As a part-time local pastor, I’ve never really had a full peek under the hood of the United Methodist Church’s clergy system. I’ve not been through the ordination meat-grinder, I’m not itinerant, and being bi-vocational means I often cannot attend or participate in the gatherings of other clergy to hear the coffee pot conversations.
But I’ve read a lot in the last few days that troubles me.
I get the impression there is a deep cynicism and lack of trust among the clergy and between the clergy and bishops and district superintendents. Some – I don’t know how many – fear reprisal and punishment for expressing disagreement or raising questions. Some have barely veiled contempt for fellow clergy or leaders. Some do not trust any change in rules that place more power in the hands of cabinets and bishops, because they are convinced favoritism will trump mission in using that power.
Given my position at the margins of the clergy system, perhaps I am only hearing a few marginal and disgruntled voices. But I do not get that impression. If it is a minority voice, it is not a tiny minority as far as I can tell.
If the clergy were a congregation, the leaders of that congregation would be concerned about ways to cultivate more healthy relationships and more open channels to express disagreement and then foster reconciliation within the group. They would be working to build a healthy a vital community of believers. They would understand that the congregation cannot be fruitful while plagued by division and distrust.
In the end, that final point strikes me as the most important. The denomination’s efforts at renewal and revitalization – it seems to me – are doomed if a dysfunctional and distrusting clergy are asked to lead these changes. If the clubhouse atmosphere is bad – to switch metaphors – the team is not going to play well on the field.
So, I’m curious. Am I picking up false signals in the news reports about the guaranteed appointment debate and in various conversations around the Internet? Are we healthier than it appears?
Do we have fruitful clergy communities across the denomination?