We are approaching the time of year when appointments are made. This is the time of year when pastors get very nervous when the District Superintendent (DS) calls. In fact, when I call people about non-appointment business, I often start by saying, “Hello, this is Nancy and my call has nothing to do with appointments.” As I have traveled to the West District churches, people ask about how appointments are made and that’s what I’m going to talk about in this article.
The appointment process is a discernment process that listens for God’s direction through prayer and consultation. Every year during Church Conference time, pastors and Staff Parish Relations Committees (SPRCs) formally tell the bishop and cabinet if it is better for the missional needs of the church for the pastor to stay in the church or move the next year. Sometimes I will ask the committee to share with me the characteristics they think would be important in their next pastor. Pastors are invited to share every year not only what they think are best for the missional needs of the church, but also if there are any personal or family concerns that may affect their ability to move. It is very helpful to have this information before we start making appointments and not while we are making them. In the discernment process, the bishop and cabinet take very seriously the needs of pastor’s families, the needs of the church, and the needs of the conference.
Before I became a DS, I thought the appointment process was like playing chess however now that I have gone through the process, I find it is more like a game I discovered called Labyrinth. In Labyrinth, players add a tile to the labyrinth during their turn which can change the entire playing board. The appointment process has so many variables, one change can shift the entire board, that is why confidentiality is so important during the appointment process.
The discernment process begins with places where we know the pastors are leaving for retirement or other reasons. Using all the information we have collected as well as our personal knowledge of the churches and pastors, we begin to listen for God’s direction about who should go to which church. We consider who would help the church be its best and which church would be the best fit for the pastor being considered. Practical things like salary levels and insurance costs, those pastors guaranteed appointments, and who has requested to move into the conference all go into the discernment process. The bishop and cabinet discuss and pray throughout this time for God’s guidance. We find sometimes God speaks to our hearts and sometimes God speaks through one or more of the factors we consider. After a lot of prayer and discussion, an appointment is discerned and then the pastor is called and told of the discernment. Usually a pastor receives the news, shares it with their spouse (if they have one), and prays about it before telling the DS if they accept the appointment. Occasionally a pastor has a reason that the appointment would not be a good move for them. This feedback is also part of the discernment. In a case like this, the DS brings that information back to the cabinet, a decision is made, and often the discernment begins again.
If the pastor confirms the discernment, they are introduced to the SPRC in a face to face meeting. At the end of this meeting, the church and the pastor are asked if there is any reason the appointment should not be moved forward. Most of the time, the match is made. Then announcements are coordinated between the church who will be sending their pastor and the new church where the pastor will be received. Confidentiality is important before the announcement becomes public. It is not helpful or respectful for a congregation to hear about a pastoral change through rumor. Also, if there is a concern about a match, it can be embarrassing or hurtful, if the information has been shared before the match is confirmed. So, there are good reasons why your SPRC can’t tell you who is coming, or the DS can’t tell you who is coming before the proper time.
Changes of appointment can be difficult for churches and pastors; grief is a natural part of this change along with anxiety about the new person (or church). These changes though allow for new seasons of ministry to develop and new relationships with new people. I have served five church charges in my ministry and even though they were all different from each other, I have found Christ’s love and power in each of them. As one former DS said, “a church that has loved one pastor will come to love another.” My life has been enriched with many enduring friendships and through meaningful ministry through the appointment process. It is our hope, our goal, our prayer that the appointment process brings churches and pastors seasons of fruitful ministry where vital faith is nurtured, meaningful ministry is carried out, and more disciples are made.