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Of Apportionments and Stewardship

Bishop Willimon has a post about pastoral leadership and stewardship, with the particular aspect of stewardship being apportionments. I like the framing that goes on in our church, as apportionments are called “fair-share giving.” I know that sounds better, but I still call them apportionments.

I think the general finding is unexceptional. Pastoral leadership has a large impact on how a church responds to apportionments. My question is just what it says about an organization that the pastors have that much of an impact. Apparently the members in the pews are often not all that dedicated to apportionments. One major reason could be that very few United Methodist members really understand how apportionments are assigned (though that knowledge might make the less happy), or how they are spent.

I have yet to attend a United Methodist church that pays all of its apportionments. At the same time, the way in which the denomination spends the money that is sent up the line tends to make me want to go find an independent church. Unfortunately, I am also well aware of the potential problems of independent churches. For some reason, all churches and denominations consist of people, and thus all forms of organization have problems.

My own answer is that as long as I’m a member of a United Methodist congregation I must support the payment of apportionments and continue my stewardship, including giving to the local church as the Lord leads. But if there comes a time when I choose to become a member of a church of another denomination, the use of money at the conference and denominational level will doubtless have something to do with it.

What disturbs me here is to hear stewardship discussed specifically in the form of apportionments, and secondly to see how much Methodist churches change with pastoral assignments. The leadership pattern displayed in Bishop Willimon’s post is something I have observed (much less scientifically, of course) in other areas. I have also seen leadership changes do great damage to a church. I know of a church where the pastor went from pro-charismatic to not-so-much pro-charismatic, and then back to charismatic. With each change the church shed members and while it continues to struggle along, it is not thriving, and many pastors are not very anxious to be sent there.

I wish I knew how to solve this, other than better pastor placement, and I must be honest when I say that I would do much, much, much worse than the bishop and cabinet in our conference. (Amongst a multitude of other things, this explains why I am neither bishop nor even pastor.) But I do believe this is something that should be of concern. It fits the “shepherd and sheep” model, but doesn’t sound much like the “body of Christ.”

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