As an Ordained member of the United Methodist clergy, I receive Circuit Rider Magazine quarterly. This issue deals primarily with changes that have been adopted over the years - the big issue is about local pastors and sacramental authority.
We saw this argument at annual conference this past summer, when the recommendation came to suggest to General Conference that local pastors needed the same voice as ordained elders in the conference, especially regarding votes for General & Jurisdictional Conference delegates (and possible inclusion as delegates).
The angle of almost every article in Circuit Rider was something like this: local pastors haven't had the same amount of schooling as ordained elders. They haven't gone through the same "hoops" that we have. They aren't subject to the itinerate system like we are. One article specifically stated that "If there was anything unique about being an elder, it was totally removed by this action [inclusion of laity on Conference & district committees and giving them a vote in clergy session] of the General Conference." he goes on to complain that elders have lost identity and authority within the annual conference - and it's all the fault of those pesky local pastors.
He finishes up by asking questions that "elders are increasingly asking":
- Why go through the educational rigors of four years of college and three years of seminary when one can be ordained as an elder after two years in the Course of Study?
- Why be ordained elder if deacons and local pastors are given the same sacramental authority as the elder?
- Why allow laypersons on a board of ordained ministry and district committee when the convenant for ministry is to an order in which laity do not participate?
- Why bother to be an elder when everything an elder does can be done by someone else in the church?
OK, I'd better not.
My take on this (as an Elder in Full Connection) is a little different.
- I didn't go through the "educational rigors" with the goal of becoming an elder. I went through education (and continue my education) with the goal of serving God to the best of my ability. I don't care what my title is, and the title certainly isn't my goal. Why go through the schooling? To learn.
- Indeed, why be ordained elder if you can do something "lesser" and still receive the glory for yourself? Why write your own sermons when you can snag someone else's off the internet? Why read original languages when you can read a translation? Why study the scriptures when someone else has written a commentary? Maybe because God asks for us to give ourselves as living sacrifices - to give our best to Him. Or, to take it a little different direction, the issue comes into play about what is guaranteed to an elder in full connection that is not guaranteed to a local pastor or to a deacon serving in a church. For one thing, the pay scale is quite different. When the annual conference recognized my credentials and accepted me as an elder in full connection, I immediately received a $2000 nudge in my pay scale. I don't do any more than my friend Greg, a local pastor who I'm in Bible study with weekly. For some reason this reminds me of when I was in the fraternity, we'd always have some active brother complaining. "When I was a pledge..." the rant would always begin, and then we'd hear how stringent and difficult their pledge period was, unlike these soft pledges we have now ("Ve haff pledges?") who aren't fit to carry the name Chi Phi...
- Oh, the comments I have about the decision to allow laity on conference boards and district committees... When United Methodism was a movement, it was lay-driven. Then laity ran the day-in-day-out show in all the local churches. Over time, our denomination has become top-heavy, led by various boards, bishops, district superintendents, and clergy (especially elders). In my mind, the issue of laity involvement is tied deeply with the direction of the church itself. Unfortunately, we clergy have built up the impression that we are indespensible - that without us, the church will fail. Jesus can rise up stones to praise Him; what makes us so egotistic to think that He can't do anything without us? Which brings me to...
- What kind of attitude says, "Why bother to follow God's calling in my life while allowing others to follow God's (different) callings in their lives?" This is essentially what the final question asks. "Wah, I have to do more work and I don't get any more accolades." Cry me a freakin' river. On the same lines, I wonder why Jesus would "bother" to leave earth and to tell His followers that they would do even greater miracles in His Name? And doesn't the Holy Spirit make Him as obsolete as an elder in a UM Church? Indeed, I wonder what drives a question like this. If ministry is all about "bothering" to follow God's call - which God could conceivably find someone else to complete anyway, why "bother" to do anything at all?
As you can probably tell, this whole issue has my blood boiling. We clergy have to get our heads out of our, er, out of the mirrors and out of the clergy huddles. We're the problem - and the fact that many of our churches are stuck in the "let the pastor do it" mentality is proof.