Every year I receive phone calls from District Superintendents in different parts of the country asking for suggestions for pastors who might have the experience and gifts to serve churches in their annual conference. Usually the superintendent is looking for clergy to serve large churches. Sometimes they are seeking a turn-around pastor. Occasionally they are looking for someone to lead a strategic new church start. Each time I receive a call like this I have the same thought: We need an excellent, searchable, national database of United Methodist clergy.
There is already a database of all elders in the U.S. But it does not have the kind of information that would make it useful for active bishops and superintendents. What if this database included a personal statement from each pastor regarding their passion in ministry, her or his appointment history including a record of their accomplishments in each appointment, and the worship attendance at each? The pastor's record could include any personal data the pastor would wish to have included. Links to their current church's website, and perhaps a link to an audio or video file of a sermon from the pastor could be included. The database could also include fields for each pastor to check boxes describing their willingness to be considered for an appointment outside of their annual conference, the kind of appointment they feel most qualified for, and other data superintendents would find helpful.
Superintendents doing a national search could quickly find 20 possible candidates for nearly every one of their "unique" appointment situations. With a few hours' work they could narrow this down to a handful of candidates to discuss with their bishop and cabinet. Of course, before any contact could be made with the pastor, the bishop interested in the pastor would need permission from that pastor's bishop. No permission, no conversation. But the incentive for conversation would be the fact that each bishop would know that at some point they would need to use the database to find just the right person for a unique appointment in their annual conference.
When a superintendent calls me, I find it hard to remember the gifts, graces, strengths, and weaknesses of the many pastors I've worked with. Whatever names I might suggest are only a fraction of the really qualified people I know. My 48-year-old brain is a poor substitute for an excellent database.
Some might feel that this system, already in place in some other denominations that work with a call system, would be a threat to the itinerant system. But it does nothing to take away from the idea that bishops appoint clergy. It only provides them with tools to make even better appointments. In the early church the apostles drew lots to discern the Holy Spirit's will. Perhaps today we can discern the work of the Spirit with the help of an excellent database of United Methodist Clergy. And the beauty of this idea is that it doesn't appear to require General Conference action!
So, what do you think? Is this already being developed as described above? Do you think it would be helpful? Please forward this link to your network of United Methodist clergy. It would be great to start a national conversation about this idea (or if the conversation is already taking place, to add our ideas to it!).