Ordination is a Stewardship Issue

There is no more important board or committee in each Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church than the Board of Ordained Ministry.  The BoOM is the committee whose decisions most directly affect the present state and the future of the leadership of our denomination. They are uniquely charged with knowing the candidates for ordination, praying for wisdom, discernment, and guidance as they lead them through the process.

I chose my language very carefully there.  The BoOM is charged with leading candidates through the process, not putting them through it.

In other words, I believe that regarding the Board of Ordained Ministry, Ordination is a stewardship issue.

[There are stewardship issues beyond financial stewardship.  Unfortunately, we far too often associate the word stewardship with finances.  Stewardship, in the sense I’m using it here, is more like the one who tends a garden, the custodian of a building, a wine steward, or the curator of a museum.]

The herculean task of stewardship by the Board of Ordained Ministries is a complex one.  The board is the steward of:

  • The pulpits of local congregations.  The board, by recommending candidates for ordination, state with confidence that one who is ordained is fully qualified, well-skilled, and capable of being an excellent pastor to the congregations whom s/he is sent to serve.
  • The doctrines, polity, theology, and orthodoxy of the church.  While there is a reasonably broad range of theology within our tradition, the board is charged with ensuring that candidates’ theologies are within our tradition and appropriately conversant with historic Wesleyanism/Methodism.
  • The candidates themselves.  The Board is charged with working closely with ordination candidates through their provisional period (between commissioning and ordination) to prepare them appropriately for ordained ministry.  This includes mentoring, on-the-job supervision, and freedom to practice ministry.  The board works closely with candidates to properly equip them for the task that lies ahead.  (A future blog post will deal with the question “what is residency?”)

It’s a task so huge that most of us would shrink at is massiveness.  It’s incredibly humbling to realize what a big deal it really is.  But I think it’s the only approach to the task that’s really appropriate.  Understanding the truth of the stewardship angle should inspire awe, reverence, and humility.

Since I started blogging about ordination in the twenty-oughts, I’ve been contacted by others who were going through the process.  Nightmare stories of lost paperwork, clueless mentors, well-intentioned mentors who are overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to navigate, additional “hoops” thrown into the mix, confrontational interviews, frustrating assignments, and other problems have crossed my inbox.

One candidate contacted me to say, “there are just too many stories of lost paperwork to chalk it up to coincidence or even incompetence.  I’m convinced the boards pretend to lose paperwork just to see how you handle adversity.”  I’m not willing to go that far, but I am disturbed that the first piece of advice I give to candidates is , “never turn in your only copy of anything.  Ever.  And know where your copies are at all times.”

Good stewardship, in my opinion, means:

  • that the board knows the process inside and out, and establishes clear, unchanging expectations and guidelines.
  • that the board has a clear vision of what residency means, and a series of measurable, attainable goals for the time and energy we ask candidates to give.
  • creating a supportive environment for the candidates and nurturing a spirit of collaboration during residency.
  • Respecting the hard work of the candidates enough to take good care of it.  Receive it.  Read it.  Critique it.  Ask difficult questions about it.  Don’t lose it and make replacing it the candidate’s problem.

Ultimately, good stewardship means caring more about people than about the process.

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Author: pastorwillie

Husband to a beautiful wife, father to four awesome children, Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, pastor of a great church in rural southern Illinois, guitarist, songwriter, ukulelist, blogger.

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