Two Important Task Forces Established (c)

At the recently concluded meeting of the Central Texas Conference, as resident Bishop of the Central Texas Conference I shared the important news of the establishment of two task forces to examine and make recommendations surrounding issues of clergy itineration and both congregational & clergy evaluations/appointment requests.  Below is the full text surrounding the establishment of these two important task forces.  Bishop Mike Lowry Friends, there is much before us in our collective ministry.  The words of Christ must always and ever frame our life together.  “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) As we near the end of Annual Conference let a conviction of obedience to and trust in the Lord settle into essence of our being. Yet in the midst of this great commitment and God-honoring ministry there are some infrastructure issues that need to be addressed.  Even if we miraculously solve, or more accurately if God settles, the issue which threatens to rend us a sunder we still have some tough issues that challenge us.  Let’s look at a few of them we must wrestle with as a Conference.
  • I am establishing a Task Force on Evaluation with the responsibility to report back to the Cabinet, the Board of Laity, and the Board of Ordained Ministry.
Perceived Presenting Issue: Evaluations that are being received are not helpful and conducive to learning, lacking in honest assessment and hence of diminished value to both Cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry.  At the same time, it is difficult for Pastor-Parish Relations Committees to give cogent feedback and all too often such feedback is perceived by clergy as overly summative and judgmental while lacking in formative feedback/assessment.  (Note: “The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning.”)  We tend to get trapped in a circular firing squad.  The Laity blame the Cabinet for not doing a better job.  The Cabinet blames the Board of Ordained Ministry for approving people for ordination that they think shouldn’t be approved.  The Board of Ministry complains about unhelpful inaccurate assessments and evaluations turned in by Pastor-Parish Relations Committees.  Modestly I want to suggest that throwing brick at each other is helping.  Pretty obviously this is a systems issue which we must address in a non-blaming way.  The core issue is how we learn (for both clergy and churches) and how we give laity and clergy alike honest helpful assessment of their shared ministry. Narrative Examples:
  • A narrative example comes from a clergy who had done well in previous appointments but was not judged a fit appointment by the Cabinet for a much larger church because of a lack of preaching ability. The pastor/preacher finally confronted a couple of District Superintendents as to why he was continually passed over for appointments.  Upon receiving feedback that his preaching ability was lacking, he commented: “Why didn’t anyone tell me before?  If they did, I could have worked on improving!”
  • A recent Pastor-Parish Committee evaluation of their pastor rated the pastor in the top assessment box (on a 1 to 3 scale with 1 being good to excellent) in all but one of 20 or so evaluative categories. They then immediately submitted a Pastor-Parish Appointment Preference form to the District Superintendent unanimously requesting the pastor be moved because of an inability to effectively serve as a pastor.
  • A clergyperson filled out the Pastor-Parish Committee appointment form requesting that the pastor be re-appointed without ever showing it to the Committee; asked the Chair of the PPR Committee to sign the form (which he did) and submitted it to the District Superintendent. Two months later (after Inventory) the DS received an urgent request that the pastor be moved.  When shown the appointment request form, the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee (rightly!) replied that they’d never seen it.  The Chair who signed the form said, “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
The Task Force on Evaluation is specifically Charged to:
  1. Look at and revamp the evaluation instrument for clergy as filled out by clergy and by Staff/Parish Relations Committees;
  2. Examine ways we might more effectively help PPRCs give clear feedback that is educational and improvement-oriented (formative) rather than a summary judgement (summative) of weakness and/or failure;
  3. Investigate how we might encourage a clergy culture of learning agility and performance (i.e. faithful and fruitful).
  4. Examine what systems exist for evaluation of commissioned elders and deacons who are seeking ordination and what might be done to improve the communication to both Cabinet and Board of Ordained ministry relative to questions of appointment and/or ordination/licensing.
  5. Inquire and suggest other improvements to the evaluation system of both Church and Clergy which enhances both learning agility and accountability for clergy and congregations alike.
  • I am establishing a Task Force on Itineration with similar responsibility to report back to the Cabinet, the Board of Laity, and the Board of Ordained Ministry. The Task Force on Itineration is charged to:
Examine in detail issues involving clergy itineration with regard to both faithfulness and fruitfulness in upholding ¶338 (“The itinerant system is the accepted method of the United Methodist Church by which ordained elders, provisional elders, and associate members are appoint by the bishop to fields of labor.”) as a means of fulling the mission of the United Methodist Church in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  In doing so, the Task Force is specifically to examine issues and missional challenges related to an increasing rise of elders requested limited itineration.  The Cabinet notes with concern the rising number of elders who seem to believe they must receive an appointment within or in close proximity to Tarrant County. The Task Force on Itineration shall examine: The historic missional reasons for itineration and their application to today’s mission field.
  1. The understanding and/or lack of understanding of both lay and clergy for itineration.
  2. The clarity in our teaching, especially with the Board of Ordained Ministry about issues related to itineration for clergy.
  3. Discern what we might do to strengthen an awareness of the meaning and purpose for itineration for those commissioned for elders orders and for Pastor-Parish Relations Committees.
  4. How might we better educate and help the laity understand the implications of itineration for two career families and for congregations.
  5. The Disciplinary mandates related to itineration and the continued importance of itineration.
  6. Relate issues of itineration with the requirements of the guaranteed appointment.
  7. What changes to the itineration system, consistent with The Discipline, should be consider by all stakeholders in the Central Texas Conference and within the larger mission field.
  8. Offer insight and counsel to the Bishop, Conference Lay Leader/Board of Laity, Cabinet, and Board of Ministry on any other matters related to itineration of commissioned and ordained elders.