On “Calling”, Servanthood, and perhaps…Itinerancy
In the United Methodist Church, ordained elders practice itinerancy. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, the United Methodist Church’s website says this:
United Methodism has a unique system of assigning clergy to churches which dates back to John Wesley and which is different from any other denomination. The system by which pastors are appointed to their charges by the bishops is called itinerancy. The present form of the intinerancy grew from the practice of Methodist pastors traveling widely throughout the church on circuits. Assigned to service by a bishop, clergy remain with one particular congregation for a limited length of time. All pastors are under obligation to serve where appointed.
And you can read more about it here.
Itinerancy, like anything in life, has a lot of upsides and a number of downsides. UM churches always have a pastor, sometimes several, and pastors always have a job. Sort of. Even in the conferences when guaranteed appointment is not a reality, being a UMC elder still serves as a bit of security.
Downsides? Well, that depends on who you talk to. Some pastors will tell you that there is no downside. Some will tell you that moving often is a downside. Some will tell you that being at the mercy of a human decision who appoints you is a downside. Some will tell you that being put in a position that does not play into your greatest strengths is a downside. Others would add that not being able to do much about it s a downside.
Still, most pastors would tell you that they enjoy being a servant. Because allowing themselves to be open to wherever they are “led” allows them to have a servant’s attitude and posture at all times. For good reason too, because it is true. However ascetic that may seem at any point, it is the way and tradition that it has been handled and for the most part…it seems to have worked.
As I often do though, I have many questions. And as most of my questions do, I might piss people off. So? Press onward.
Like, “choose life”, I never like when utopian, goal-centered, life-inspiring words are aligned with practices. My immediate thoughts when I hear this language approached in this way are not that that practice (in this case, itinerancy) is simply a form of servanthood (which it is), but rather that that use of language implies that that practice is either 1) the only way to achieve the goal-centered, life-inspiring, way-to-live-your-life or 2) that your form of being a servant is a higher form of servanthood than someone who might not “serve” in the same form that you do.
Let me be clear: I’ve never heard anyone suggest this. But, the language-to me-is scary.
Of course, you’ll never meet a United Methodist pastor who thinks this way. Well, I hope not. Why? “Call”.
I truly believe that all pastors who serve congregations are serving as pastors (no matter what their appointment…even if it is not in a church at the current moment) feel called to do so. They feel called to serve as a pastor. In general. Serve as a pastor.
For me, and I don’t claim that it is fair to blanket anyone else in my statements, I don’t get it. For me. Some people feel called to serve wherever they are told to go. They do it with a willing heart. If they are specifically talented in one area (let’s say that they are church “rebuilders”) and they are sent to a church that doesn’t need those specific talents at that given time, they do so willingly because they feel called to…serve.
But when I examine myself, my own gifts, my own talents, I don’t see where they fit into this model.
When you feel so strongly about how God is using and shaping you, I can’t help but feel like even though it may not be as ascetic (because I maintain some control of my own future) it is still a sense of servanthood. And I doubt that many would disagree. This is why the UMC has an order of Deacons.
So, the main argument-I think- has to do with appropriateness of the role of being a servant for each person, as it relates to their life and situation, and “calling.” This seems fairly obvious. To many, this is the definition of calling.
I believe that God will use every single person. And I think that God will use every single person’s talents for the good of the Church if they’ll allow. And, obviously that not only includes pastors but also anyone else who is willing to serve in any capacity.
And maybe it is my own struggle with authority. And maybe it is that I don’t like being told what to do.
Or. Maybe. It is that I truly feel like I am talented in certain areas of ministry (and suck in others) and that to be placed somewhere where those gifts aren’t being used to the full potential would be a detriment to the potential of what God could be doing. Not that God won’t use you in every situation and circumstance, but certainly talents and gifts can be used in new and refreshing ways in some places over others. I think that’s what the issue is for me. Find your fit. Find your place. Find your gifts. Put them there.
God uses all in all situations, this much is true. But, the burn and fire inside of your heart is perhaps a true calling from God, not your own desires. And maybe you ought to do something about it, and stop the ascetic servanthood.
Do what you do, well.
P.S. – I hope this blog post sparks conversation about submission and obedience.