Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Modest Proposal on Credentialing

I am remembering back about 15 years, when John Weston re-worked the settlement process. When I first entered ministry, the process could only be described as paternalistic. The Settlement Director, using his knowledge of ministers in search and of congregations, created lists of applicants for each search committee. If the settlement director didn't think you were an appropriate candidate for a particular church, you could submit your name without recommendation, but that put you at a huge disadvantage and was rarely done. If the settlement director thought you should broaden your search horizon, your name might appear on lists you had not imagined. (That's how I got to Albuquerque, as a matter of fact. I had limited my search to the east, but my name was submitted in spite of that. I got over my anoyance, I was wooed, cupid struck, and 22 years later, here I am. I was also not permitted to apply for a church that I and others felt I was qualified to apply for and had to appeal that decision to the director of the Department of Ministry. By the time my name was actually sent, that search committee had made it's choice of pre-candidates. I tell these stories not because I'm mad but to illustrate the power that position once had and how it was used.)

There is no doubt in my mind that those who liked that system could have written many paragraphs about how it had developed very logically and sensibly and with the needs of search committees, applicants, and the denomination as a whole, and why it was the best possible system but for reasons I don't know, other than John Weston's passion for congregational autonomy, it was changed.

Now the process is much more open and search committees have much more responsibility to discern for themselves who will best serve them. All information about churches is posted, any minister who wants to apply can apply, and then the vetting begins. Among the consequences that I am aware of; some of our large churches are served by young and new ministers, ministers who would not have seemed to the "powers that be" to have earned the right to apply to a prestigious pulpit. Some of our fastest growing large churches are served by these ministers who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.

As we look again at the ministerial credentialing process, I think we should start, not with how we got to where we are, but with what congregations actually need and expect from beginning ministers, and how we can maximize the openness we espouse for congregations while carefully doing whatever examining and gatekeeping we feel we need as a denomination both for the good of the whole and for the good of individual congregations. As a for instance, I think that search committees are often not able to discern the presence of some kinds of personality problems which can wreak havoc in ministry. Things like psychological testing and in depth reference checking might be best done for search committees at the denominational level. As another for instance, we as a whole denomination have a stake in a ministry which is well-grounded in our history and polity; issues of relatively small import to search committees which have much more local concerns in mind. Therefore a credentialing process which looks at a candidate's knowledge in these two areas is important (though I believe that this should be done mostly through written comps, not through the hit and miss spot checking of factual knowledge in an interview process.)

As we take a hard look at our, lets face it, paternalistic credentialing process, I think we should take a good look at what happened when we did away with our paternalistic search process. We might find some cautionary notes, but mostly, I think, that hard look will give us the courage to imagine change.

4 comments:

David Pyle said...

So Christine, I'll bite. What would the credentialing process look like, if you could imagine one? What ways would it be different? And how would you begin such a transformation within the movement?

Yours in faith,

David

politywonk said...

well done, christine

politywonk said...

i have now taken the liberty of pasting wayne's dialogue post into politywonk and showing how i attempted to consider these excellent concerns when i wrote my proposal. the same post claims that my system attempts to integrate w john weston's excellent settlement reforms.

i hope this will prove useful and ethically okay.

politywonk said...

i have now taken the liberty of pasting wayne's dialogue post into politywonk and showing how i attempted to consider these excellent concerns when i wrote my proposal. the same post claims that my system attempts to integrate w john weston's excellent settlement reforms.

i hope this will prove useful and ethically okay.