Want To Know What I Think After Ordination?

**Just a warning; a lot of United Methodist speak here…sorry about that.  Tuesday will continue with your regular scheduled programming.

Ok, so now that I’m ordained in the United Methodist Church, I feel the need to say something to the Board of Ordained Ministry that I think is critical to the ordination process and how young clergy feel about ordination, and therefore the Church.

On Wednesday of the East Ohio Annual Conference Bishop Janice Huie of the Texas Annual Conference shared that many young people, after finishing seminary and clearly wanting to live out their call in the UMC, choose not to be ordained but to remain as local church pastors.  This is an unconventional yet growing trend …and kind of a big deal.  Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean confirmed in her research that the reason has less to do with an unwillingness to submit to authority and accountability, as many critics of Millennials would assert.

In my own words I would say that these gifted clergy really dig ordination.  They just don’t agree with the process that leads to ordination.  This process is supposed to be about discernment, but after conflicting advice, unclear rules and expectations, piles of paperwork, psych exams that do nothing but ensure you don’t see dead people, and interviews where the interviewers sometimes talk more than those being interviewed, one might begin to wonder what it is they are discerning.  I applied for commissioning in 2008, and was in the system for even longer.  In 2013 I was “continued,” not because they didn’t think I was any good.  I suspect, and I think I’m close on this one, that they just weren’t sure.

Listen, I can accept that.  But why, after being in the system at least 4 years, would they still be unclear?  In the end they needed a bill of health from a licensed counselor to make it happen in what appears to be a common prescription.  Perhaps a streamlined version of the process is to include licensed counselors to serve on the Board.  The truth is that after much time and work, members of the Board of Ordained Ministry still have little work with to make the best decision possible.  And so they make it longer, order more tests, and adjust the paperwork.

It’s like healthcare.

At this point in my rant I want to say this isn’t personal.  I have friends on the Board of Ordained Ministry, and I know they labor over each decision.  They’re not the problem.  They’re working within a framework that, I believe, is the problem.  And many people would disagree with me on that; but hey…young people are refusing to be ordained and many more are avoiding the denomination altogether…so there’s something there worth paying attention to.

Here’s one of the many reasons why this process is scaring people away: paperwork.  I get it…paperwork is the easiest way to evaluate a candidate’s ability to articulate their call (without actually getting to know them).  But some people…some really gifted people…just aren’t good at writing.  And you know what?  That’s OK!  Why?  Because it turns out that you can actually pray, preach, teach, visit, lead, and love without writing well…and many many people do.  Writing, while helpful, isn’t an essential characteristic of ministry in the 21st Century.  So why lean on it so heavily?  Why not lean more heavily on…say…interpersonal skills and leadership?  The current reality is that an introverted academic lacking people skills has an easier time getting through than a strong leader who doesn’t spend as much time at the keyboard.

By the way, in order to be ordained you have to have obtained a MASTERS DEGREE.  Not just that, but a Masters Degree from an institution accredited by our own denomination’s University Senate.  Why is the Board of Ordained Ministry worried about writing ability when candidates have done the written work to get a Master’s Degree from accredited institutions?

I could go on.  It’s important to me that you all know that this isn’t some kind of cheap revenge.  I love being ordained…I was called to this.  And I realize that this is a human process and there will be mistakes, which means there needs to be forgiveness and grace.  But it also implies that we must take a hard look at where the Church might improve.  And in the area of the process of ordination, a tune-up new model is needed.

And if none of the above rant hit home at all for those on the Board, at least know this fact:  While you evaluate young candidates for ministry, young candidates for ministry are evaluating you…and the Church.

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