Saturday, October 18, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Love 2: The Candidates

Those submitting work for ordination have been on a long journey in their call to ministry. By this time they have been through the Board for commissioning, been in relation with a District Committee on Ordained Ministry for several years, completed a Masters of Divinity degree (for Elder) or equivalent/professional certification (for Deacons), and have been in a continuing formation program while serving in an appointment. In our Conference the three year program (changing to two years beginning Jan 1, 2009) of continuing formation is called Residency.

Because of my work the Residency program I know each of these candidates personally. I have worshipped and prayed with them and shared with them in reflection sessions. I know some who are excellent pastors, and some who are still struggling to find their voice in ministry. I honestly want each one of them to succeed in responding to God’s call on their lives.

I have sensed the stress the candidates feel toward both the written evaluation and the oral examination coming up next month. They know that if they do not get approved, it means going through the whole process again next year. And usually, they are very self-conscious about how they measure up among their peer group. Further complicating the picture is the difficulty of explaining to local church members and family members the pressures and complexity of the process they are dealing with.

I have expressed over and over that there is no way for one person to compare their experience with the Board to another’s. There are simply too many variables. Their fate is affected by which readers their work is assigned to, who makes up the various sub-committees that interview them, and a host of other arbitrary decisions. Still, they are under the gun. Their “effectiveness” in ministry is being evaluated one last time before the Church sends them forth with its seal of approval.

One colleague suggests viewing the process as a dialogue for professional assessment. Learn through the evaluations what you need to address to become the best pastor you can be. Draw from the experience of those who do the evaluations. Don’t view it as a pass/fail trial, but as part of the ongoing journey of professional development.

My colleague’s perspective leads to a final comment. All of this work must be grounded in prayer, for you cannot be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit without prayer. I pray before assessing a paper that I may have insight into meaning of the words, and the abilities of the writer. Surely those who are writing have bathed their efforts in prayer as well. Perhaps what’s missing are the intentional prayer support groups that will uphold the candidates, and the Board of Ministry, during this important time.

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