This blog is now being posted at a new web address. Please visit us at:
Update your bookmark and join us for our continuing discussion of issues related to preparation for ministry with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the 21st century.
This blog is now being posted at a new web address. Please visit us at:
Update your bookmark and join us for our continuing discussion of issues related to preparation for ministry with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the 21st century.
Today the headlines across our church are about the adoption of Amendment 10-A, which replaces the language in the current G-6.0106b concerning the “standards for ordained service.” The Office of the General Assembly has released a variety of materials to assist in understanding what has and what has not changed when the amendment takes effect on July 10. I encourage you to review those materials (http://oga.pcusa.org).
What I want to reflect on at this moment is the new language that appears within the amendment rather than focusing on what is not there. The bodies within the church responsible for ordinations—sessions in the cases of ruling elders and deacons, and presbyteries for teaching elders—are required to “examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office.” Considering each of those areas in light of the particular concerns of this blog related to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, it seems to me there is much that requires our careful attention and discernment as we work with inquirers and candidates under our care.
“Calling”—at a time when so much emphasis on “calling” is placed on individuals’ personal sense of the leading of God’s Spirit in their life, our Reformed understanding of vocation requires that we also help a candidate hear the “call” of communities for someone both to minister to and alongside them. The Apostle Paul not only had the dramatic yet personal call from the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9, especially vv. 6-7), but also the vision of the Macedonian calling him to take his ministry literally in a new direction (Acts 16:9-10). We need to examine our candidates not only in terms of what they feel “called to do,” but also on their understanding of “call from” the community.
“Gifts”—God has entrusted everyone with not only “talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) but also “spiritual gifts … for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). So the question when examining someone for ordination as a teaching elder is not, “Does this person have gifts for ministry?” We know the answer to that is, “Yes!” Rather, the question is, “Does this person have the gifts necessary for the ministry of Word and Sacrament?” (1 Corinthians 12:27-30; Ephesians 4:11-13)
“Preparation”—there is ample evidence in scripture that having a call from God and gifts for ministry are not sufficient. Elisha was called to be a “son of the prophet” Elijah (that is, a prophet’s apprentice) before he began prophetic ministry of his own. Jesus called the disciples to live with and learn from him before sending them out in mission on their own. Both the sense of call and the use of one’s gifts need to be intentionally developed through a deliberate process of preparation with those experienced in ministry. Candidates need to be examined not only on their preparation but also on what they have learned about the need to continually develop their sense of call and their gifts during their ministry.
“Suitability”—a “manner of life [that] should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world” (G-6.0106a; nFOG G-2.0104) together with overall personal spiritual and mental wholeness are measures of suitability for this particular ministry. But once the calling has been discerned, the gifts developed, and the process of preparation completed, the final decision about whether a candidate is to be ordained must also include examining whether this person is suitable to the particular ministry context. Ordination is an act of the whole church, but ordination and installation are always to specific “fields” of ministry (John 4:34-38; Luke 10:2). The same person who would be God’s loving gift of grace in one community could prove a stumbling block in the path of God’s children in another. Candidates suitable to this ministry will not only understand that, they will feel it in their bones.
The adoption of Amendment 10-A has reminded the church that it has always been our responsibility to consider the whole person and the community when making decisions about ordination.
The Office of Vocation is proud to offer the “Healthy Ministry Conference” as part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s biennial Big Tent event. This conference is the most comprehensive training event offered to support presbyteries in their work of discerning and developing the gifts for ministry of those exploring a call to service as ministers of Word and Sacrament.
Big Tent will be held from Thursday, June 30 through Saturday, July 2. Though pending immigration legislation in Indiana has cast some uncertainty over whether we will meet in Indianapolis as planned, a final decision on that is now just days away (it will be announced on Monday, May 2). But the “Healthy Ministry Conference” and all Big Tent events will definitely be held on those dates. That’s the great thing about “Tents” – you can pitch them in many places!
The full program for the “Healthy Ministry Conference,” including descriptions of all plenary sessions and workshops, is available on the Big Tent website, but here I want to highlight some that will be of particular interest for those working with persons under care as inquirers and candidates.
A series of three workshop sessions on Friday and Saturday will cover the full process of preparation for ministry in the PC(USA), from the first stirrings of a sense of call to ordination. Participants can attend all three, or select sessions focused on the inquiry stage, candidacy, and assessment of readiness and finding a first call. The Office of Preparation for Ministry has been developing a number of online resources over the past two years, and a member of our staff will walk you through how to access and make the most of these tools for the Internet age.
There will be separate sessions devoted to helping committees understand the changes coming as a result of amendments to the Book of Order currently being voted on by the presbyteries, and to understanding a variety of developing legal issues in the supervision of inquirers and candidates. Another session will explore how to help congregations with their key role as the third partner in this discernment and preparation process.
A full set of workshops is designed to explore issues of common interest to CPMs and COMs. Topics will include such areas as financial management of educational and other forms of debt; healthy ministry in body, mind, and spirit; new models of leadership and ministry for this new century; coaching and support groups; and developments in theological education.
You can register now for the “Healthy Ministry Conference” and then make your travel arrangements in May when the final decision on where the Big Tent will be pitched is announced. I hope to see you there and to hear about what you are learning about the future God is preparing for our church as you work with those preparing for ministry
Yesterday I was contacted by an executive presbyter for some statistical information to be used in an upcoming meeting with the small church cluster in that presbytery about the challenges faced by churches of under 100 members as they seek pastoral leadership. He was particularly interested in two issues. One was the fact that so few of our seminary graduates come from churches of this size (see my blog post, “A New Kind of Home in a New Land”). The other was the financial challenge faced by graduates with educational debt when considering what may be part-time or tentmaking calls with these size congregations. On this second point, the timing was providential.
Yesterday was also the day that a press release went out about a new program “designed to forgive loans made to seminary graduates who are serving in part-time or temporary pastoral positions in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations of 150 members or less.” Administered by the Office of Financial Aid for Studies, the Theological Student Loan program provides for $3,000-$5,000 forgivable loans to be used to pay down educational debt. After 18 months of service in the call, this loan is forgiven. Additionally, these loans may be renewed up to a maximum benefit of $15,000 for those who extend their service in these calls for additional 18-month periods. For more information, click here to read the press release or visit the Financial Aid for Studies website, http://www.pcusa.org/financialaid.
Now, the logic of a loan to pay down a loan may not be immediately obvious, so let’s consider the numbers. Say new seminary grads receive one of these forgivable loans for the maximum amount of $5,000 just as the educational loan goes into repayment. By applying that full amount to pay down their total educational debt, they will potentially realize about $6,900 of savings (in principle and interest). That savings assumes the new grads would have taken 10 years to pay off the $5,000 of debt at a 6.8% rate, and that they remain in the call the 18 months necessary for the pay-down loan to be forgiven.
Certainly the wisest course for inquirers and candidates still in seminary is to do everything possible to reduce their level of educational debt. But for candidates who have graduated and are seeking a call, this assistance could be a significant financial help when considering a call to serve in a part-time or tentmaking position.
Many cultural factors are leading to smaller faith communities and congregations (look for a blog posting here on that topic in May). As this landscape for ministry broadens not only for the PC(USA) but all of American Christianity in the 21st century, both these smaller communities and those called to serve them will have to find different methods to financially support that ministry than were common in the 20th century. This new program won’t resolve the issues, but it is a sign of the church’s commitment to think creatively with congregations and pastors about how we will live together in this new land to which God is leading us.
With apologies for the delay (March has been a busy month of travel and meetings), I do want to follow-up on the question about what other issues test takers raised in their feedback forms after the spring ordination exams.
There were several comments related to things related to the administration of the examinations. Some people commented on difficulties in finding and navigating through the website for information about the exams and completing the registration process. (We are working with our web development team in hopes of improving this area.) Several people who located the online training opportunities for examination preparation commented that they found those materials very helpful (http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/prep4min/online-trainings/).
The other cluster of specifically exam related issues dealt with the evaluation of the papers by the readers. Frankly, that pattern is interesting since the evaluation forms were completed when the exams were written and not when evaluations were returned. Nevertheless, there were several comments about working to improve “consistency and more objectivity from the readers.” Others wondered whether the exams provide “a good indication of ‘readiness’ for ministry.” One person requested that the “imaginary people” be taken out of the questions: “let the ordination exams be academic and the Presbytery assess whether I am pastoral.”
In a way, each of those comments reflects a problem related to the very fact that these tests are referred to as “Senior Ordination Examinations.” Both the words “senior” and “examinations,” particularly when associated with tests that many people take sitting in a seminary classroom, create the impression expressed in that last comment: “let the ordination exams be academic.” The problem is, these tests were never intended to be academic. They have from the beginning precisely been tools used by the presbyteries to assess the pastoral skills of candidates.
The readers of the exams are not seminary professors. They are experienced elders and ministers of Word and Sacrament—future colleagues in ministry. They are not “grading” the exams with a “5” corresponding to an “A,” a “4” to a “B,” and so on (a point the exam committee made clearer with the move to the “Satisfactory” / “Unsatisfactory” scale). They are providing an assessment of whether in their view the answers to the questions reflect an understanding of the issues and pastoral responses appropriate from someone beginning in ministry.
An ongoing review of the exams process by a task force composed of people from the presbyteries, the seminaries and folks with direct experience with the exam committee has described these tests as exercises in “pastoral imagination.” They seek to assess one’s ability to apply academic preparation to situations that arise in ministry. When it comes to comparing academic tests and the standard ordination exams, the “ords” are definitely ‘a horse of a different color.’
Last week I read through the evaluation forms submitted by those who wrote senior ordination exams at the end of January. These exams were only the second to involve online registration and the first that required all test takers (and all readers as well) to use computers for their work on the exams, steps in a continuing process that will—if everything stays on schedule—bring us to the point in the second half of 2012 where the exams are online and “paperless.”
Given these changes to the administration of the exams, I thought there might be a lot of comments about the technological changes. And there were a few, but only a very few. Far and away the most frequent comments by test takers related to the time constraints on the exams. It didn’t matter whether it was one of the areas that employ a three-hour block or the exegesis exam that extends over five days. Numerous candidates reported they just didn’t have enough time.
I will be sharing with the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCCEC) all the information in the evaluations, and will highlight for them the concern that some of the response formats may have more components than may be practical given an average of 60-minutes available for each question. But it is also important for candidates to understand that the time structures are an intentional part of the design of the exams.
Despite some candidates’ comments that they would “always” have opportunity to say, “Let me get back to you about that,” or to make reference to the Book of Order or other resources before responding, the reality of ministry is quite different. Pastors (like most other professionals) are often called upon to respond to complex situations and questions at a moment’s notice. Certainly they will sometimes qualify impromptu responses by saying something to effect, “… but let me double check on these details and follow-up with you.” Yet let’s be honest: If your pastor (or doctor, or professor, or lawyer) qualified every answer to your questions in that way, how much confidence would you have in them?
Similarly, scheduling the Theology, Worship & Sacraments, and Polity exams over the span of a day and half is also by design. Of course it is exhausting and stressful. But pastors must often respond in stressful circumstances when they are exhausted in every way. Of course class work, family responsibilities, work schedules, and many other things can impinge on the days for the exegesis exam. But pastors must always develop their weekly sermons or Bible studies (and very often both—and on different texts) while attending to myriad other responsibilities.
These dimensions of the ordination exams are part of what make them different than the academic writing and exams of seminary. Sure, if given more time and resources every candidate could give a more thoughtful and polished response. But what the readers are looking for is how a candidate uses pastoral imagination to integrate academic training and ministry experience in the moment, even if tired and stressed. Professors assess candidates’ ability to research and develop polished arguments, and seminary transcripts will report their evaluations. Experienced elders and pastors (future colleagues in ministry) assess candidates’ ability to “think on their feet,” and their evaluations are offered mindful of the time constraints under which the exams were written.
When it comes to the senior ordination examinations, what is being tested goes beyond just the subject matter of the questions.
Years ago I worked with the youth of a congregation as a seminary intern (yes, it was many years ago). One time as I was gathering my charges at the close of a fellowship outing to an amusement park, one of the young people came up and told me they had found the perfect souvenir just for me. It was a baseball cap, but it had two bills; emblazoned on the space between them were the words: “I’m Their Leader … Which Way Did They Go?”
I’ve thought of that cap frequently over the years as I have reflected on the needs for leadership in the church. Certainly its makers meant it as a joke. Yet recently I’ve come to see it as a metaphor not of a hopelessly confused and failed leader, but of precisely the traits of leadership required in times of rapid change like these. Multiplicity of vision, preservation through transformation, shared authority blurring the distinction between “leaders” and “followers”—that double-billed hat is just right for those kinds of leaders.
It is in that vein I recalled that cap as I read two books on the need for leaders to develop an ability for complex thinking (Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind and Kegan & Lahey’s Immunity to Change). We live in a digital age where in one sense everything is reduced to 1s and 0s, but it is also an age where binary “either/or” thinking is far too simplistic and limiting an approach for dealing with the world.
Most recently, however, I have been reminded of that hat as a positive metaphor for leadership in reading a brief statement that came out of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s “Six-Agency Leadership Initiative Consultation.” One section touches directly on the relationship between “leaders” and “followers”:
Like that double-billed cap, this statement is a reminder that leaders must accept the responsibility of helping the community fulfill the calling inherent in its gifts ("I'm their leader ...") even as they are led by those whom they serve ("which way did they go").
You can find the full statement by clicking here, and you can join the widening discussion by searching on Facebook for “Presbyterian Church Agency Leadership Initiative Conversations.”
An old real estate adage has it that the three most important things in selling a property are, in order, "Location, location, location." And what is true for real estate is true for ministry as well. It is all about "location, location, location."
During a synod CPM/COM training event this week, I set in on a presentation by a couple of directors of Ministry Development Centers on the personal factors that indicate healthy and effective ministers. They stated that there are not many sociologically rigorous studies that had looked at the issues of pastoral effectiveness. There was one, however, that not only met the quality standards but also had a very interesting finding.
The study was conducted as a "peer-referral" study. The researchers asked ministers to give them the names of pastoral colleagues whom they considered effective ministers. When these referred pastors were studied and interviewed, the researchers discovered two important things. First, there were indeed indicators that these pastors were effective in their current calls. Second, these pastors themselves reported that they had not been so effective in previous calls.
In short, the study found that pastoral effectiveness is not just a matter of the minister's personal gifts and developed skills. It is also profoundly influenced by the context of ministry. Effective ministry happens when the right person is in the right place at the right time. It is just as important to realize that putting people into a new ministry context because they are effective where they are now does not guarantee success. Ministry gifts need to be meshed with ministry needs.
Effective ministry happens when a person with the right gifts and ministry skills is located in a place where those particular gifts and skills fit with the people located there either because they fulfill certain needs or because they enhance those people's own ministries in the community around them. Combine those with being in synch with the Spirit--think of it as "time-location"--all the things necessary for effective ministry are present: "location" of the gifted and called person, "location" of the ministry context in which she fits, in synch/"location" in time with God.
Next week I will be part of the leadership for a training event for the five presbyteries in South Carolina. In reviewing some data about those presbyteries, I found the following:
These numbers are generally in line with the national trends. While about 80% of all PC(USA) congregations have fewer than 250 members, only 30% or inquirers or candidates are from those size churches. Only 5% of our churches have more than 750 members, but 33% of inquirers and candidates come from churches of that size.
To meet the pastoral needs of our churches, many folks preparing for ministry will be called to serve in churches very different in size than the congregations that shaped them and opened them to hear the Spirit’s call to pastoral ministry. And as research and experience shows, congregational size is an indicator for many other differences. A 50-member church is not simply a smaller version of a 500-member congregation.
All partners in the preparation for ministry process need to consider how we provide training and support for those who are leaving homes in larger churches to make new homes in service with congregations of 100 or fewer members.
The Office of Vocation is currently recruiting a second class of “pastoral residents” for its “For Such a Time as This” program. Seven presbyteries are partnering with the Office and small congregations within their bounds to provide just this type of support to pastors who will serve their first call in those churches. Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery in South Carolina is among them. You can learn more about the “For Such a Time as This” program and how to apply for it (the deadline is March 15) at http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/vocation/such-time/#info.
Whether through field education, residency programs, or other means, all those who are preparing for ministry need to experience ministry in churches that differ significantly in size from the congregation they call home. God’s people live and serve together differently depending on how many gather in one place. But it is the same Spirit the binds them together and empowers their ministry. It may well be that the call to ministry will bring you to a new kind of home in a new land.
Just before Thanksgiving, I heard some reporting about the effects of the loss of “human capital” on our economic recovery. Economists study the effects on both individuals and the broader economy when people are part of the “long-term unemployed” who have been looking for work more than six months. Such individuals begin to lose skills from non-use and to fall behind developments in their profession because they are not regularly engaged in the work. (You can see the report by clicking here.)
The news story got me thinking about two recent findings from ongoing reviews of statistics here in the Office of Vocation.
1. Based on a review of seminary graduation dates for some 1700 inquirers and candidates, we have found that almost half (48%) completed seminary two or more years ago—and quarter of those are still inquirers.
2. Currently there are 383 candidates seeking a first call through the Church Leadership Connection (CLC). About half of those candidates have had Personal Information Forms (PIFs) in the system for more than a year, and about a quarter of the total for more than two years.
Now, it should be noted that so far in 2010 we have had 165 persons receive their first call through the CLC. But the question that I am considering is this: How do we preserve the “human capital” created and invested in our inquirers and candidates through their seminary training while they continue the preparation process and seek their first call?
Because vocational ministry is different than many other professions, there are opportunities for keeping skills sharp and even continuing to develop them while seeking a first call. Inquirers and candidates should continue to be actively involved in church ministry serving in a variety of capacities. They can teach continuing or special occasion classes, lead prayer groups, and provide pastoral care through Stephen Ministry and similar programs. They should seek out the approval of their presbytery’s appropriate bodies to be included on “pulpit supply lists” to gain experience in preaching and leading worship.
What ideas or personal experiences can you share for preserving “human capital” for ministry while seeking a first call?