From tough-talking Governor Christie’s RNC speech tonight:
“We believe that the majority of teachers in America know our system must be reformed to put students first so that America can compete.Teachers don’t teach to become rich or famous. They teach because they love children.
We believe that we should honor and reward the good ones while doing what’s best for our nation’s future – demanding accountability, higher standards and the best teacher in every classroom.”
In the United Methodist Church, ordination and “full connection” as a clergy member of one’s Annual Conference functions as tenure does in a non-university setting. Ending the so-called “guaranteed appointment” (and yes, there is a mountain of meaning in the phrase “so-called”) was a major plank of the reformers at General Conference this year (also, curiously, in Tampa).
You know the arguments. You’ve heard them already. Those who emphasize fairness and security for teachers argue that the GA (guarantee of appointment) is important to maintain freedom in the pulpit, to prevent discrimination based on age/race/gender/theological school/favorite basketball team, and to discourage a vindictive executive from abusing their power by not appointing, under-appointing, or poorly appointing a pastor who is otherwise in good standing. The focus for all of these arguments is on the good of the employee.
Those who emphasize excellence in ministry and effectiveness (and yes, these are notoriously hard to quantify or judge) point out that a de-facto tenure system does not encourage either of these. To use the language of economics, tenure does not incentivize hard work or quality work and can, instead, incentivize laziness and substandard work. Those who question the good of the GA are generally more concerned with the well-being of the church and the mission of Christ in the world.
Of course, it would be a cheap shot to call defenders of tenure (and/or the GA) selfish and narrow-minded. I’m not really even attempting here to make a comment about education because that is far out of my wheelhouse, but I do think the argument about tenure bears heavily on our discussion of the guarantee of appointment.
Christianity Today recently asked a number of random churchy people, “Should Pastors Be Guaranteed Job Security?” and the results were interesting. While some of the respondents didn’t seem to grasp what the question was getting at, Bishop Willimon can always be counted on to provide a worthwhile soundbite:
To close with the good Governor, what are we in this for? Is it about making a living, putting food on the table, or is it about Christ and his Church? Will we expect the best from our clergy, rewarding excellence when we find it but demanding accountability when it is lacking, or must we perennially protect everyone’s job barring egregious misconduct such as a sexual or fiscal scandal?
All of this is very much on my mind as I look forward to my annual review this week. If the work we do is important – be it in education, or law enforcement, or medicine, or in the church – then surely it is worthy of our best efforts. In holding us to that standard, God and God’s people do us a great favor.