Commentary: Local pastors deserve our full respect and support

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by Mark Teasdale*

I have just finished teaching my sixth year in Course of Study (COS), providing the required education for people to be licensed local pastors (LLPs) in The United Methodist Church. Over this time I have taught in two different United Methodist seminaries in different parts of the country.

Rev. Mark Teasdale

Rev. Mark Teasdale

The LLPs I have encountered are committed both to the Christian faith and to the denomination. Many have entered the ministry with a deep sense of calling and at great personal sacrifice. All of them are in their second career or bi-vocational, requiring either the nest egg from their previous career or the additional salary of a second career in order to offset the low wages they receive from the congregations they serve.

In spite of the meager pay and lack of benefits provided by the church, LLPs face the same demands as ordained Elders, including preaching, administration, pastoral care and maintaining the connection with the district and the conference. However, they do these without the same authority and support as Elders. Lower minimum salary packages, strictures on voting in the Annual Conference, and the lack of assurance of having an appointment year-after-year are some of the differences.

While there are reasons for the polity differentiations between those who are licensed and ordained, I am concerned that Elders see LLPs and the congregations they serve as an underclass of the denomination because of these differences. Over the years I have heard LLPs affirm this. They speak of being passed over in conference discussions because they can vote neither as clergy nor as laity. They share stories of how they have been ignored or dismissed at unofficial gatherings of UM clergy, especially at Annual Conference Sessions, where their non-blue name tag ribbons are so visible.

Pamela Holliman, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Psychotherapy at Garrett-Evangelical, spoke to this in a Ministry Study Symposium held at Garrett Nov. 18, 2009. “Is the denomination taking advantage of some candidates for local pastor?  The need is great for people willing to serve small parishes and who will do so for a low wage, insufficient support and lack of resources. I found this to be particularly true for ethnic minorities. … Most were on a road to early burnout and heart disease.”

I offer four steps to begin addressing this concern:

  1. Do away with the colored ribbons that announce our formal title or rank at annual conference.
  2. Seminaries treat COS as equal to their other degree offerings. COS is set off from the regular faculty and course offerings, as though the education offered at COS is of lesser quality than what is offered through other programs. The core of what I teach, and what is expected from the denomination, is the exact same in both my MDiv and COS courses. The education should be valued accordingly.
  3. Elders should connect with LLPs in their daily ministry as well as during annual conference, recognizing that we are all commonly called through our baptism.  I encourage every Elder who reads this to take at least one LLP to lunch before next annual conference in order to connect with a fellow UM pastor.
  4. The annual conference meetings and conference news service needs to acknowledge regularly the hard work of the LLPs, which is often remarkable given the scale on which they operate.

LLPs are grateful for the opportunity the church gives them to live out their calling. As a denomination, we should support them in the sacrifice and work they do as they faithfully carry out that calling. As one LLP explained to me “we are not competitors nor usurpers of  (the) authority or status (of) ordained Elders in our tradition. We too are called, often late in life and only desire to answer that call to serve alongside them in the fields of the Lord. Not ahead or above, nor below or behind.”

* The Rev. Mark Teasdale, and Elder in the BWC, is E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of Evangelism and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL.

Reprinted from the August issue of the UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and available at http://bwcumc.org/local-pastors-deserve-our-full-respect-and-support/

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11 Comments on "Commentary: Local pastors deserve our full respect and support"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Michael P. Daniel
Guest
All true, but there are some elders who actually resent LLP’s authority, limited though it is, to offer the Sacraments in the churches to which we are appointed. That much has been expressed publicly in my Conference by a few (some have even expressed as much in the COS classrooms in which they are teaching, just in case we forget who we are!). I have been blessed with committed DS’s and mentors (elders), and I have been cursed with lazy ones who never just give me a call to see that all is well, and none has ever attended a… Read more »
Clarence Bowen
Guest
Enough already! I’ve been there done that! After a successful 20 year career in the military, God called me into the ministry in the UMC. My first appointment was a two point small, rural parish. I was married with a young child. My DS made sure that I knew that even though we moved into the parsonage on Thursday, I preached at both churches on Sunday, I was expected to show up bright and early Monday morning to begin my first year in COS School. My spouse was not a happy camper. That year at Annual Conference, I went to… Read more »
Bill Perry
Guest
I started preaching when I was fifteen years old under the watch care of local Bishops (non-denominational). The calling that God placed on my heart was very serious and grave. Learning did not come through a seminary or college setting, but the local church. Because of their (Bishop’s) example, I am still preaching today. Their teaching from God’s word encouraged me to think of others as better than myself, put the needs of others ahead of my own, and be diligent in “preaching Christ and him crucified.” That was 40 years ago. Much of the discussion here is filled with… Read more »
Dave Hurst
Guest
As a lay person who serves on both the Conference Board of Ordained Minstry and a District Commitee on Ministry, I’ve had the opportunity to observe elders, local pastors and their interactions. Most elders I know value and respect local pastors. There are elders who consciously or subconsciously set themselves on a “higher” level. However my sense is that it has more to do with the seminary degree than ordination — an attitude that their MDiv somehow enables them to be more effective than local pastors (or laity) at whatever they attempt, whether it involves ministry or even matters only… Read more »
James
Guest

I served about 12 years on the DCOM–much longer than some of the fully ordained clergy wanted. Was appointed by a DS who later became a Bishop. The fully connected clergy who were not happy I was there were those who had been unsuccessful in their parish appointments.

James
Guest

The very small church I attend is served by a CLM. We are very blessed to have that individual–otherwise the conference would most probably shut the doors to the 100 plus year old church. Faith walks in small congregations are just as valid as the walks in bigger churches. Many fully connected reverends would be blessed to come and serve little churches. They would likely find rich heritage and deep faith–some deeper then they themselves tout.

James Sherwood
Guest

Our little congregation is served by a CLM–certified lay minister. He has brought more dignity back to the pulpit then it has had in quite a number of years. Why? Because he is called and WANTS to be here. The fully ordained ones often do not want to serve the Kingdom in this little–or any other–community.

James Sherwood
Guest

CLMs and Local pastors fill a real niche and big need in the umc. Most fully connected clergy do not want to be in small parishes/communities. I am thankful this conference Bishop embraces the use of these very called and dedicated folks.

James Sherwood
Guest

Our church is served by a CLM–certified lay minister. Praise God for that individual. Too many small congregations would be completely without pastoral leadership–or worse–served by a fully connected minister who has flunked out everywhere else. It is sad that “powers that be” treat CLM’s and local pastors are treated as second class citizens. The experience at my little church is that the “local guys” feed their flocks much richer food.

Clay
Guest

We talk of be a church of inclusion, but still have discrimination. I have felt the sting and felt like an island at my church where an elder caused a schism. We should do away with this rule of not letting them be able to vote.

Richard F Hicks
Guest
LPs are easily replaceable cogs in the UM machine. Suck’em dry, chew’em up, spit’em out. I was once recruited by the DS to be the TBS interim to replace the guy to was soon thereafter ordained even though he publicly admitted that he couldn’t in good conscious lead the creeds because he didn’t believe them. The DS recruited me over the phone for an open ended verbal deal. One Sunday during announcements I was fired by the lay leader who said, “This is Richard’s last Sunday with us. Next week we will have . . . ” Thank you, Richard… Read more »
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