Sunday, December 27, 2009

Continuing the dialogue on credentialing

Earl Koteen replies here to Wayne Arneson's post which is, here.

Here are my thoughts on his thoughts:

On the subject of who should be involved in credentialing ministers...
I think that our current system of having ministers, lay persons, and representatives of the denominational institution all involved in ministerial credentialing is the single strongest aspect of our ministerial credentialing process. Many professions attempt to be self-regulating and disaster lies in that direction. All the stakeholders in the health of Unitarian Universalism should have a part in the creation of the standards and in the examining process.

I have my doubts about regional credentialing, since few ministers stay in one region for their career. I would prefer to think about dividing the massive MFC workload in another way. Currently one MFC deals with all levels of credentialing, from setting the standards in the first place, through overseeing the RSCC, through the Preminiary Fellowship Process. It also does all the work (increasing) of granting waivers to MFC rules (whether an intern can remain for a time in the employment of the internship church, for instance), deals with the renewals of Fellowship during the probationary period and granting of Final Fellowship, and finally, deals with complaints about ministers and the disciplining of ministers.
It seems to me that this could be broken down into as many as four areas; the standard-setting itself, the admission into preliminary fellowship (and waivers needed up until that time), the probationary period leading up to admission into Final Fellowship (and waivers), and the disciplinary process. Yes, once upon a time it made sense to give all this related work to one committee for the sake of consistency and buy-in. With a ministry twice the size and quadruple the complexity of a generation ago, it is time for a change. This would have the additional benefit of getting more people involved in this important process.

Earl writes:
3. The broader question is the following: Should there be a substantive review/examination before a candidate is accepted for preliminary fellowship, or should a candidate automatically be accepted for preliminary fellowship when the candidate has successfully completed all the requirements (M.Div., CPE, internship, etc.)? This question revolves around whether this examination is worth the resources expended. Without going into a long argument here, let's just note that some ministers have reported that getting a "3" (do "X" and come back for a 2nd interview) helped prepare them for ministry.

Two issues here...
First, there's no question in my mind that we need a substantive review before new ministers are allowed to serve churches. It is quite possible to get an M.Div but with such poor grades that one's fitness is in question, to complete a CPE or internship but with major red flags raised in evaluations. Someone, staff or volunteer, has to go through this material and make recommendations and decisions. The question in my mind is how this gets done. Interviewing might not be necessary, at least not in most cases. On the other hand reference checking, (by phone and email) something that is not now done, might be a much more useful and cost-efficient way to get a picture of the candidate.
As to the issue of folks who got a "3" finding the work they were required to do useful, hopefully, that is what mostly happens. If you've got to spend a year you didn't anticipate preparing for a career, with the shame, the financial costs, and the family issues it often raises, then the strongest candidates will find a way to make that year useful and will be smart enough to say so to the committee. (That doesn't mean that the extra year and work were necessary, only that they were useful.) But it also does happen that people who must return for a second interview are basically told, "it just wasn't a very good interview. We don't have any real recommendations, you seem to have a lot of strengths, we just want to see you again." This, as a matter of fact, is what happened to me, lo these 30 years ago. And I've heard of it happening since, more than once. It's actually inevitable with this system of a high-stakes interview. Sometimes the candidate will have a bad 45 minutes, sometimes the committee will have a bad 45 minutes. Sometimes the committee will have helpful suggestions, sometimes they just "don't see a minister", and leave the candidate with this baffling information and an invitation to, in a year, try again. Maybe it's the only way. Useful as it may be for some, it is dreadfully expensive for all.

I was struck with Earl's recommendation that during the probationary period of a young minister that a more independent evaluation be made than currently. At the moment the MFC relies on the minister's self-evaluation and two evaluations from within the congregation; usually the Board and the Committee on Ministry. Ministers in preliminary fellowship live in fear that some rogue person on one of those two committees will get enough licks in that their application for renewal will be denied. It seems to me that the fear of this is heightened in the past 30 years, but perhaps I was so isolated from most of my colleagues during my preliminary fellowship years that I missed this. At any rate, I would note that District Execs often have a more holistic view of a ministry/congregational relationship than either party and their wisdom should be a part of the mix of Preliminary Fellowship renewals. I also wish that the mentoring process for new ministers was much stronger; that mentors made site visits and the relationship was something more than 9 or 10 phone calls a year. But that's another subject.


Rev. Earl W. Koteen said...


Thanks for continuing this dialogue and giving me/us more good ideas. Further thoughts are here at the "Calling Ministers" blog.



ogre said...


"I have my doubts about regional credentialing, since few ministers stay in one region for their career."

I'm not sure I follow this. Because...? (The credentialed minister might leave the region he/she was credentialed in? Because those serving on the credentialing body might/will as well?) What's the issue/concern?