Football players learn something called the Two Minute Drill. This is a package of plays for the two minutes before halftime and the final possession of the game. These are the game’s most valuable seconds. United Methodist clergy need a similar package of plays for the days that follow a call from a cabinet member concerning a new appointment. If you don’t have a personal action plan prepared, it’s easy to feel out of control in this hustle-to-move-the-ball time.
When your District Superintendent says, “I need your decision by…” remember that it could be worse. Just a generation ago, bishops and cabinets met during the week of Annual Conference and worked out all of the pastoral appointments behind closed doors. These were read, often without forewarning, on the last day of the Conference. Even today, some appointments get sealed without real consultation or time for negotiation. Until the phone rings, it is impossible to predict how much time and latitude will be afforded to your part of the decision.
Your personal package of plays, then, begins with an intentional remembrance that you are a man or woman of God. The circumstances of the next few months will not change this in any way. Your decision to remember this one fact must color every conversation and undergird every choice. Faith, not fear or selfish career concerns, needs to guide how you share this process with your loved ones. Wisdom needs guide you, both as you seek advice from others and as you verbalize your feelings. Deep, persevering prayer for discernment from the Lord is and must always be integral in your decision making process. I am convinced that pastoral changes made without real prayer (and here I speak to both clergy and cabinets) are often bad appointments. The Spirit of God belongs in the process. Prayer should be the “alpha and the omega,” the beginning and the end, in our appointment decisions. Decide before the phone rings, how you will pray and who will be your trusted prayer partners.
The second component of your two-minute drill, needs to be a tool for evaluating the role you and your family will have in the actual making of the decision. Is this appointment is a “done deal,” or an opportunity that you can decline without consequence? How you frame this question depends upon your relationship with the cabinet and bishop. Has this move been initiated by you, your current church, the cabinet, or some mixture of all three? If you don’t know or you aren’t sure how relevant this backstory is, you need to ask. Consider the following ways to broach this subject:
“Before I pray about this, I’d like to be clear as to whether I have the option to stay here if the appointment doesn’t feel right.”
or “I understand that it is important for me the move on from… if I, or my spouse, discern a problem with this new appointment, will the cabinet be open to reconsidering and offering a different place?”
However you word the above question, your intent is not to prejudge the new appointment. In fact, getting clarity regarding timing of this appointment and your latitude in the decision before you have looked at what is being offered is meant to establish you as a team player. What you need is additional insight into the state of the cabinet. Are they heavily invested in making this move happen? Do they have only a few, or no, other places to put you? How is your move part of the big picture? Is this move part of an effort by the conference to address some external issue, such as, salary inequity, diversity, or the creation of opportunities for younger clergy? Clarity here will allow you to develop your own role in the decision making process.
Often the window for your decision is short; a few days, or even twenty-four hours is not uncommon. Therefore, besides praying mightily you must be prepared to gather as much meaningful information as you can so as to make a decision that will be a good one.
If the appointment under consideration is within your present district, the superintendent should be able to offer pieces of relevant information over the phone. If not, always request to speak with the DS within whose district the prospective appointment is located. They will usually be able to give more information about the charge than your DS will. Here are some potential topics that you may want to cover in the initial phone call:
Share honestly where you were in terms of any move this year. Do you have a family concern, such as having a child about to graduate from high school, could make the prospect of any move, not just this particular move, challenging? Is there unfinished work at your current appointment that might influence your decision? Sometimes out of expediency cabinets ask pastors of short tenure to think about moving. I have witnessed this many times. You are the only one who can responsibly stand up and say, “I’m honored, but no thanks.”
Ask for a general description of the charge. Is it urban, suburban, town, or rural? Is it a community in transition — one where the church lay leaders may be out of touch with demographics of the neighborhood?
Ask how has the ministry of the church been going recently? Push to learn the things that the statistical report can’t tell. What are the church/charge’s strengths? Where has this congregation struggled in the last few years? What history needs to be known?
The DS may not be able to answer these questions, but they at least should be able to name the gifts and skills in your ministry tool kit that made the cabinet choose you for this situation. This is not the time to set your record straight, but to get insight into the dynamics of this appointment.
Over the next few weeks, you’ll be accumulating an image of how your approach to ministry and skill toolbox differs from the church’s current pastor. At your initial interview with the PPRC you will be sharing part of this assessment and checking it for accuracy. The emphasis here is the fact that neither of you wish to be unpleasantly surprised during the transition. If there are unreasonable expectations, they need to be talked about early in the process.
[This is an excerpt from chapter two of The Guide for Clergy in Transition book that Bill Kemp and Joe Fort (Texas Conference) are writing. Expected publication date, January 2016 - other sample chapters may be found at http://billkemp.info/tags/clergy-transition ]