When I returned home, I was sharing some thoughts with one of my clergy colleagues. Both of us have high hopes for the church. We set the bar high for ourselves and those around us. We believe with all our hearts that the Gospel still has the power to change and transform lives. And, we cannot stand mediocrity masquerading as faithfulness in our churches.
When I shared with her glimpses of my week along with probing questions about how we can improve this process and better shape individuals preparing for ministry, my colleague shared with me some thoughts on her role as a mentor for a seminary student.
She wrote, "He is the nicest guy in the world and a very willing and hard worker when it comes to setting up tables, etc, but a minister? I just cannot see it! And I'm having this awful moral dilemma - because I'm his supervisor. Do I tell him, 'You have no emotional expression. You're paralyzed by anxiety which renders you incapable of making a decision. You are a tedious and boring worship leader. Your sermon presentation is dreadful. You lack the most basic leadership skills. You do not take initiative. You are not creative. You have tunnel vision and cannot think outside the bold line.' Do I write this in my final evaluation?"
What is the role of a teaching congregation? How honest are we supposed to be with the students we are privileged to work alongside of, helping to shape with practical experiences that go alongside of their classroom work? Is it better to tell the truth, the whole truth, or should we pat someone on the back, "Saying good job," trusting that somehow they will figure out their need to improve - that someone else will point out the deficiencies? And, what is the role of our screening bodies - our District Committees on Ordained Ministry and Conference Boards? Even more, what is the role of our seminaries? Should we be accepting any warm body because we have country churches lacking pastors or seminary budgets that will fall short if everyone is not accepted?
I am aware - fully aware - that there are people in seminary who should never be pastors. I am also fully aware that there are people serving our churches who should not be pastors. And, I take all of this a little personally because neither of my parents are United Methodists anymore. While both were raised in the United Methodist Church - my mother was the daughter of a United Methodist minister - both of them have left the church in their middle ages. And, my mother left the church just a couple years ago because of a lack of clergy leadership. The pastor of her local United Methodist Church worshipped the congregation down from 120 to 80 to 50 to now less than 40 people. The local United Methodist pastor proudly proclaimed how she does not believe in the resurrection. The local United Methodist pastor should have never - NEVER - been ordained.
Our churches are declining. Many of them are almost dead. Thousands of people are unchurched or dechurched. It is going to take exceptional leadership - creative leadership that thinks outside the box - to change the current sinking ship.
What is our role? How honest are we to be? What is the definition of a good pastor?
What do you expect in your pastor?
Please note that this pastor values your honesty. How is it that I can be better? Where am I not meeting the bar?