When pastors commit to itineracy at ordination, they understand they are not entering a call system. A call system is a system where churches interview a pastor and extend an offer for employment. In our denomination, a bishop appoints pastors. Churches do not pick pastors, and pastors do not pick churches. The bishop appoints clergy through a process of consulation with the cabinet, churches, and pastors. The Discipline states, “Consultation is not committee selection or call of a pastor. The role of the committee on staff-parish relations is advisory.” (par. 431) This method is, and has been, the understood process by which appointments take place.
Like many institutional processes, there exist manifest policies and latent policies. The manifest policies are the outward, perceivable rules and practices that institutions preach and strive to maintain. In the United Methodist Church, the manifest policy for clergy deployment is this – the bishop makes all appointments. Churches cannot engage in a search for pastors, and pastors cannot petition local churches for a position. Appointments occur following these manifest rules – the pastors and churches may ask for a change, but the bishop will determine who goes where. Ministers are obligated to commit themselves to this particular understanding at ordination.
But as my grandfather used to tell me, “Don’t just trust your eyes boy, they don’t always see the whole story.” The latent policies, those present but not as obvious, reflect another layer of the appointment system. Some bishops give a few churches permission to engage in pastoral searches. On occasion, bishops will allow some churches to send out committees to hear ministers preach, set up interviews, and negotiate compensation packages. Let’s say, hypothetically, that a bishop gives a church in Texas permission to conduct a pastoral search. Hypothetically, the Staff Parish Relations Committee meets and a search ensues. If we keep this imaginary analogy going, the church in Texas might interview a pastor from Georgia and offer him/her the job. Once the terms are agreed to, bishops will “make” the appointment, hypothetically of course. Defenders of the manifest policies will quickly stress the bishops’ involvement in the “making” of the appointment; therefore, they tell us this situation does not qualify as a call situation. We’re told the search committee only served an advisory capacity; therefore, our hypothetical situation reflects the appointment system hard at work. “It wasn’t a call,” they say, “It was an appointment.”
Have you ever heard the saying, “If it quacks like a duck . . .?”
Are these types of pastoral searches necessarily a negative thing? A variety of reasons can validate making appointments this way. There may be special missional considerations or unique congregational concerns. A bishop may wish to give certain churches this opportunity because of exceptional circumstances or extraordinary undertakings. In some situations, this process could strengthen our connection and assist in the Discipline’s encouragement to make appointments across conference boundaries.
Rather than insist that pastoral searches do not occur in our conferences, leaders should be able to clearly and compellingly articulate why one church receives the opportunity to conduct a search for a pastor, but another church does not. It is certainly more comfortable to continue proclaiming the manifest policy. It is easier to tell a church or a pastor, “We don’t do it that way,” or, “That doesn’t happen.” The problem is we have done it that way, and we will do it that way again.