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ordination paperwork: question #11

c) The Practice of Ministry:
How has the practice of ordained ministry affected your understanding of the expectations and obligations of the itinerant system?

A recent issue of Circuit Rider magazine focused almost wholly on the itinerant system and the issues surrounding itinerancy. The articles and the responses to the articles highlight just what an important issue itinerancy is and shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Itinerancy is certainly a challenging issue for many pastors, and I understand the complexities that leave some wishing for a different system. However, I believe that the itinerant system still best serves our church and our pastors.
I believe that the itinerant system helps us use the gifts of a diverse leadership – men and women, younger and older clergy, clergy of all colors and nationalities, clergy in first, second, or third careers. Churches are often slow to change! Even today, many congregations are still hesitant at least about a first experience with a “woman pastor,” for example. The itinerant system reminds us and helps us focus on gifts and graces of clergy, rather than surface details of clergy. I think this gives us a great diversity in our leadership, across the connection, and opens congregations to new experiences of which they might not themselves choose to take advantage.
The itinerant system also enables us to respond to changing congregations. Over time, our churches do (God willing!) experience change. A church may grow. A church may merge with another. A congregation may need to take on a building project. A congregation may need to respond to a new factor in the community: a business closing, a new population emerging. Sometimes this may mean that new leadership could help a congregation make a transition. Sometimes, a church is just in a comfortable place, and not reaching outside of its comfortable boundaries.
The same thing can be said of clergy. We change and grow and need to be challenged, to break barriers. We also get too comfortable in our places. We develop new gifts, new talent, and new skills. We hear God’s calling for us in a new way. Itinerancy lets us respond to and grow into change.
Because the church is alive, a living body of Christ, the itinerant system helps us respond effectively in ministry. I think we do our best work when decisions are made with these factors in mind, rather than in an arbitrary way. I trust that, even as we struggle with it, our itinerant system will continue serve the church well.


Anonymous said…

This was an EXCELLENT answer to this question, it made me think about aspects of the itinerant system that, as a UM layman, I haven't really thought about. I know that many times in past comments to you and on Shane Raynor's Wesleyblog, I have been very critical if the itinerant system within the UMC. You brought up some very good issues of why it is a good system that I have never really thought about with respect to pastor diversity, changes in the needs of congregations, etc. If you'd asked me this question a year ago, I'd have wanted to throw the whole system out the window, but the issues you raised in your answer make me think that was an extreme view.

I still would like to modify it. I think that 1 or 2 year appointments are too short. It takes almost a year for a pastor and a congregation to get to know each other. I know that DSs like to move pastors "up" to larger churches. Then once these "top talent" pastors get to the First UMC of any city with a population larger than 75,000, they stall out and end up with much longer appointments (or they get reappointed each year to the same church). The larger, churches with the tenured pastors tend to become bogged down and "get too comfortable with each other" while the smaller churches always end up with 1 or 2 year appointments, and spent an endless amount of time training, getting to know each other, etc. over and over and over again. They never get to the real meat and potatoes of Christianity, because the pastor never has time to work up to it. There are some more serious pastors that work up entire "sermon series" that may take up to 12 weeks. You can't do that if you are wanting to start that in April because you might not finish.
The only time these smaller churches get a more experienced pastor, they are ready to retire or they have been run out of every other church they have been to. (neither is a good thing for a small church that is trying to grow) I am certainly not implying that younger pastor's don't have what it takes, please don't take it that way. I'm just saying that there are many aspects of being a pastor that require a lot more experience. Both Spiritual and Life experience. Smaller churches need experienced pastors also. Likewise, the larger UMC churches need younger pastors or associates IMHO. In fact, if more elder, Spirit Filled pastors where appointed to these out of the way, smaller churches, they might grow faster. I'd personally be much more likely to invite a neighbor to church with a strong, Spirit Filled, man or woman in the pulpit. As I am writing this, maybe the answer isn't that we "move up" pastors, maybe we should simply scatter them like seed and see what grows.

I strongly believe that 4 years is the right amount of time for itinerant appointments. If it is good enough for a President or Governor, it ought to be good enough for a pastor and a local church. It also brings stability to the pastor and the congregation, but it preserves the benefits of the itinerant system that you raised so well. The pastor can concentrate on the TRUE things of God necessary for the Spiritual Enrichment of the congregation, not being distracted by whether or not they will have move again, and change schools again, and their spouse find a job again. It also allows the congregation to be focused on these as well, not spending half their time wondering if they are going to get a new pastor.

Oh well, what do I know, I'm an engineer......

Very good answer to this question.

Anonymous said…
Hi Elizabeth

Great answer. I wonder if you have a copy of the article in Circuit Rider ? or could point me in its direction from here in Finland

We still have an itinerant system in Finland (in theory - both our current and former bishop do not move pastors around much. Partly I think because most spouses have to work nowadays and it just isn't easy to get another job) and it's one of the great stumbling blocks for me I'm afraid. That and my lack of Swedish. Both of which are real issues.

two reasons for this - my lack of Swedish isn't a problem in my current congregation but would be elsewhere

but also because my husband is the main bread winner and expecting him to shuffle around Finland (our circuit is the whole nation) because of my calling makes me feel very uncomfortable.

I'm glad I've found your site again. :)
Beth Quick said…
Here's a link to the circuit rider issue:

I agree, Keith and Lorna, that there are certainly situations where itineracy is hard. Lorna, I never really thought about language barriers!

Keith, I definitely agree that appointments are sometimes made for the wrong/bad reasons of "career building, etc. That is the system at its worst...

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