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Why Should the Fire Die?

February 26, 2009

My blog stats hit a huge peak when I began verbalizing my frustration with both my own ordination process and the UMC process as a whole.

M is for Mad Methodist

M is for Mad Methodist

The stats took a deep dip on Sunday – possibly because preachers don’t read the blogs much on Sunday.  My previous stats for the month were really low, probably because I hadn’t posted anything for a while.

But when it comes to ordination in the UMC, my stance is clear: I believe that the ordination process is overly long, tedious, and cookie-cutter in nature.  By imposing a rigid checklist of requirements with little to no regard for the individual strengths and growing edges of candidates, the church is hamstringing itself.  One of my dearest pastor friends has served on the Cabinet as well as the BoOM, and he insists that what the UMC puts ordination candidates through is actually counterproductive.  I agree.

I don’t think that the process should be easy by any means.  I understand the need for the board to witness a worship service, and it ought to be a good one with a very well-prepared sermon and unifying liturgy.  Our written work should reflect academic rigor, careful consideration of the congregation’s particularities, and a pastoral heart.  There is no question that all of the above should reflect deep theological commitment, passion and growth.  And the expectations of getting that stuff handed in on time are not unrealistic.

But without question some pieces are counterproductive as well.  I do believe that Residence In Ministry retreats on a regular basis are a great idea.  Through the RIM program I have developed close bonds with several members of my ordination class.  Such bonding strengthens the connexion.  I rather enjoyed working through the Spiritual Gifts piece with my peers, as it gave interesting insights into how we can use our strengths and deficits to the church’s advantage for the benefit of the Gospel.  I do take issue, however, with case studies that rehash the seminary/CPE experience.  I take issue with time spent ignoring the actual ordination process – how to complete the tasks that no one else teaches us (maintaining church rolls properly, filling out Charge Conference forms, deciphering annual statistical reports, etc.)  Mock ordination interviews with members or former members of the board would be productive.  Promoting Conference programming (which invariably costs money) to a group of people who are already up to their eyeballs in student loans while working in somr of the lowest-paying churches in the Conference, however, is clearly counterproductive.

And kids, you can’t find a CPE program just anywhere.  In Illinois you’re probably okay if you live in St. Louis Metro East, Chicago, Springfield or Peoria.  Get south of there, however, and you’re looking at a drive – which means significant time away from your ministry and your family.  One can only imagine how pleasant it is to serve churches who resent you for being gone to CPE only to come home to a spouse who also resents your absence.  That’s not suffering for the sake of the Gospel – that’s suffering for the sake of the board.  It’s a lot of time away, a lot of gas and wear and tear on the car, too many unhealthy fast-food meals, and the kind of test no marriage should have to go through.

I agree that we have to keep thieves, embezzlers and sex offenders out.  I agree that we need to filter out the folks who are in pastoral ministry for all the wrong reasons.  The last thing we need is more pastors who are either so in love with the seminary experience that they want to keep reliving it, or who see fit to just forget all that seminary crap and go preach.

But we also need a system that supports our pastors, so that the best of our prophetic voices call out for deep and lasting holiness and social justice rather than rail against the bureaucracies and injustices present in our own ecclesial structure.

In short, I think we need to throw out the whole process and start over.  We need to have a denomination-wide discussion of what ordination means in a large denomination comprised mainly of small churches.  We need to have a discussion centered upon how best to equip a generation of leaders for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s vision for the future of this world in the 21st century.

Of course, that assertion is predicated on the possibly mistaken assumption that the UMC wants dynamic young leaders in the first place.  Oh, we know we need ’em.  Just not sure we want ’em.

Then again, I’ve been wrong before.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. laconumc permalink
    February 27, 2009 7:53 am

    Thanks for your courage, Will. Keep on truckin

  2. February 27, 2009 11:37 am

    Maybe at some point candidates should be required to take a drug test. I’ve had to for most jobs that didn’t require nearly as much trust.

    • February 27, 2009 11:40 am

      As an aside, I’ve had to monitor the collection of samples for drug tests (urine drops). Ahhh, the joys of working in Substance Abuse Rehab!

  3. March 4, 2009 8:50 pm

    Thanks Will – for all of this. I hope and pray that this conversation takes place, and I want to be a part of it when it does.

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