One of the toughest jobs I have is serving on the Theology and Doctrine Committee of our Annual Conference’s Board of Ministry. It is our task to evaluate the theological readiness of the candidates seeking commissioning for ministry, or ordination. Right now my co-reader and I have evaluated five papers, twenty plus pages each, and are writing responses to their work. This post is the first of five. I will also write about the candidates, the process, the standards and some observations. Maybe these posts will help others seeking ordination, or help those not involved have a better understanding of what the process requires.
The theological questions the candidates have to respond to are the historic ones from our Book of Discipline and address for example, the nature of God, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the nature and mission of the church, the sacraments, the nature of grace, the way of salvation and the Wesleyan quadrilateral for determining doctrinal authority. There’s an allowance for a lot of personal variety in the responses, but there are also some core concepts that must be addressed. Overall we want to see if the candidate can handle the theological issues with understanding and integrity, and if she or he can demonstrate an ability to teach them and apply them to daily ministry.
We understand we have a responsibility to the Church, and to the churches these persons may serve, to gauge their readiness by high standards. We want some assurance that their teaching and preaching about the things of God will do good, and do no harm. We who must do the evaluation are not of one theological mind and neither should we be. We are not looking for uniformity of thought, but ability in theological reflection. We also know that a person’s submitted work is only one indication of a person’s abilities as a pastor. Here’s where Ephesians 4:15 gets tough. How do you speak the truth in love?
Some of the submitted papers are clearly excellent work. Some are immediately identified as being hastily thrown together with the content being unacceptable. But most are in that gray middle ground – some excellent answers along with some responses that totally miss the question. From our perspective, we feel the need to address the good of their work, as well as the inadequate parts of it. As difficult, and in this case, as subjective, as the truth may be, it still must be spoken.