Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ministry Study

As an Ordained member of the United Methodist clergy, I receive Circuit Rider Magazine quarterly. This issue deals primarily with changes that have been adopted over the years - the big issue is about local pastors and sacramental authority.

We saw this argument at annual conference this past summer, when the recommendation came to suggest to General Conference that local pastors needed the same voice as ordained elders in the conference, especially regarding votes for General & Jurisdictional Conference delegates (and possible inclusion as delegates).

The angle of almost every article in Circuit Rider was something like this: local pastors haven't had the same amount of schooling as ordained elders. They haven't gone through the same "hoops" that we have. They aren't subject to the itinerate system like we are. One article specifically stated that "If there was anything unique about being an elder, it was totally removed by this action [inclusion of laity on Conference & district committees and giving them a vote in clergy session] of the General Conference." he goes on to complain that elders have lost identity and authority within the annual conference - and it's all the fault of those pesky local pastors.

He finishes up by asking questions that "elders are increasingly asking":
  1. Why go through the educational rigors of four years of college and three years of seminary when one can be ordained as an elder after two years in the Course of Study?
  2. Why be ordained elder if deacons and local pastors are given the same sacramental authority as the elder?
  3. Why allow laypersons on a board of ordained ministry and district committee when the convenant for ministry is to an order in which laity do not participate?
  4. Why bother to be an elder when everything an elder does can be done by someone else in the church?
Am I allowed to use my blog to call someone a pompous windbag?

OK, I'd better not.

My take on this (as an Elder in Full Connection) is a little different.
  1. I didn't go through the "educational rigors" with the goal of becoming an elder. I went through education (and continue my education) with the goal of serving God to the best of my ability. I don't care what my title is, and the title certainly isn't my goal. Why go through the schooling? To learn.
  2. Indeed, why be ordained elder if you can do something "lesser" and still receive the glory for yourself? Why write your own sermons when you can snag someone else's off the internet? Why read original languages when you can read a translation? Why study the scriptures when someone else has written a commentary? Maybe because God asks for us to give ourselves as living sacrifices - to give our best to Him. Or, to take it a little different direction, the issue comes into play about what is guaranteed to an elder in full connection that is not guaranteed to a local pastor or to a deacon serving in a church. For one thing, the pay scale is quite different. When the annual conference recognized my credentials and accepted me as an elder in full connection, I immediately received a $2000 nudge in my pay scale. I don't do any more than my friend Greg, a local pastor who I'm in Bible study with weekly. For some reason this reminds me of when I was in the fraternity, we'd always have some active brother complaining. "When I was a pledge..." the rant would always begin, and then we'd hear how stringent and difficult their pledge period was, unlike these soft pledges we have now ("Ve haff pledges?") who aren't fit to carry the name Chi Phi...
  3. Oh, the comments I have about the decision to allow laity on conference boards and district committees... When United Methodism was a movement, it was lay-driven. Then laity ran the day-in-day-out show in all the local churches. Over time, our denomination has become top-heavy, led by various boards, bishops, district superintendents, and clergy (especially elders). In my mind, the issue of laity involvement is tied deeply with the direction of the church itself. Unfortunately, we clergy have built up the impression that we are indespensible - that without us, the church will fail. Jesus can rise up stones to praise Him; what makes us so egotistic to think that He can't do anything without us? Which brings me to...
  4. What kind of attitude says, "Why bother to follow God's calling in my life while allowing others to follow God's (different) callings in their lives?" This is essentially what the final question asks. "Wah, I have to do more work and I don't get any more accolades." Cry me a freakin' river. On the same lines, I wonder why Jesus would "bother" to leave earth and to tell His followers that they would do even greater miracles in His Name? And doesn't the Holy Spirit make Him as obsolete as an elder in a UM Church? Indeed, I wonder what drives a question like this. If ministry is all about "bothering" to follow God's call - which God could conceivably find someone else to complete anyway, why "bother" to do anything at all?

As you can probably tell, this whole issue has my blood boiling. We clergy have to get our heads out of our, er, out of the mirrors and out of the clergy huddles. We're the problem - and the fact that many of our churches are stuck in the "let the pastor do it" mentality is proof.


MB said...

Well written. This is part of my struggle with seminary...what degree I choose ultimately affects what I can 'do' in the church. I'm working really hard to accept that it may not be the best thing for the people in my life to be able to baptize and marry and bury etc.



Rev. Dulce said...

Preach it brother. It is all about politics now and fitting into a particular mold. I'm afraid that if the 12 Apostles were to try and become clergy in the UM church now, they wouldn't make it past the various committee's, requirements and other hoops that we are forced to jump through.

Judy Callarman said...

This is very thoughtful. I think you have your priorities in the right places.

Lay people (like me) need to be more involved with the church--but not just so we can be on committees, but so we can participate in the body of Christ, to make our lives a continuous doxology!

bryan said...

Here's the thing... actually in the earliest days of Methodism, the movement wasn't lay-driven. It was very much driven by the District Superintendents, Bishops, and Circuit Riders who all sacrificed as much as they could to keep up with the westward movement of the nation. Asbury, in particular, was a genius at not only recruiting and deploying pastors, but utilizing their skills so that the local church would benefit. His creation of the appointment system, as well as the superintendency (whose job, among other things, was to help train and educate circuit riders on the job) enabled Methodism to be flexible and accommodating. It was a wild, passionate faith these people spread, and it caught on with folks living out the adventure of the new world.

The growing desire within the denomination in the late 19th/early 20th century to become more cultured led to the requirement of clergy to do formal schooling before they could enter the ministry. This was meant to separate Methodism, which had become quite established and genteel, from the storefront churches and less restrained denominational churches in local communities. First came the requirement to get a Bachelor of Divinity, and then sometime in the fifties or sixties, the requirement became a MDiv.

Now, both the seminary and the denomination have their own separate tracks to approve you for ministry. And there's no way to get it done in less than 7 years, which is ridiculous. I'm not sure, quite frankly, why a college degree is even required. The denomination itself could develop a course involving study and mentoring that could be wholly outside of the academic realm, and quite frankly, be a whole lot better off. A course that could expose all these pre-determinists pastors were now saddled with who have no understanding of Wesleyan theology or an appreciation for the gift of free will. Mentoring that could go a long way to preparing people for real ministry far better than academics sealed off in seminaries who only become beholden to the local church when their grads aren't being ordained... which is ludicrous.

In short, the division between deacon, local pastor, and elder is outdated and unneeded. Instead we need to revision our ordination process so that might be as nimble and effective as it was in the days when Asbury rode across the great nation of ours. One handled largely in the field in a much more hands on environment, led by people who haven't risen to the top because of political astuteness, but because they are the best at what they do.

(stepping off of soapbox)

Rev. Dulce said...

"The Meaning of Vocation,"
A.J. Conyers,
(other resources at) "Vocation," Christian Reflection,
The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2004.

"'Vocation' is distorted by two disastrous misunderstandings:
a secularized idea of 'career'
and a monastic concept of the religious life.
Both are less than the biblical idea of vocation...
Vocation is about being raised from the dead,
made alive to the reality that we do not merely exist,
but are 'called forth' to a divine purpose."

Mary Beth said...

I'm not sure where I come down on this whole thing, but I really appreciate your comments. They are clear and thought-provoking.

rev.seamus said...

Very well written! I like your candid honesty. That's also very similar to the reasons why I did my seminary studies, simply to feel more equipped in His service. The more I read, the more humbled I am to the vast multitude of knowledge out there to bring people closer to God.