Tuesday night was my district’s turn to meet with Bishop Huie to hear her and one of our District Superintendents (DS), Richard Burnham, share with us (as they’ve been doing throughout the conference) the shifts that are happening in how clergy are appointed to congregations in our Annual Conference (geographic area, for non-UM native speakers). For one thing, we welcomed the transparency related to the process used to make appointments.
The key insight and contribution to appointment-making is the intentional naming of the correct “client” in the appointment-making process. Who is primarily to be best served by the appointment? Sometimes the truthful answer has been the pastor, sometimes the congregation. An assumption for other appointment-making processes seems to be that making the stakeholders with discernable voices pleased was key. But what about the stakeholders without voices, even without an awareness that they are stakeholders? This, along with a fresh exploration of early American Methodism, led to the insight that the “client” in the appointment-making activity was the mission field.
Here’s just one potential positive in this emphasis that I see. For all of our talk about the ministry of the laity, the priesthood of all believers, and the church needing to be externally-focused versus internally- focused, our practice of appointment-making has not always reinforced this the way it can.
As a pastor who lives in a denominational polity/system that assigns pastors to churches, I can testify that we are well-schooled in the concept that might be called “A Theology of Sending” or “A Theology of a Sent Ministry.” Simply put, God sends persons into ministry in places he wants to reach. God calls them, equips them, and sends them forth to engage in ministry. This has been standard understanding on the part of clergy.
So if we are to live into this approach, one of the assumptions that undergirds sending clergy to the mission field is that the congregation itself is also sent into ministry in the place it is located. They may have lived in that place their whole life, but once they became a Christian, God gathered them up in order to send them to their neighbors. Consistent with the far-reaching mission of God, all of us grafted into the body of Christ become also swept up in this movement of the Holy Spirit, this mission that is narrated for us in the New Testament.
We are all sent. This implies that we are not as interested in the care for and salvation of our neighbors as God is. Praise be to God. God is so interested in the salvation, the restoration, the wholeness, the adoption of every person, that we are sent. We who have spotty resumes and mixed motives… We are sent. We who engage our discipleship in fits and starts… We are sent.
And if we all are sent, then there is a sense in which pastors and congregations are in the same boat, trying to work together to be God’s agents in this mission field they are both sent to reach with the Gospel proclaimed in word and flesh. Might this sort of deliberate talk of sharing a theology of being sent lead to an even stronger reality of partnership in the Gospel and to an ever deepening authentically-lived community? Sure seems to have potential.