I Don’t Have to Survive!

Yesterday, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church voted to end so-called “guaranteed appointments” for ordained pastors. Read more in this article at ministrymatters.com.

Guaranteed appointments for ordained pastors began more than fifty years ago to protect the appointments of women and minority pastors. Today, the concern about guaranteed appointments is that it limits denominational leaders’ ability to deal with ineffective clergy.

The loss of guaranteed appointment doesn’t seem like much of a loss for us, personally. Joleen and I have been United Methodist pastors for 14 years. But since we were only ordained last year, the first 13 of those years were without a guarantee.

As guaranteed appointments for ordained pastors comes to an end, I am reminded of a chapter I read in the early 1990s in a motivational book by John Maxwell, Be All You Can Be (reprinted in 2007). The title of the chapter is, “I don’t have to survive!”

Of course, as Maxwell notes, survival is a strong, natural desire for all of us. If we’re not careful, the drive to survive can keep us from taking risks. Removing the safety net adds a certain amount of risk. But with the risk, why not have the attitude, “I don’t have to survive!”?

A guaranteed appointment provided ordained pastors with a sense of security. Maxwell discusses the “security problem” (page numbers are from the 1987 printing) …

Insecure people are survivors; they are not willing to take risks. … The person who doesn’t have to survive says, ‘Here I stand; I can do nothing else. It’s God and nothing else.’ (158)

“I don’t have to survive!” is an attitude. Maxwell describes people with this attitude in four ways …

  1. They have faith in God, not in themselves.
  2. They change people, nations, and generations.
  3. They are willing to stand alone.
  4. They possess unusual powers (i.e., spiritual power).

A few days ago on Twitter, Interpreter magazine asked, “Will threat of guaranteed appointment loss for elders dampen prophetic preaching?” I don’t think it’ll be much of an issue for people whose attitude is, “I don’t have to survive!”

People who don’t have to survive don’t “play the game.” One of the most impacting phrases from my D.Min. program at Asbury came during a class on the Transformation of the Church, taught by Drs. Jim and Molly Scott: “Don’t play the game!” There’s always a temptation to play the game—to live safely, stay out of trouble, and climb the ladder. Without a safety net, the temptation to play the game could be even stronger. But “playing the game” is what people who are interested in security do. People with the attitude, “I don’t have to survive!” don’t play the game!

Now, job security is nice, of course. But I hope my commitment to God is stronger than my need for security.

Maxwell concludes his chapter on willingness to die for what you believe in. He tells the story of Joan of Arc. Just before she was burned at the stake at the age of 19, she was given the chance to recant. Instead, she said …

Every man gives his life for what he believes, and every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing. One life is all we have; we live it and it’s gone. But … to live without belief is more terrible than dying, even more terrible than dying young.

Ending guaranteed appointment for ordained pastors removes the safety net and forces pastors to choose between security and risk. Let’s choose to be risk-takers. Let’s not play the game. Now, more than ever, the church needs courageous leaders. Let’s live with the attitude, “I don’t have to survive!”

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