In his blog (Enter The Rainbow), Andy Bryan laid out some good thoughts on his personal journey to ordination in the United Methodist Church. You can read his thoughts HERE.
This is my response.
I agree that neither seminary nor the candidacy process should be "dumbed down" to "let people in" - ordained ministry is hard, and we do need good tools to do it.
The difficulty is that I don't necessarily think that seminaries or the candidacy process are doing the job. I learned a whole lot more about growing in a healthy church in the church I attended during seminary than in seminary itself. I learned a lot of Greek (not much Hebrew, I'm sorry to say) and I learned how to study the Bible and thus to write good biblical sermons. I learned about how to answer questions of theodicy. I learned "old hymns good, new music bad" from my worship professor. I learned all about John Wesley (and changed my attitude about the dude). I grew in my spiritual knowledge and relationship with the Lord.
But I didn't learn much about leadership.
I didn't learn how to deal with difficult people (though I was told people could be difficult).
I didn't learn how to empower people to do ministry (instead of simply receiving ministry).
I didn't learn how to be a change agent - in the church or in the community.
I didn't learn how to balance family and ministry (though at least I was told that this was necessary).
Much like Andy's testimony, I agree that "I wouldn't be who I am, nor could I do what I do without having been formed in the crucible of seminary." Don't misunderstand me in my "I didn't learn" list above - I learned TONS in seminary, and some of the learning has to be done with one's feet on ministry ground - it's practical learning, not simply theoretical.
I think the candidacy process is supposed to be like that. And maybe it was for Andy. It wasn't for me. Now, I learned to not only "take" the process, but to actually enjoy it. I loved my supervised years (probationers) group. The two elders who led this group loved us and we loved them and each other. It was a good sharing and growing time. They supported me through some tough stuff I went through in the church, and when I asked for a fourth year to complete the UM seminary courses that I hadn't done in my MDiv (for those who don't know me, I came in from another denomination and wasn't in the UMC until after I graduated from seminary), my group (including the facilitators) voluntarily chose to stick around for another year. And when things got screwed up after the 4th year, they told me they would stick it through with me for another year (as it turned out, they didn't need to, but they were certainly affirming in what could have been a really ugly situation).
My Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) interview team was fantastic. They (like I) showed up in 2006, only to find out that I couldn't be interviewed (because of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph about a screw up). They returned last year and I had a great interview with them; I felt like they were colleagues who wanted me to succeed, both in the interview and as a pastor. They asked hard questions because they really wanted to know how I would answer, not just to trip me up.
That said, besides Andy's story, I have not heard anyone else who has told me that they had "fantastic mentors." I have not heard of anyone else who has someone at the Conference Office reminding them what forms needed turned in by when. In fact, I've been told (by persons in the Conference Office and on the BOOM) that they purposely don't help out with that sort of thing just to test the probationer.
Andy said this:
The candidacy process is not the place to discern your calling; it is where you
go in response to it.
Maybe this should be true, but unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the attitude of our Conference. The entire supervised years program seemed ordered toward discernment of calling.
One of the problems, as I see it, is that the process is often for the sake of the process. Much like the goal of attending public school seems to often be the attainment of a paper (diploma) that states that you completed public school (yes, I know, another rant for another time), is the goal of the process to state that someone completed the process?
I remember hearing our bishop tell the district clergy a few years ago that there was one pastor he didn't know how to deal with - this pastor had completed the entire process with no problems, but now (then) he was subtly destroying church after church, and he was guaranteed an appointment. Had the process helped him? nope.
As an associate pastor, I had conflict with the senior pastor who I worked with. Did I learn anything from seminary or from the candidacy process to help me work through that? Nope.
In my ministry, I've had to deal with a "generation gorge" that I nothing in seminary or the candidacy process ever prepared me for (or told me about) - in fact, unlike the "gorge" that the referenced article mentioned, it's more like a canyon, (not simply a Buster leading Boomers, but a Buster leading in a culture of Builders) - and the process (seminary and candidacy) ignored any such generational issues. In fact, in my supervised years group, only one other candidate was under 40. make that 50.
I have a whole lot more to say about this, but it's late and I'm t i r e d.