On Tuesday, the General Conference voted to end the United Methodist practice of guaranteed full-time appointment for its elders in good standing. Beginning in January 2013, bishops can appoint elders to less-than-full-time appointments or to "transitional leaves" of a maximum of 2 years. A transitional leave would be a time when an elder would work toward transitioning into another vocation.
Why this change? A team, assigned by the 2008 General Conference to study clergy effectiveness, determined that this change would increase flexibility in the deployment of clergy. It was also thought that this would provide a process to ease persons out of pastoral ministry who have not proven effective in leading the church.
Is this a decision that will help the church? Some say it will allow bishop's the ability to move clergy into appointments (even if part time or transitional) that will help the overall ministry of the church. Others are worried that this may adversely effect the ministry of ethnic minority and women clergy. In addition, this places more power and authority in the hands of bishops.
We can trust that even with this change, checks and balances still exist for the fair treatment of elders, but at this point, many are uneasy.
I believe that the necessary processes for removing ineffective clergy already existed in the Discipline before the action. And whether it is through the old process or the newly adopted one, it takes deliberate, grace-filled work to remove clergy from full-time appointment. I hope that this decision will not disproportionately effect ethnic minorities and women. It is also my prayer that bishops will use this new "tool" carefully and compassionately for the upbuilding of the church.