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Methodists Choose Blue Death

Last week, we reported that the Methodist Church was facing a heated debate over the tenure rules for senior pastors. Faced with a declining membership base, the church was forced to choose between keeping senior pastors on staff as promised or ousting underperforming pastors in favor of fresh young blood, a classic blue model dilemma that has already hit primary schools and colleges.

This week, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the Methodists have chosen blue death, blocking plans to change the tenure rules:

The judicial council of the nation’s largest mainline protestant denomination, with 7.9 million members, said “abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan” and upend a long-standing “tradition of the United Methodist Church.”

“I’m frustrated, I’m saddened, and I’m disappointed,” said Bishop Al Gwinn, who argued on behalf of 200 bishops, after Sunday’s ruling. “The church is upside down in that we are so focused on clergy, clergy rights and clergy security that the church can’t be in mission.”

This decision completes the transformation of this venerable church. In the old, heroic days, Methodist clergy had no rights. They were circuit riders going from one backwoods settlement to the next, through wind and rain and snow. Like Jesus, they had no home or security beyond that provided by God. But their fiery sincerity and purity of vocation were so compelling that Methodism became the largest denomination in the country.

There’s no fear of anything like that happening now. These days, Methodist preachers don’t make many converts. In fact, the church is shrinking. But Methodist ministers now enjoy something like tenure so perhaps from their point of view this is all for the best. A nice job in a shrinking church is much comfier than a saddle in wintertime.

This new decision ensures continuing Methodist decline, less because of the content of the decision than because of what it says about the values and the priorities of a clergy that believes that Christian ministry should be a stable, middle-class profession with guaranteed benefits and lots of perks.

Many Methodist preachers, of course, like their colleagues in other denominations, work hard and serve their congregations admirably. That is not the point. The point is that we’ve come to take for granted that you can serve Heaven and have a tasty little helping of Mammon on the side — not riches, but security and predictability.

The clergy and the paid employees of the mainline churches remain locked into a world view that is destroying the institutions on which they subsist. They are thinking like trade unionists and bureaucrats when the very foundations of their world are being swept away.

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