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Ordination Ruminations

October 17, 2007

I sincerely hope that if General Conference seriously considers a reformation of the ordination process, they begin by asking the right question.

I don’t know where I stole this metaphor, but I love it.  There are two ways of cleaning out the refrigerator:  1. Open the door and take out everything that doesn’t belong there.   2. Open the door, take out everything, and put back only what does belong there.

If we’re going to seriously reform the ordination process, I vote for fridge cleaning option number two.  Why?

Well, any other option seems to address the wrong questions.  The wrong questions, in my opinion, are those that seek to tweak the current process.  Streamlining the process, removing redundant hoops and hurdles?  Wrong question.

The right question is, “what gives the church the best chance of ordaining faithful, exceptional disciple-makers and spiritual leaders whose work will be excellent for the Kingdom of God and for the United Methodist Church?”  Or something along those lines.  That’s the best articulation I can come up with right now.  I’ll probably come up with something better about five seconds after I hit “publish.”

In the act of reforming the process, the questions should not be about the process itself but about the ultimate goal the process was designed to accomplish in the first place.  That makes the task bigger and more daunting, but it focuses the conversation.

I still stand by my earlier assertion that the current process does a better job of rewarding candidates who can navigate bureaucracy than rewarding excellent preachers/pastors.  That assertion, while an incomplete critique, is still valid.  As I see it, the current process also does a fair job of measuring a candidate’s academic prowess, as there is a lot of emphasis on written work.  Wasn’t that supposed to be the job of the seminary or course of study?  As I see it,. the current process does not filter out poor candidates for ministry.  Rates of clergy misconduct have not gone down as a result of the added steps.  Again, I have heard stories of BoOM members approving candidates about whom they had serious reservations because the conference needed clergy in pulpits.  Our boards need members with the guts to remediate and even disapprove candidates when there appear to be gaping holes in their pastoral abilities.

In my opinion, the process fails to assess the most essential parts of pastoral ministry: preaching and pastoral care.  The board will view a grand total of two of my sermons prior to ordination, and I get to choose which two.  This, to my mind, is inadequate.   As a candidate, I believe I should be in the habit of expecting a board member to show up randomly to hear me preach, evaluate my relational skills with the congregation, and ask parishioners how I’m doing.  I realize that this taxes the time of board members, but every candidate’s time is taxed by the expectation to show up at four three-day retreat-workshops per year (including one right at Charge Conference crunch time), meet regularly with a mentor, and complete additional required paperwork.  Second, as a professional counselor I was expected to engage in peer supervision.  We discussed our counseling cases, our strategies, our goals, our frustrations.  Some even videotape sessions and watch them in supervision groups in order to assess effectiveness in the counseling relationship.  I believe that at some point a board member should sit in on an administrative board meeting, a youth activity, or other church activity outside Sunday morning to evaluate pastoral skills.

If we are serious about reforming the ordination process, we must seriously consider fundamental questions: what makes a great pastor?  What constitutes excellence at the pulpit?  What constitutes excellence in the pastor-congregation relationship?  What kind of support system helps pastors overcome professional hurdles?  Can this pastor help a congregation reflect the Kingdom of God in our midst?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. jmeunier permalink
    October 17, 2007 10:12 am


  2. Josh permalink
    October 19, 2007 2:55 pm

    Excellent points. Why aren’t we sending you to General Conference?

  3. November 3, 2007 7:42 pm


    I’ve been in the “preacher” business for 20 years. I have come to believe and accept that renewal of the ordination process will only come when guaranteed appointments are done away with.

    If I understand some of what I am hearing . . . some mutated form of that idea is included in the recommendations coming from the council of bishops. It will be soundly defeated, I’m sure, and I wonder if the bishops are counting on that fact, so they can put the blame for poor and spiritless denominational “performance” on the chergy and local churches, and not on “leadership.”

    Ordination today is not so much about spiritual growth, but political endurance. Perhaps we live in a world where both can be part of the process. Something in me doubts it though.

    Our conference is hosting General Conference this year. If come down to see things, please give me a call and I will show you around.

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