Breaking Free in the UMC: The Guaranteed Appointment as Relic
Despite our Protestant leanings, United Methodists do indeed revere relics. Not sure what a relic is? Let Webster‘s help:
rel·ic: noun ˈre-lik
1 a: an object esteemed and venerated because of association with a saint or martyr
b: souvenir, memento
2: plural: remains, corpse
3: a survivor or remnant left after decay, disintegration, or disappearance
4: a trace of some past or outmoded practice, custom, or belief
In our case, the relic in question is not the pinkie of some obscure saint. Rather, it is what David Noer calls an “old reality” system of relating the organization to the employee. I am, of course, referring to the ecclesially infamous so-called “Guaranteed Appointment.” The gist: once made an Elder in Full Connection (read: ordained and granted tenure), under our present system it is nearly impossible for the United Methodist Church to exit its clergy. While there are a whole host of offenses possible that could, de jure, lead to de-frocking (basically a clerical defenestration), in practice an Elder has to be grossly incompetent, caught embezzling, or found to be committing sexual misconduct to be ousted (and even with these, it sometimes seems to require multiple or especially egregious offenses).
“Engaging in a strategy that sets up long-term dependency relationships with employees is expensive and limits organizational flexibility. Dependent employees are motivated by pleasing, fitting in, and, most of all by staying employed. They are not the independent, customer-focused risk takers you need to thrive and compete in the new reality.” (215)
This clearly implies that the GA is straight out of a previous reality, which Noer unpacks later:
“The old reality, the old psychological contract, or the old paradigm are labels for a pattern of beliefs that held that a person who maintained proper performance and compliance with the organizational culture could count on remaining employed with one organization until voluntary departure or retirement. The reciprocal organizational belief was that loyalty required the individual’s total commitment. The organizational response to this commitment and dependence was an acceptance of the obligation to provide a life-time career.” (237, emphasis added)
My jaw fell when I read these descriptions, written by a lay business consultant, that so aptly narrate our own situation. Of course, General Conference 2012 attempted to get rid of the GA but was rebuffed by the (not nearly activist enough) Judicial Council. Systems love homeostasis, after all, whether a country, an ecosystem, or a denomination. But what if homeostasis isn’t healthy?
The Guaranteed Appointment fits into every possible definition of a relic. In our system, it is revered; the GA is a souvenir or memento of an old and non-functioning reality, a corpse (albeit a lively, zombie-ish corpse, because it doesn’t seem to know it’s dead). I have no clue if it will be challenged in 2016. I hope it will.
Healthy organizations do not function this way anymore. In reality, they have not in some time. Noer wrote these words in 1996 – almost 20 years ago.
The Guaranteed Appointment is a relic, and should be discarded with all possible haste. To paraphrase Jesus, the church does not exist to serve pastors, but pastors to serve the church.