Friday, February 20, 2009

The Power of Honesty

I have just returned from my second 'retreat' as a member of our Conference's Board of Ordained Ministry.  I spent two days this week interviewing candidates for ordination and one morning discussing and voting on the candidates.  As a result, I have been, once again, consumed with thoughts on how best to form the next generation of clergy leadership.  How is it that we can cultivate calls to ministry within the best and brightest in our congregations?  How is it that we encourage young people with significant gifts to not only consider using their minds to heal people in a doctor's office or influence policy with a law degree, but to be a healing agent of change through pastoral ministry - by leading a congregation and exposing people to the transformational power of Jesus Christ.

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?


Kristine said...

I'm not sure where the bar is to be honest with you. As a youth I was "churched"...went to service every Sunday, and occasionally read the scriptures, but never really guided, never really taught how to be a disciple of Christ. As a result, many times I feel like I am just beginning my "churching" orientation. How can you be a better pastor? I think by continually asking that question is key, to remind me and others that you don't have all the answers. From there we walk together and figure it out.

Beth said...


I agree that supervisors, ministers, churches, seminaries, friends, and others have the responsibility to help guide, shape, and form those who are entering the ministry. I strongly believe that all of these people and institutions have a responsibility to speak truth to those who are discerning a call and to help them identify both gifts and weaknesses - and how those gifts can direct how they live into their call.

But I don't think anyone, much less a pastor, has the right to so attack a person's skills and even basic humanity in the way your friend presented it. I assume that she has been working closely with the student to help him hone his interpersonal, leadership, and speaking skills through his internship. I assume that her rant was just that - and never intended for the public eye. But, even so, doesn't her response need to be in some way constructive? If she really believes that he should not be a pastor, can't she help him in his discernment of another ministerial vocation?

At the moment, I am less concerned with the young man who is considering the ministry - and more concerned with a pastor whose response as a pastor/supervisor was so harsh. Hers is the church I would leave.

I also completely reject the notion that our ministerial radar should detect only those we deem the best and the brightest. A person's age, race, IQ, GPA, or speaking ability should not solely determine whether or not they are called to ministry. The moment that our seminaries are filled by the same criteria that law schools and medical schools are, I think we all need to ask if we're judging people on the world's standards or if we're listening to God.

On a lighter note, you know that I'll always be honest with you as I trust you do the same with me. Hmm...speaking of which, dare I ask for your input on my pursuit of ministry?

Betty Newman said...

I came to your blog from a link on my "tracker" when someone came to mine (via the Blogroll, I guess.)

I'm impressed... and I know how you feel.

I am not a pastor, but have been a certified lay speaker for nearly 35 years. And, I too, am "discussing" either a CLM or Local Pastor direction with our DS.

My burning passion is to teach the Word. And I agree, many of our pastors are not doing that. For a pastor to deny the Resurrection is unthinkable. How did he/she "slip through the cracks?"

In our local area, a (Baptist) friend attended a nearby UM Church when her child sang with the local h/s choir. She told me that the pastor never even preached. "Oh," she said, "he told stories and jokes and read a scripture" (it was from the lectionary - it was the same as ours) "but he never taught anything about it, or even mentioned it in his stories!"

She was not being judgemntal, but was genuinely concerned. She asked if there was anyone with whom she could share this concern.

I said that she could send a letter to the DS, but that this pastor was a "Full Elder" and it probably wouldn't do much good...

I don't know the answer, but am comforted by your post - at least some are concerned for our future.

Thanks for your passion.

Betty Newman
(I haven't posted in a while due to a laptop crash! Aaaaaarugh!)