UMNS Illustration by Kathleen Barry
Kids bring home report cards. Employees typically undergo annual reviews. And now, United Methodist bishops get formal evaluations as well.
But just as each class has its own way of grading, each U.S. jurisdiction varies in how it appraises bishops.
The 2008 Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, for the first time requires the United Methodist episcopacy committees that oversee bishops around the globe “to establish and implement processes” to evaluate each active bishop at least once every four years.
The assessments must include self-evaluations from the bishops, input from their episcopal peers and comments from individuals affected by their leadership (such as district superintendents, lay leaders and directors of agency boards on which the bishops serve).
Those evaluations will play a role this week as jurisdictional conferences get under way across the United States and jurisdictional committees on the episcopacy recommend where U.S. bishops will serve during the next four years.
Responses to questionnaires on Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe likely will play a critical role during the South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee’s closed-door hearing with Bledsoe on Monday, July 16. The committee’s hearing could ultimately determine whether Bledsoe, who leads the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference remains an active bishop, or whether the committee by at least a two-thirds vote compels his early retirement.
Even before the 2008 requirement of formal evaluations, some jurisdictional and central conference episcopacy committees have carried out bishop assessments on their own. Since the 1976 Book of Discipline, episcopacy committees — within certain limits — have had the authority to place a bishop in involuntary retirement by a two-thirds vote. That possibility is what Bledsoe now faces.
“As a member of the committee, I have found the questionnaires helpful as one of several sources of information used in the evaluation process,” said Don House, the South Central committee’s chair and a lay member of the Texas Conference.
Report cards for the bishops
The Book of Discipline defines bishops as elders “set apart for a ministry of servant leadership, general oversight and supervision.”
The law book goes on to say that bishops must possess:
- A vital and renewing spirit
- An enquiring mind and a commitment to the teaching office
- A vision for the church
- A prophetic commitment for the transformation of the church and the world
- A passion for the unity of the church
- The ministry of administration
So far, the episcopacy committees in four of the five U.S. jurisdictions have developed questionnaires based on these requirements to use in evaluating their bishops.
The United Methodist News Service asked representatives of each jurisdictional episcopacy committees to share what metrics they use in assessing bishops.