Opinions on Ordination (Episode 4)

Why should a young adult choose to be a minister in the United Methodist Church.  The fact in these times is that they just aren't.  There's good job security, excellent resources for ministry, and wonderful levels of accountability and support to make us each better - but it doesn't seem to be enough.

Problem number one seems to be with the extensive process candidates for ministry have to endure to achieve credentialing in the UMC.  The process eliminates the possibility for anyone to be ordained until at least their late 20's.  That's a long time for someone that is supposed to be in the real world to have to wait to be official and free to be the minister they believe God has called them to be.

For me, the process looked like this:

  • 1998 (18 years old) - Felt a call to ministry, talked to my pastor and my district superintendent.  Submitted my information to the district office to be on record as asking about ministry.  Graduated high school, left for college.  Spent the next four years working with a mentor in ministry.
  • 2002 - Graduated from college with a 4-year bachelors degree.  Began a masters program at a school of theology and also took a part time job as a youth minister.  That fall, I was declared as a candidate for ministry by the church I was working in.
  • 2003 - Appeared before the district committee on ordination.  The committee certified me as a candidate for ministry.  This allowed me access to scholarships for my masters program.
  • 2005 - Appeared before the conference board of ordained ministry - submitted large quantities of information, prepared for months, interviewed for a few hours, and approved for commissioning as a probationary elder pending my placement in an appointed position.  A month later, I graduated from seminary and went to work for another church as an associate pastor.  That summer, I was commissioned at annual conference and began three years of meeting with a covenant group (which seemed to be more for the BOM's observation of candidates than for the personal improvement of those candidates).
  • 2008 - I appeared before the BOM again, having resubmitted the same work from three years before with added commentary from my experiences, and was approved for ordination.  Finally, at 28-years-old, I was ordained as an Elder in Full Connection.  10 YEARS LATER!
But I'm not bitter...*

There are several problems with this process.  First of all, its too long.  If we need three years of observation in ministry, is it possible to do that concurrently with our education?  After all, that's when observers would probably get a good picture of how we're improving in ministry.

Second, some of this seems out of order.  Why would we ask a candidate to finish seven years of school before we ever approve them, even tentatively, for ordained ministry?  How many people have invested that time and money, only to be denied by a conference board?  Some denominations move the approval process to the beginning of seminary, so that the candidate is attending school with the assurance that its not in vain.  Additionally, the denominational authorities can invest themselves in the candidates in a more focused way.  For a candidate that may be deficient in an area, they can be mentored and guided in ways to improve those areas specifically. 

There has been an attempt to shorten the ordination process in the last year or two, but so far, it's only really been shortened a year.  So, in a few years, maybe someone as young as 27 will be ordained.  This doesn't really go far to solving a problem. 

The best way to shorten the process seems to be removing some of the educational requirements, which I talked about in yesterday's post.  That may not be a popular option for many leaders, but even if you shorten the process to make seminary graduates immediately eligible for ordination, it's still a 7-year process, making the youngest ordinands 25 years old.

Comments?  alexander.stroud (at) gmail.com

*I'm really not bitter, though at times I was very frustrated with the process.  It's a work in progress and I don't know of anyone that wouldn't admit to that.  The plus side to the inconvenience is that I've personally seen people come and go from the program because ministry wasn't somewhere they needed to be.