My Thoughts on Craig Groeschel’s Thoughts on the UMC- Part 2

The second area that Craig Groeschel lent his thoughts on the United Methodist Church to was in the itinerancy.  In the UMC- the Bishop and Cabinet can move a pastor when they feel the time is right.  We pray that they are hearing from God in these moves!  The itinerancy has worked in the UMC.  Back in the 1800’s Cicuit Riders criss-crossed the continent to preach and celebrate the sacraments.  During this time, the Methodist Church grew by leaps and bounds. 

I was recently in St. George’s United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.  This is one of the earliest Methodist Churches in America.  In the front of the sanctuary is a list of the pastors who have served at the church.  For the longest time- every year there is a new name of the pastor serving the church. I can remember growing up in the Methodist Church that we came to expect that our Pastor would get moved every 3-5 years. 

While I have yet to itinerate (I’ve been a lay hire for 5 years and appointed to the same church as a student pastor for the past 4 years), I have my own feelings about the system as a whole.  The first being- while I may have my doubts and concerns about itinerating, right now in the Methodist Church it is the system that I, and many others, have to live with.  I have made a commitment to the Church and to itinerate.  With that in mind- I do have some thoughts…

  1. How do you build vision, goals, respect, and trust for ministry when you don’t know when you could be moved?  When I itinerate, do I have three years in a particular location to do what I am called to do?  Or do I have 10?  When I was in youth ministry, it took me 3 years or so to really get a grasp of the culture, the town, the leaders and be able to cast a vision that moved the ministry ahead. 
  2. If you’re in a church whose pastor gets moved often- how do you build trust with your congregation.  Once I was appointed to Avenue- I immediately began getting people saying things like, “I know the Bishop is going to move you,” or “How much longer do you think you’ll be in Milford?”  (I’d like to think that was because they liked me!!!)
  3. When it comes to my family (especially my daughter- who didn’t agree, like my wife, to pursue ministry as a family- she was born into it), how will itinerating affect her growth and development as a person.  When she has to change schools, how will she make friends, etc.?

I think the itinerant system in the United Methodist Church is the ultimate leap of faith.  As a Pastor in the UMC, I have to trust that God will send me to a church where my gifts are a good fit. 

Your turn- What are the strengths of the itinerant system? Other weaknesses?  Has itinerating turned out to be a blessing in disguise?  What other options could we have in the UMC?

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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7 Responses to My Thoughts on Craig Groeschel’s Thoughts on the UMC- Part 2

  1. Billy Frick says:


    As someone else who wrestle's with the itinerant process I affirm your thoughts. I am often asking the question, “Am I called to the itinerant system or am I just called to be in ministry?” The part that impacted me the most from your writings was your part about Abbie being born into the system. For Dee and I we are challenged with not wanting Braydon to not like the institution of the church because of him seeing the drain it puts on mommy and daddy. As you know my feeling is we can't sacrifice our family for the sake of ministry.

    Finally, I too am part of this system and will not leave until I have clarity that I have been released!! Thank you for your thoughts!!

  2. Matt Ralph says:

    I survived itineracy (is that a word?) mostly because the conference left my dad in the same church long enough to allow me to start and graduate from the same middle school and high school. My older brother had it a little more difficult than me with the timing of things, but in my own experience that would have been the toughest time to move. Moving a lot when I was younger (three different elementary schools) was tough but not as tough as I imagine it would have been changing later on. Middle school was a nightmare enough.

    My biggest issue and concern with the system is the politics of it all. Too often I've seen decisions made based on who had the DS's favor and who didn't. Pastors seem to get rewarded or punished this way. Congregations that don't pay their apportionments get a preacher they don't want, for example.

  3. Matt- Good comments from a PK's perspective! I do think there are politcal dimensions to the itinerancy, we can only prayer that they are minor.

  4. Andrea says:

    I grew up in a UMC where the pastor (who preached at 3 seperate UMC churches every Sunday about 3 miles from each other) was there for 31 years. From my perspective, that church was just dying out. Sure, we knew Rev. Earnst, his kids, his grandkids, and he knew us, and I don't recall ever wondering if he was going to be moved away. It always seemed like “his” church, which I think was bad because they hired a youth pastor who I thought was great, but his guitar music and camping retreats just didn't go over well, he got tired of being thwarted and left. Also, I think the whole congregation really stagnated over those years, especially compared to my experiences at Epworth and Avenue. I wonder what it would have been like to have some new blood in there at some point. The hardships must be great, but I do see a valuable purpose in itineracy.

  5. Rick says:

    Steve, those are excellent thoughts. Like you, I have yet to itinerate, but I know it is coming, be it tomorrow or three years from now. We are called to place an extreme amount of faith and trust in the system and the prayerful considerations of the cabinet. If you don't believe God is involved, you will forever be miserable and discontented.

    Per your post, here are what I see as the positives of itineracy. First and foremost is pulpit freedom. The old jokes about the pastor who preached a bad/controversial/challenging sermon on Sunday, only to wake up to a moving van in the driveway on Monday exist for a reason. Sure, the people can complain to PPR, but we won't get fired overnight unless we say something really crazy. Second, if you get placed in a challenging spot, you know you have an out. Third, you effectively get to pick a region of the country to live in, and if you want to, you can stay there forever. Those who have to find their own churches often times have to travel halfway across the country to do so.

    Yet, I find multiple problems with the system. First, it dates from a time when most pastors were uneducated, and the powers that be figured that they only had about two years of good sermons in them. Moving them around ensured the faithful heard good preaching. Simply put, that is not the case now. Second, if the system is guided solely by God and prayer, why is it that certain churches are only open to certain pastors, seemingly based on salary and seniority alone? The only other church that itinerates is the Roman Catholic church, and their priests basically all receive the same base salary from their parishes, with some benefits based on seniority. Our system often times more closely reflects a political ladder. Third, how long do you leave a pastor in a church? It takes a good two to three years just to learn names and gifts of the members–to move a pastor out after that time is almost counterproductive. Further, the churches who are used to their pastors only staying for a short time never even try to connect with them or respect them because they know they will be out in no time. On the other hand, after time the people become so connected to their pastor that they can't bear whoever follows them, regardless of how good or bad they might be.

    What to do then? Trust in God and trust the system, whether you want to or not 🙂

  6. 7200 says:

    I've seen success in business from “parochial” decisions and planning. I would think there is truth to that in churches as well. I can also understand a verse like I Corinthians 1:12, in the aspect people put faith in the leadership and not all in Jesus. It is difficult not to be selfish as a church member if/when this were to happen.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What if the spouse of the pastor is in a career that they feel is their “calling”? Ministry happens outside the walls of the church and we are all called to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Should the spouse that has a calling into the UMC super-cede the calling of the other spouse where they are bearing fruit in their chosen career? I think that the cabinets & bishops should take this into consideration when pastors need to limit their itinerancy for reasons such as this when they are supporting their spouse and their own family's emotional stability and not have this limitation be punitive to the pastor.

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