Thursday, 12 February 2009

Itinerant or not?

I have just read this weeks Methodist Recorder and was drawn to read a letter from Mike Bossingham on the topic of the itinerant ministry of ministers within Methodism.
I have to say I found the letter quite interesting and have a great deal of sympathy with the points made in the letter.
Like many of our members I suppose I do have some reservations about a change from itinerant to a more permanent style of ministry, as I realise that there have been and possibly always will be situations where there are square pegs in round holes, but conversely I recognise that the five year timespan can be rather limiting and that ministers may not have really got into the full swing of their ministry.
I was involved in the re-invitation process this year and felt it was a rather unpleasant process, and although it was done in accordance with the guidelines it seemed to be a very rushed and almost impersonal system.
I would have thought there was a better way of doing this and surely there must be a better way of dealing with the stationing than the system we have, but then I suspect some of the best minds in Methodism have looked at this in some depth and not it seems been able to come up with a better way.
I think I would have to say that there are a couple of things that I have always thought about the ministry and the itinerant nature of it. The first one is that I had always believed that the ministry was a calling and as such the response was to go where God sends. The other thing and I believe this is true for those in any type of employment is that we go into any job aware of the terms and conditions of that job, and when one is called to the Methodist ministry it is to a ministry that is quite clearly an itinerant ministry. I know when I applied for my current job a few years ago the terms and conditions were quite clearly laid down in the advertisement and in the pack that accompanied the application form. I applied knowing full well what I was going into. I would have thought given the process someone called to ministry has to go through they would be quite clear what was involved in employment terms especially if they feel called as an ordinary member - after all it might be a fairly long time period before they become a minister given that hey have to be a local preacher first and then go through the candidating process etc.
I am not sure what the answer is to this and I dare say that there will be some response in the Recorder on both sides of the coin. It is to be hoped that whatever the response it leads to a realistic assessment of the situation and perhaps even some serious thought on how we might develop the way we do ministry in this 21st Century.


PamBG said...

The first one is that I had always believed that the ministry was a calling and as such the response was to go where God sends.

Too often the Church thinks that it's institutional way of doing things reflects the will of God.

Yes, it's a minister's 'job' to go where God sends. But why does the Church assume that most of the time God doesn't want ministers to stay any place for more than 5 years?

Why are all my previous relationships with people worthless to God and nothing to do with where he is leading me? Which effectively what the church says.

Assuming that it's normative to depart after 5 years doesn't look anything like genuine spiritual discernment to me. The one thing it enables, I guess, is Circuits to easily get rid of ministers they don't like and ministers to easily escape circuits they don't like.

I've read a reasonable amount about the history of Methodism in both the UK and the US. Itinerancy seems to me to have been a pragmatic response to having few ministers and a large area to cover. When we moved from being a missionary society to a denomination, I can't really see any reason for itinerancy - not even in the late 18th century.

Missionary society or denomination - pick one. And if we're the former, then let's get rid of as much 'plant' as possible and keep nimble. If we're the latter then let's plant ourselves and build community and relationships instead of destroying relationships every 5 years.

Fat Prophet said...

Thanks for the comment Pam. I hope it didn't seem that I was inferring that there was anything either right or good about the current system.
I do believe that ministry including that of local preachers is a calling and I would have to say that it took me twenty years to answer that calling and become a Methodist local preacher. I do however believe that the will of God for me at the present time is that I continue to do what I am doing, although I have to say it is only a few weeks ago that I was seriously considering joining the ranks of those who clean their cars on Sundays and go to the local market due to a particularly challenging time in our lives as a family.
I hoped I was reasonably clear in the post that I do not think the current system is without many problems and yes I sometimes wonder if circuits do try to discern the will of God when a new minister is needed or whether other considerations are more important. Is the style of the person often a driving force? Are they a traditionalist in respect of worship or will we have to put up with happy clappy stuff and projectors instead of books? Are they Hymns and Psalms or Mission Praise (known as the funny book at one of our churches - so we know which way they would want to go)
Dare I be a little controversial (why not its my blog) and suggest that spiritual discernment is not often used in the search for a replacement minister when the need arises in a circuit but rather less spiritual and more practical matters come to the fore.
I have to say as well that I am aware of places where ministers have stayed for long periods, well in excess of five years and in one case for almost a quarter of a century so it can and does happen and yes it may be that in some situations this is absolutely right and proper. I would say though that as with most things there are two or more sides to it and might it be equally relevant for newer ministers to move around a little to gain experience and to prevent them being moulded into the way of doing things in the circuit they are based in, without seeing how others might do things.
I really don't know the answers to all this but hope that the letter from Mike and perhaps even my post may stimulate some conversation on this issue and who knows may even stir the top people in Methodism to look very seriously at the whole issue. I think as I said in my post we really do need to bring the whole thing into the 21st century, and yes it may be we do it kicking and screaming so to speak.

PamBG said...

Ian - Can I preface this by saying that I'm not offended by anything you say. I often 'think out loud' in these responses.

I think that people often do confuse church structures with 'the will of God'.

For instance, when I was involved in the now-defunct Foundation Training, we were supposed to be discerning whether God was calling us to be Deacons or Presbyters - as if the church's boxes of 'Deacons' and 'Presbyters' were God's boxes and as if God would never ever call someone to a combination of the two roles.

I totally agree that genuine discernment is not used and I'd argue that the 'box' of 'five years stay' doesn't really allow this to happen. (Yes, i also know the minister who stayed a quarter of a century and I expect that's a very exceptional exception.) I'm quite confident that there are ministers who - because of a combination of who they are and the circumstances of the church - are called to be in a particular circuit for quite a long time. I'm also quite confident that there are probably ministers who are called to be in a place for less than 5 years. Does our five year box allow this to happen? I'd argue not.

Who would take a secular job where you are told 'Just as you are becoming really productive, we're going to remove you from the job'?

I might even blog about this later although I'm not sure if I'm entitled to an opinion as such a new minister!

Mike Bossingham said...


I am always interested in that these debates always centre around the minister.

If the MR published my letter in full then there was just as much about itinerency damaging the local church.

I think we need to rethink intinerency more because it is bad for the church and mission in the 21st century, rather than the negative effect that it does have on ministers and their families (who have not answered a call)

Every Blessing


Fat Prophet said...

Pam I didn't think you were offended and I really was trying hard to be positive about this whole issue and actually do believe it is a serious matter that the Methodist Church needs to address. I was tempted to say that I feel it is far more important than the current crusade to bring out a new hymn book which certainly in my experience does not seem to be wanted by anyone other than the conference.
Good to have you visit Mike and you are absolutely right about this being much more far reaching than just the minister. Part of my reason for posting about this was that I know I have some visitors who do not read the recorder and I was hoping that this may give it a wider coverage.
I do hope that the topic may spread a little further than those of us who read the Recorder and that perhaps it may even reach the confines of church house and subsequently the conference - however I won't hold my breath because I am not sure anyone at that level reads this blog.

Methodist Preacher said...

The truth is that in recent years it has become obvious that British Methodism has thrown up a whole raft of people who are simply unsuitable for the Ministry. As we have no way of weeding such people out the five year span suits Methodism because we can shuffle, rather than confront, our problems. Some congregations five a heart thanks for iteinerancy!

PamBG said...

If the Methodist Church is picking the wrong people for the ministry that's actually an entirely different question.

To use your beloved business analogies, no business would run on the basis that it was going to choose bad employees but only give them a fixed term so that they could be got rid of.

The Methodist Church is not and never was The Assemblies of God, however much any individuals might want it to be. Mike can correct me if I'm wrong but if it's conservative evangelical charismatics we want, I think there are more of them coming out of theology college now than twenty years ago.