Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wayne Arneson's Thoughts

Wayne Arneson shared these thoughts with participants in the Excellence in
Ministry Summit. Wayne is the chair of the MFC and is speaking only for
himself in these comments.

Thoughts on Competence and Excellence in Ministry
By Rev. Wayne Arnason, Chair of the MFC

Competence in Ministry

The competencies required by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for
preliminary fellowship as a UU minister reflect the areas of knowledge and
skill that we believe any UU minister should be able to apply in any form of
ministry they wish to undertake.

The ability to apply an area of knowledge or skill does not mean that a UU
minister must be an expert or excel in that area. It does mean that the
minister needs to be literate in the field, and needs to have had supervised
experience in applying book knowledge to praxis in the circumstances common
to ministry. These can include conversation, discussion, debate and public
presentation where conceptual knowledge is required. These can include
interpersonal encounters in pastoral, administrative, or political roles.
These can include personal contexts involving spiritual practice, ethical
behavior, participation in groups, and continuing education.

A competent UU minister understands the professional roles and boundaries
in which the knowledge and skills of ministry must be applied and is able to
do so in ways that bring credibility and honor to the profession of UU
ministry.

Excellence in Ministry

Ministers demonstrate excellence in the knowledge and skills of ministry
when their praxis is recognized by others as exceeding our standards for
competence, through observable achievement of stated goals, or through
personal validation by the individuals who have been the focus of a
particular ministry.

Ministers may achieve excellence in some areas of knowledge and skill in
their profession and not others. Ministers may achieve excellence that is
recognized only by a few, since there are often dimensions of a minister's
work that are personal and private engagements with individuals and
families. Ministers may achieve excellence that is recognized by their
colleagues, or by denominational leaders, but which is taken for granted by
the parishioners or clients that have come to know the minister well over a
period of years. Recognizing excellence requires experiences that enable
comparisons and many people have only one experience of a UU congregation,
minister, or ministry.

Moving from Competence to Excellence

To encourage excellence in ministry, we need to begin first with reviewing
our standards of competence to insure that we have a commonly accepted
understanding of them. This is a conversation that concerns the UU
theological schools, that involves the non-UU schools that prepare UU
ministers, and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. A "bar" for competence
that is either too low or too high does not serve the interests of our
faith. Neither does a doctrinal approach to understanding competency, i.e.
a single standard to which all must be accountable, much like the "No Child
Left Behind" standards of the Bush administration.

Resources for Promoting Excellence

If we become clear about this competency bar, then how do we encourage
ministers to improve their knowledge and skills with the goal of achieving
excellence? Our preliminary fellowship review process is intended not only
to be preventative, i.e. it helps to catch problems that ministers may have
in their early years – it is also prescriptive, in that it tries to instill
patterns for collegial consultation and mentoring, continuing education, and
engagement with denominational resources and staff which encourage growth
towards excellence.

After a minister has achieved Final Fellowship, these are the resources
that a minister will either continue to draw upon regularly or ignore. The
UU Ministers Association, the Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff
Group and various networks and organizations created by ministers and/or
laity to promote continuing education have been the primary guardians and
advocates for excellence in ministry. Of these, only the MPL staff are
directed accountable to the UUA Board through the Executive (The UUA
President). If the Board wishes to set an end related to excellence in
ministry, this will have an impact on the conversation about resources that
are devoted to that end.

The UUA has historically relied on grant support to theological schools, or
to UUMA and ministerial organizations as their strategy for distributing
resources to promote excellence in ministry. In recent years, direct grant
support to students in the form of scholarships, and grants to ministerial
networks or congregations, have been suggested as a supplement, or a
substitute strategy for encouraging excellence in ministry.

Ideas for encouraging excellence in ministry abound among us. It is the
resources to fund these ideas that fall short. I would love to see a
Lilly-type fund awarding significant grants to fund creative sabbatical
projects for UU ministers. I would like to see more funding for projects
like Dreaming Big that are not staff-reliant but draw on congregationally
based leaders. I would like to see the substantial funding for UU
theological schools that would allow them to attract with grants and loans
those students who currently have no choice but to accept the healthier
financial aid packages other schools can offer them.

2 comments:

Benjamin said...

I'm not sure how to reconcile this:

"The competencies required by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for preliminary fellowship as a UU minister reflect the areas of knowledge and skill that we believe any UU minister should be able to apply in any form of
ministry they wish to undertake."

with this:

"A "bar" for competence
that is either too low or too high does not serve the interests of our
faith. Neither does a doctrinal approach to understanding competency, i.e. a single standard to which all must be accountable, much like the "No Child Left Behind" standards of the Bush administration."

Wayne said...

Benjamin's comment and question is well taken.

I would respond with the example of the competency around preaching.
Some MFC candidates wow the committee with their preaching, while others do not, but both may be experienced as competent. If the bar for the preaching competency is unduly influenced by the very best preachers we see, we run the risk of losing competent ministers whose preaching is not one of their strengths.
So rather than a line that must be crossed, I see the competencies as a target that must be hit by a variety of arrows representing the standards of competency we require.
Each minister will have those arrows hit the target closer or farther away from the bullseye, but we want all of those we accept into preliminary fellowship to be able to hit the target. We can set up the target closer or farther away, and that wil influence the number of candidates who get through. Our task is to set the target up at the right distance for competency.
Wayne Arnason