Add another voice to a growing number of church officials calling for reconsideration of clergy job guarantees.
The Sustainability Advisory Group, a body examining church finances, estimates there are 784 more U.S. clergy than there are positions needed to meet church needs today, and that some conferences are trying to fill jobs the denomination does not have.
The group is recommending church bodies review and, if necessary, change church policy that states elders in good standing “shall be continued under appointment by the bishop,” according to the Book of Discipline.
“The current UMC clergy appointment structure and compensation system are unaffordable and unsustainable, and too often do not achieve the desired results of placing competent and qualified leadership in local churches,” the group’s report said. “It simply does not make sense to maintain a larger work force than local churches can afford.”
Facing tough times
The study group formed in the wake of the economic recession that put pressure on conferences and brought greater attention to the financial challenges already facing the church.
Barbara Boigegrain, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits, in March 2009 requested volunteers to examine the sustainability of the church’s financial obligations.
Staff members from 15 conferences, including benefits officers, treasurers and a director of connectional ministries, joined the endeavor. The group also received support from staff members from the pension board and the General Council on Finance and Administration.
The group initially started by examining benefits, Boigegrain said, but soon expanded its research to include compensation and infrastructure.
“We decided we needed to get a bigger picture,” she said. “As we started to focus on benefits, we saw there is no specific area that is not affected by others, especially when it comes to benefit, compensation and church costs.”
The effort found that total local church expenses may include trying to support full-time clergy in small congregations that may not be able to afford them. Eventually, the group looked at the total employment costs of the current appointment system.
“I think the appointive system has a lot of benefits to it, but it also comes with a great deal of fixed costs,” said group member Scott Brewer, director of connectional services for the General Council on Finance and Administration. “A number of people have identified the guaranteed appointment concept as one of the major drivers in some of those costs.”