an Elder has to be grossly incompetent, caught embezzling, or found to be committing sexual misconduct to be ousted (and even with these, it sometimes seems to require multiple or especially egregious offenses).

As presently arranged, our current system baptizes dependency, and is a classic example of what consultant David Noer warns against in his Breaking Free:

“Engaging in a strategy that sets up long-term dependency relationships with employees is expensive and limits organizational flexibility. Dependent employees are motivated by pleasing, fitting in, and, most of all by staying employed. They are not the independent, customer-focused risk takers you need to thrive and compete in the new reality.” (215)

This clearly implies that the GA is straight out of a previous reality, which Noer unpacks later:

“The old reality, the old psychological contract, or the old paradigm are labels for a pattern of beliefs that held that a person who maintained proper performance and compliance with the organizational culture could count on remaining employed with one organization until voluntary departure or retirement. The reciprocal organizational belief was that loyalty required the individual’s total commitment. The organizational response to this commitment and dependence was an acceptance of the obligation to provide a life-time career.” (237, emphasis added)

My jaw fell when I read these descriptions, written by a lay business consultant, that so aptly narrate our own situation.  Of course, General Conference 2012 attempted to get rid of the GA but was rebuffed by the (not nearly activist enough) Judicial Council. Systems love homeostasis, after all, whether a country, an ecosystem, or a denomination.  But what if homeostasis isn’t healthy?

The Guaranteed Appointment fits into every possible definition of a relic. In our system, it is revered; the GA is a souvenir or memento of an old and non-functioning reality, a corpse (albeit a lively, zombie-ish corpse, because it doesn’t seem to know it’s dead). I have no clue if it will be challenged in 2016. I hope it will.

Healthy organizations do not function this way anymore. In reality, they have not in some time. Noer wrote these words in 1996 – almost 20 years ago.

The Guaranteed Appointment is a relic, and should be discarded with all possible haste. To paraphrase Jesus, the church does not exist to serve pastors, but pastors to serve the church.

Jesus Wants Us to Break Some Rules




Q: “How many United Methodists does it take to change a lightbulb?”


The Judicial Council of the UMC recently met and reversed an action passed this year at General Conference that would have ended the so-called “guaranteed appointment.”  Per the United Methodist Reporter:

“Security of appointment has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies. Abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan for our itinerant superintendency. Fair process procedures, trials and appeals are integral parts of the privilege of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of appeal and is an absolute right which cannot be eradicated by legislation.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a people-pleasing, rule-following only child by birth, nature, and inclination.  I hate rebellion for the sake of rebellion (and let’s be honest, nothing today makes one less of a rebel than self-identifying as one).  But sometimes rules become self-serving, stale, and rusty.  Boundaries are important, but when they become an impediment to organizational vitality and, in the case of the church, a barrier to the mission of Jesus – they gotta go.

In Back to Zero, Gil Rendle has an excellent chapter on rule-breaking.  He makes a great point:

“Bad behavior may be hard to change but not so hard as trying to change policies once they are established and applied to all.  Institutions and corporations easily can make new rules but do not have the natural capacity to break those rules once they are made.” (21)

The whole of General Conference 2012 was proof that our particular corporation does not have the capacity to change rules despite institutional decline and overall ossification.   Rendle is part of a growing chorus within the church that seeks to reclaim Methodism as a movement rather than an institution.  This means change, though:

“When a paradigm shifts, everything goes back to zero.  Former practices are found to be ineffective.  Old rules don’t apply.” (24)

The tenure system that rewards clergy for time in the system and emphasizes the security and rights of the clergy (notice the language of the decision above) over the call of Jesus and needs of the church has indeed proven to be ineffective.  Is it all the clergy’s fault? No.  Is our system of deploying clergy defensible any longer? No.

Rendle offers three questions (via an Army general, no less) to guide potential rule-breaking:

What is the purpose of the rule?

Is this rule still appropriate?

Does the rule serve or prevent the mission?


So, given the questions above, what do you think? is it time for us to break some rules – even if they are “restrictive“?



Gil Rendle, Back to Zero (Nashville: Abingdon Press 2011).