A few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Will Deuel had a series of posts on his blog, “A Man Called Preach.” His series of posts about the Skand-lous mission of the Board of Ordained Minstry created quite a whirlwind, including dozens of responses from well-wishers, sympathizers, and fellow probationary Elders rumbling along the ordination track.
As I think about our current Board of Ordained Ministry in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, I concur with much of what Will had to say, especially in suggesting that it needs to be re-thought. So I kept on thinking…
What if the Board of Ordained Ministry was perceived not so much as a board of gatekeepers, but as a team of mentors?
I can imagine a new kind of process, one that does not exist to weed out those that are deemed unworthy, but one that lifts up, empowers, and molds responsible Christian leaders. I can imagine a team of mentors, prayerfully discerning the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, shaping a process that meets them where they are.
Instead of treating us as “classes” that have set list of hurdles that must be leapt in order to reach the goal, the ordination process could be a time of spiritual guidance, discernment and empowerment. Picture this:
A probationary elder, upon being comissioned, sits with a small group of pastors and lay people to examine the material that was presented. They talk about the Bible study, the sermon, the written work, and Wesley’s historical questions. They consider the work experience of the candidate, the education, and seminary evaluations. Together, they create working goals related to different parts of ministry. If a candidate has a gift of teaching and preaching, she is given resources to develop those gifts. She is supported in going to preaching conferences (like the annual Festival of Homiletics, which I am dying to go, but have no means), and continuing education seminars. She is not required to do redundant work that was taught in seminary and examined during the comissioning process.
The candidate struggles with administrative duties, so she is given a mentor – one not based solely on age and gender, but one that is suited to teach her the skills she needs. During the first round of annual conference forms, she meets with her mentor a couple of times. They meet again shortly after the annual report forms are filled out. Throughout the year, the mentor and candidate meet several times to talk about administrative tasks.
The group decides that Clinical Pastoral Education is required of the candidate, but not necessarily for all. She has some gifts of pastoral care, but could certainly refine her skills. She is given financial support to enroll in a CPE program. Her mentor and DS make sure that during the CPE internship, certified lay speakers relieve her from the pulpit two or three times so she doesn’t get overwhelmed by the duties of congregational leadership and her CPE internship.
There are Residence in Ministry Retreats. They are intentionally about building the connection and meeting learning goals. The residents meet the bishop, members of the cabinet, and some local pastors and lay leaders from around the conference. At the retreats, practical ministry techniques and issures are mixed with things like spiritual gifts inventories and personality tests. The candidates discuss their path toward ordination, about their struggles and their fears. They are given time for their own prayer, study and reflection.
Each candidate is treated as an individual - a whole person. Ordination is a process of discernment and growth – not a series of hoops.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The question I have is, what’s keeping this from being a reality?