The Sending of Pastors

United Methodism is distinguished from many other churches in that we practice a “sent ministry.” Our pastors are appointed to churches, not hired or called by churches. We therefore continue the biblical and historic practice of sending pastoral leaders to places where they are most needed for the accomplishment of that congregation’s mission. Our pastors promise to go where they are most needed.

The District Superintendents share with me the responsibility for the deployment of our pastors. We attempt to keep ever before us that our particular calling is to find the very best pastoral leadership that will enable each of our beloved congregations accomplish the mission that is given to that congregation by Christ.

It was my judgment that too often the appointive process functioned in the past on the basis of seniority of the clergy, or by the Cabinet’s hunches about pastors rather than on the basis of careful, fact-based assessment of how God actually used individual pastors for the furtherance of the Kingdom. We must attempt to assess and to place pastors on the basis of facts more than feelings. We must send pastors only after a careful look at the pastor’s productivity and the needs of the churches.

The Cabinet has been engaged in a few years of evaluation of our appointive procedures. We are pioneering some new ways to assess and place clergy. This year we will utilize a set of new procedures:

  • We shall look at the church statistics on the Conference website to get a longitudinal picture of the pastor’s leadership at the present appointment.
  • We will examine the statistics on the Conference Dashboard to get an up-to-date report on the results of the pastor’s leadership.
  • Every pastor to be moved will complete a Strengths Assessment Inventory (available through the book by Buckingham, Now Discover Your Strengths). The Cabinet has used this Inventory on ourselves and found it marvelously revealing. This enables us to get an accurate assessment of each pastor’s individual strengths, focusing on the specific gifts and talents of the pastor, rather than focusing upon any alleged weaknesses. This gives us the ability to match a pastor and his or her strengths with the needs of a congregation.
  • Every fulltime pastor who may be moved will be interviewed by a team of three District Superintendents who will guide the pastor through a conversation that will uncover a pastor’s own dreams, abilities, and strengths. Those conversations will then inform the discussion in the Cabinet.
  • The Bishop and District Superintendent will listen to and respond to a sample sermon from each full time pastor who is moving.
  • Every church will be asked for a statement of mission and goals for the future so that we can match a pastor’s gifts with a congregation’s needs.
  • Each District Superintendent will present the proposed new pastor to the congregation’s lay leadership and explain why the Cabinet believes this pastor is the leadership suited for this congregation’s mission.
  • Every newly appointed pastor will be asked to design and present to the DS and to congregational leadership a “First Ninety Days” plan for ministry in the first three months of the pastorate. This is after participating in a workshop that trains pastors how to devise these plans. The execution of this plan will be observed and shared with the DS who will work with the pastor on any needed modifications in the plan.

If you have been around our church for awhile know how different this way of appointing pastors is from our ways in the past. Those of us who are charged with the responsibility of sending pastors have got to show our pastors that they are being evaluated fairly and accurately, that their good work is being noted, and that every pastor is utilized in a congregational setting that is appropriate to that pastor’s God-given gifts and abilities.

The Cabinet and I welcome any insights or feedback you may have on the process of appointment because we are committed to constant improvement of the process. God calls and the church sends our pastors. God continues to call us some wonderfully faithful servants of Christ and the church. The church must do its part faithfully to utilize the gifts that God gives us in our pastors.

Will Willimon

10 thoughts on “The Sending of Pastors

  1. Hi Will,Keep in mind I cut my ecclesiastical teeth under Angie Smith! Your piece to me is good news and revolutionary. I love it.I do take exception to the last point. It seems to me that a new pastor is on dangerous ground when he comes in fresh with new things for old heads. “Who is this guy anyway?”Speaking positively, I think he needs to demonstrate love for the people, listen to them, spend some time getting comfortable with each other. “Make friends with the ‘angels’ of the local church before he/she dares to begin to lead.I’m retired, living in Arizona, very happy. Served at 1st Green Bay and 1st Omaha before hanging it up.I’ve admired your work for decades.Roger


  2. Bishop Willimon,Do you have systems in place to ensure that there are not temptations or incentives to “cook the books” to make the statistics look better than they are?I realize that suggesting pastors would act like regular people might offend some, but in most organizations where numbers are used for accountability and decision-making, there is a powerful incentive to massage the numbers.Is there a system to verify the numbers that are reported in your statistics?


  3. Good question, John. Our hope is that by these statistics being completely public, for all to see, that would be a safeguard on “cooking the books” (i.e. Lying)about the numbers. Our Dashboard will go public on the website in April. Already I’ve had laity from one church say, “We have no idea where our former pastor got the number of attendees that he reported.” We are investigating.We are still a long, long way from truly making decisions based upon numbers, but I think the beginning is in simply noting the numbers!Thanks for the conversation.Will Willimon


  4. Bishop WIllimon,I am curious about you and your cabinet commenting on pastor’s sermons. The idea is interesting, and yet daunting! ( I have been blessed to have some sermons evaluated by great preachers, and a couple of mega church preachers…. it is always a fearful task, but helpful!)Is there a basic tool you use for evaluation? Is the focus going to be theological, or on the presentation or?


  5. We just simply write a letter to the pastor – I write one and the DS writes one. No particular formula applied, other than our own impressions. We see it is simply a conversation about an important subject.Will


  6. This is fantastic leadership and management. Making personnel decisions based on facts and performance – that’s how it should be done.


  7. Bishop,I’ve been thinking a lot about the “sent ministry” of Methodism. I wonder what would happen if we expanded the idea to include the laity. Aren’t they also “sent ministers”? How that might transform ministry in our communities?! You mean all the baptized are sent?


  8. Mike,I don’t know about Methodist polity, but in both my present (LCMS) and former (Christian Chuch/church of Christ) there is definitely an “sent” concept involved for vocation.In Matt 28, the oft cited Great Commission says Go, but could perhaps be more accurately translated “as you are going into the world”Some of us have signs in our churches stating “you are now entering your mission field”, or my personal spin, “you are now entering worship” ( see Romans 12:1-8)If our people, in their vocations as parents, kids, employees, hobbyists, etc, do not see themselves as Christ’s ambassadors to those places, we have failed to guide them, and are blocking them from using their spiritual gifts.Send them out with your blessing, and with your cell phone number (in case they have questions or need prayer.)


  9. Hello Bishop,I appreciate this approach very much and think this is a great step for our cabinet! What you have outlined here is much more balanced, holistic, organic, and theologically sound than a singular fixation on “results” (which has been problematic for a variety of reasons). Yet at the same time you have described a proactive and healthy process that will foster effectiveness.This is evidence to me that the cabinet has not only been willing to take courageous leadership but has also been listening to feedback. I commend you.While there are those who are probably offended by your statement that appointments in the past were made by seniority and hunches, I do think that what you have outlined here is a great process and would help curb that temptation if it should ever arise. I also think it is a sign of good health to spell out the process and make it available like this for the sake of clarity.This process seems to me to be a good example of finding ways to be more exacting (using tools and measures instead of hunches) but at the same time tending to things other than numbers, which only tell part of a congregation or pastor’s story. I do not have a problem with counting and agree that these numbers represent people coming to Christ. But it is also true that gifts and graces, leadership styles, mission and vision, and fruit that is more mysterious than measurable are part of the greater whole of who we are and how God calls us to serve together as congregation and pastor.Thanks for this. Great work.


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