Pastoral Transition FAQ’s

Part of the character of the United Methodist Church is that itinerancy – pastors changing churches – is part of who we are. Here some information about pastoral transitions in the United Methodist Church.

Why do pastors move within the United Methodist Church? 

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the United Methodist Church is the itinerant system in which pastors move from appointment to appointment. “Itinerancy is the system by which the Methodist Church moves its ministers from church to church so that at all times every preacher has a church and every church has a preacher…” (From Encyclopedia of World Methodism). This system dates back to the days of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

Itinerancy is part of the “connectional” nature of the United Methodist Church, which stresses the “united” nature of all United Methodist churches. This system means that, “all leaders and congregations are connected in a network of loyalties and commitments that support, yet supersede, local concerns…” (From Sharing God’s Gifts Glossary of United Methodist Terms).

All local churches are bound together by a common mission and common governance. This is how United Methodists work together to accomplish mission and ministry throughout the world.

Who makes the decision to move a pastor? 

The bishop is given the responsibility of making all pastoral appointments. City Road Chapel United Methodist Church is in the Nashville Episcopal area, which is served by Bishop William McAlilly Bishop McAlilly serves both the Tennessee and Memphis Annual Conferences of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and thus appoints clergy to United Methodist churches in these jurisdictions. These appointments are made official at Annual Conference. In the Tennessee Conference, Annual Conference meets in June.

Can the bishop reassign our other pastoral leaders? 

In the United Methodist Church, clergy includes two orders: deacons and elders. Elders work under the itinerant system as assigned by the bishop. Deacons, however, are responsible for finding their own placements and while appointed by the bishop, are responsible to the Staff Parish Relations Committee of our church.

Why doesn’t the congregation have a say in whether or not a pastor stays with a church?

The United Methodist Book of Discipline states “Clergy shall be appointed by the bishop, who is empowered to make and fix all appointments in the Episcopal area.” The bishop and the cabinet (all district superintendents in the conference) look at the appointment needs throughout the conference, taking into consideration the needs of each church, the gifts and talents of each pastor, and other circumstances in the conference. These circumstances might include vacancies that will have to be filled in the future. The bishop considers the needs of the pastors’ families, as well. When a spouse’s career or children’s schooling is affected, the bishop must weigh the cost-benefit of any appointments that might adversely affect the family.

The Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) in each local church consults with the district superintendent about the relationship between the pastor and the congregation and to communicate the desires of the church, but the role of the committee is advisory only. The district superintendent reports the advice of the SPRC to the bishop and the cabinet.

Similarly, pastors communicate to their district superintendents whether they wish to stay at their current church, move to another, or have no preference. However, there are no assurances that a pastor will get his or her first choice.

What can I do about voicing any concerns I might have?

Anyone that is a part of City Road Chapel can speak to a representative of the Staff Parish Relations Committee about his or her concerns. In 2017 Emily Stinson is the chair of that committee.

The district superintendent will also keep up with the transitional process. Currently, the District Superintendent of the Nashville District is the Rev. Harriet Bryan.

Is it true that pastors are discouraged from attending worship at their “old” churches?

Members of the United Methodist clergy are not members of any particular church, but rather are members of the Tennessee Annual Conference. It is unusual for a pastor to go back to a previous appointment to worship.

The Tennessee Annual Conference does not legislate this practice but according to Robert Kohler, Former Assistant General Secretary, Division of Ordained Ministry General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, “For the good of the church, it is necessary for the former pastor to allow the new pastor to build relationships and establish credibility without interference or divided loyalties. Until the new pastor can establish a strong relationship with the congregation, it will be necessary for the previous pastor to remove himself from the congregation. This may be difficult, but it is not as difficult as the alternative.”

How long will the new pastor stay at City Road Chapel?

Because appointments are decided by the Bishop, there is no way of knowing the tenure of the new pastor. Given the many growth opportunities within the church, the Bishop will consider the health of the church and its missions before making any significant changes in leadership.

How can I make the transition easier on the new pastor?

It is not unusual for the new pastor to feel all the things that congregational members feel about his/her new appointment. He or she may be feeling grief, joy, apprehension, relief, expectation, and excitement. This is an anxious but hopeful time for everyone involved.

Remember, this is a learning process for both the pastor and the congregation and there will be challenges along the way. The first few weeks will involve getting to know one another. The new pastor will then begin working with church leadership and understanding expectations and the culture of the church. Eventually, the pastor will discern the core values of our church and begin to shape a vision for the future. This process occurs intentionally, so it is not haphazard. However, it cannot happen quickly.

One cycle of adjustment describes the process as orientation, disorientation and then, re-orientation (or enchantment, disenchantment and then, re-enchantment). These words suggest that persons experience a variety of feelings and concerns through the process. Change is an opportunity for conflicts to arise, but it is also a chance to re-vitalize, re-focus, and re-commit to the mission and life of the church.

It might help to share your name with the new pastor for several months. Also, if you like something he/she has done, say so. If you are involved in church committees or activities, continue with those tasks. Throughout the history of City Road Chapel, the strength has been in the people, not just the leadership.

Most importantly, hold this transition process in prayer. Re-affirm to yourself and others that this is God’s church, under the care and guidance of the Holy Spirit. As in everything, we can expect great things from our gracious God.