Writing in Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry, Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger surveyed nearly a thousand clergypersons who had left local church ministry, listening for themes in their stories as well as ways that the church and denominations can support those who are considering this step as well as those who have already chosen it. My husband and I have recently walked that gauntlet/gangplank, retiring from active Salvation Army officership 4 years before the magic age of 66, known in the post-Gowans reform years as “retiring at your own request.” So it was with some personal interest that I turned to the work of Hoge and Wenger, interested to see how their study of those in the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) might speak to Salvation Army transitions.
They concluded their book with a summary chapter, providing recommendations to the denominations. They spoke of the need for more practical preparation for ministry through their seminaries as well as of the need for on-going support for pastors in general and especially in times of crisis. However, their second recommendation was the one that caught my attention as to its relevance for the Salvation Army: Improve the call process (what we would call the appointment process).
A second finding of interest was from the leadership of denominations who were also interviewed. “Young pastors are not as willing to go unquestioningly where the denomination needs them.” As Gomer Pyle was known to say, “surprise, surprise, surprise.” It’s not that they’re unwilling to go, but they – and we – are used to having a multitude of choices in our lives, at least in the Western world. We have choices as to the flavors of mustard and ice cream, yet we are still expected to go unquestioningly (without a murmur) wherever and whenever we are appointed. And when we murmur we feel guilty, and when we question whether we can go we feel guilty, and if we do go begrudgingly or because we don’t have any other options, we resent the process and sometimes the people involved in the process. I know – I’ve heard the stories over the past 3 months.
I know, I know, this is the Army, and the appointment process is one of our sacred cows that we can’t touch, but I’m sensing that our darling heifer is turning into the elephant in the living room that we’ve got to talk about before it’s too late. Here’s my plea – the officers, the congregation, and the community deserve to have a voice in the process. It’s time we talked.