This month marks the beginning of my fifth appointment year as the Lead Pastor of this congregation. This continues to feel new to me in that I have not been in a congregation for this long before. The two previous churches I had the privilege of serving were for a duration of three years each.
Last August, Bishop Grant Hagiya said to pastors attending an annual clergy gathering that he was in favor of longer appointments. He noted a study of the efficacy of clergy and the resulting assertion that clergy were most effective in their eleventh year. Then Bishop Grant suggested that the only reason he thought this study asserted eleven years as the most effective is that the study didn’t last even longer!
We should not take from this that every church and every clergy person will enjoy 20+ year appointments, as has been experienced by this congregation in recent history. My own observation of Bishop Grant – affirmed in conversations with others – is that he is also very interested in making strategic appointments. He and the Superintendents surely consider the fit of a specific pastor with the needs of a local church, but they are also looking at overall communities including nearby churches and pastors.
To me, this seems almost like a family systems kind of approach, recognizing the broader impact churches can have on one another. This kind of strategic approach to the appointment system also brings into play the possibility of increased cooperation and collaboration among churches. We have collaborated with other congregations from time to time, and I expect that we will continue to do so.
My previous appointment in Grand Island, Nebraska, was both interesting and informative in its practice of collaborative ministry. Part of my appointment was to Trinity United Methodist Church, the largest UMC in the area, with roughly 1500 members and three worship services each weekend. However, this was not the whole of my appointment. Two other smaller congregations were also parts of the community, each one with roughly 300 members. But these three distinct congregations understood that their individual ministries could be strengthened through collaboration and cooperation, and the four pastors were each appointed to their local churches and to the cooperative ministry. Together, we found that we were enriched in joint leadership and our gifts for ministry had greater impact.
For the three years that I served in Grand Island (and then beyond), these congregations and leaders worked together as UM4GI (United Methodist for Grand Island). We maintained different worship settings and styles, but sometimes enjoyed sermon series that would bring different voices from one of the other congregations. When one congregation started a new Bible study or new service opportunity, all three congregations were invited to participate. When major events took place, like the annual Live Nativity, or the U2charist worship event, or even organizing volunteers for the Nebraska State Fair, all were invited to experience a sense of community in new and larger ways. I believe that these experiences shaped us all in ways that taught us what collaborative ministry could look like.
One of the ways that I like to think about The United Methodist Church is that we are the world’s largest multi- site church. This is made possible through our connection- al nature and our natural polity bent toward collaboration. (If you didn’t see last month’s article on Connection, this is directly related; find it here).
All of this is made possible through the understanding that we are the body of Christ. Paul reminds us what this looks like in 1 Corinthians 12:12 (CEB): “Christ is just like the human body – a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many.” This means that the very core of our United Methodist connection and collaboration and community begins with how we choose to participate as individuals. If any part of the body declines to participate, the entirety of the body is affected, and if the whole of the parts join together in the work of ministry, we are all strengthened.
It is a joy and a privilege to continue to serve this congregation and this community for another year. It is my deepest hope that we will continue to work together as the body of Christ – collaborating, cooperating, and leading our community into faith, hope, and love.