Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

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If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 4 - A Persistant Theme, Incompetent Pastors

May 4– A Persistent Theme

Once again, in my unorthodox (incompetent?) approach to lobbying, my impatience with sitting still and just watching the plenary drove me back to my “office” where I decided to write up an article about something I kept running into the whole two weeks:

Incompetent Pastors

(Written on Friday, 4 May for UM-Insight but not published yet)

The first day I was at General Conference, a nice gentleman approached me where I sat. He recognized my name. And I recognized his as a bishop from overseas. After a few words of introduction, he asked me, "What are we to do with incompetent pastors?"

I told him what I thought at the time, you know, the usual: more continuing education, more morale building, reprioritizing the Cabinet's role so that they could spend more of their time helping churches and pastors succeed together. He was most attentive but appeared a little frustrated. "But what are we to do with them?"

I guess I missed what he was asking. In fact, now that I think of it, I'm not sure what he was really asking. What I know of him and what I felt as we talked was his real desire for an answer to whatever his question really was, an answer that he could use in good conscience and that would help him help the Church.

Over the course of two weeks, I have spoken with bishops and district superintendents from both the US and other countries. And they all had the same question. Each time I answered, I got the same look of mild frustration, as if I was not offering them anything new or as if I was talking about something else and they couldn't connect with what I was saying.

So let me try again.

If the question was, "Because we have to remove these incompetent pastors, what are we to do with them?" then there are only a few possibilities. The Discipline offers several options: disability, sabbatical, leave of absence, etc. These never include housing and usually remove health insurance benefits. That leaves them pretty vulnerable, especially in our current economy. The Catholics have retreat centers or monasteries where such devoted but incapable pastors can go for the rest of their lives, if necessary. Maybe with a little more creative imagination, we could go beyond what we usually do, which is to leave them out on the street without housing, health care, a position in the community, or a job to fend for themselves....

If the question was, "Because we have these incompetent pastors, how can we most efficiently remove them in a Christian way?" That usually means that they are not satisfied with just running them out by whatever means nor having to go through Fair Process steps to remove them by the book. They seem to want something simple but not so simple that it looks like they are just squashing them like gnats. When I suggest good supervision practices and developing a paper trail of efforts to get the pastor help, they shake their heads with impatience because there is no way they can take the time. They have so many important ministries to do on behalf of the bishop and conference and General Church that supervising is out of the question. That leaves reverting to the common practice of telling the pastors that if they do not withdraw or take leave of absence, they will face being removed by church trial or hearings before the Board of Ordained Ministry. That usually works. The devastation spreads from there, but at least the pastor as problem is no longer their concern. Only a few autocratic types enjoy doing it that way.

If the question was, "Because we have these pastors who are incompetent, is there anything that works to help them?" thus, rather than removing the pastor, remove the incompetence.

Let me clear up something. There are differences among being unwilling to do the work of ministry, being ineffective, and being incompetent. Just saying those words usually is sufficient to define the differences. Each may need a different application of the suggestions I'll offer below, but all can respond in mostly positive ways to them despite the differences.

A colleague has alerted me to two things that I think have potential for help and I have two things more I would urge to make them more effective.

The first of my friend's observations was to remind me of how John Wesley wrote down in straight-forward terms what the class leaders were to do, down to the questions they were to ask at each meeting. And he then instructed them in their nature and efficacy whenever he could get them together. That simplicity is certainly lacking in this day and age but elaborating on that concept led to my friend to observe that the seminaries and GBHEM have begun conversations to try to define in specifics the job a pastor needs to do.

This means of dealing with the general category of pastors not performing well for one reason or another has some promise. It might refocus seminaries to deal with the nitty-gritty of the daily work of pastors beyond preparing sermons and conducting services. Things like keeping records, filling out reports, cooperating in ecumenical ministries, looking after herself/himself in the midst of work as demanding as dairy farming or parenting or care-giving, etc. could be summarized and understandable directions could be given for each of them.

I told him I already wrote that book. (In fact I have already emailed it to several interested pastors and superintendents.) But I am delighted to see others finally taking note of that task and they will undoubtedly produce something more up-to-date than mine.

Second, he said that mentoring is a serious prospect. To have a colleague observing, counseling, and supporting a new minister would be extremely valuable.

That concept had been around since the 1960s and has been in the Discipline in various forms ever since but somehow has not been effective in most conferences. But maybe we've learned from those failures and can provide an effective working model this time.

So, by looking at how Wesley defined the tasks and provided instruction, along with a new effort to clarify contemporary ministry that is being undertaken by appropriate agencies of the church, and with a better mentoring system, my friend offered valuable insights as to what can be done to work with troubled pastors.

Let me add my two cents worth.

Mine are currently impossible in most places in the United States, but are still being done, especially in Africa, the Philippines, and other places where the church is growing.

One, focus the work of Cabinet members on seeking every means they can to help pastors and the local churches to which they are appointed to succeed. It is a cardinal rule of appointive bodies to make the best matches and then to resource them so they have a chance to produce. One African superintendent has laid out simple policies on financing and on encountering people to win them over and he then makes the rounds among the clergy and churches four times a year to "see the pastor's book" in which are listed the new people relating to the church. He has workshops for them on evangelism. He includes them in district decision-making. He takes one or another of them around with him to show them what is working and what needs attention.

Now you know why I say that most American leaders cannot imagine doing that . . . yet. They don't have the time to give to appointments once those decisions are made. They trust the competence of the pastors to handle everything and not have them show up on his/her desk. "Reacting" instead of "pro-acting" is the current practice.

Two, Cabinets need to be aware that whatever they actually do is the example by which ministers learn what defines ministry.

It is not by the Cabinet's expectations or by their words that ministers judge how ministry is to be done. It is by their example. When superintendents, "general" or "district," no longer go into one-on-one experiences with their pastors, pastors don't feel motivated to go one-on-one with their church's members. Tweeting or e-mailing condolences or other personal messages becomes meaningless without having first developed human contact with some personal quality.

But the high cost of superintendents has led to there being fewer superintendents in most conferences. With more churches to "supervise," the fewer actually get any attention. So impersonal, long-distance means of communication become the norm and become the model of acceptable patterns of ministry as far as pastors are concerned.

I hope that developing churches do not change in the direction the U. S. church has gone or the movement will become institutionalized.

You notice that most of this article turns the question back on our leaders. Instead of having the question of what to do about incompetent pastors placed on the rest of us, it redirects it back to them. That is because we have not challenged our leaders about their focus on the world as their parish. They can so easily fall into the temptation of not having a parish here! And they lead pastors by example to show little care for their churches.

What are we to do with incompetent pastors? Ignoring them hasn't worked. Coming down hard on them hasn't decreased the numbers. Neither has using good management and judicial processes. What's left?

Clarifying our jobs and showing us how to succeed at them.

I wonder if I will be asked again. I'm still not sure I answered their question....

1 comment:

H. Y. Park said...

This article is just penetrating, astute and succinct and a must for every pastor.