Monday, April 18, 2011

Ministerial Credentialing: from the UUA Staff Strategic Plan

The UUA Staff's strategic plan for Ministry (posted here) makes one recommendation about ministerial credentialing, which is a creature of the Fellowship Committee which, by bylaw, reports to the Board, not the staff.  They recommend that the RSCC get out of the gatekeeping business and act in a support and advisory capacity.  I have to agree with this recommendation; it's clear that, for all the good intentions this program started with, it has just become a second MFC.  I hope that the MFC takes this up.

The staff appends a set of questions to their recommendations which they feel need more and wider discussion.  One of which is:

 Do the various credentialing programs mold the leaders we need for the future,  or are they based on outdated models of ministerial excellence?

This is an interesting way of stating the problem, which, I believe is one of  the most important problems we need to solve as we face the future.   I've made no secret of my doubts about the effectiveness of our system; if you search this blog for the tags,  "credentialing" and "Excellence in Ministry", you will see lots on the subject.

but back to the question, and about it, I have a question.  Should it be the task of a credentialing program to MOLD leaders?   That starts to smack of "teaching to the test", which appears to be the current bane of public education.   Given the general lack of accountability in our current system with the MFC, which keeps no statistics about its effectiveness and does not publish its standards, and their overwhelming work load, perhaps we need two bodies, as a denomination; one to ask the question,  "What do we Want in our Leaders?" and another to be the gatekeeper, using those standards.

But my overall reaction to this question is that the problems I see with the MFC don't have to do with outdated models of ministerial excellence, but rather with outdated models of professional formation...which assume that a person should not enter a profession until they are fully qualified.   I would say that that model doesn't fit ministry...probably it doesn't fit most "wisdom" professions.  I think that the best we can do is make judgments about safety, rather than qualifications.  Is this a person who is mature enough and moral enough to avoid doing harm?   Are they minimally qualified?  If so, let them try, because frankly, we can't tell at this stage how effective they will be...and it is too expensive for everyone to wait until we are sure!

If I could wave my magic wand over the UU World,  we would have a system whereby new ministers were screened (probably by the staff) for basic competence (by which I mean, they have passed their academic work and have raised no red flags in the minds of their internship and CPE supervisors, and have a clean background check).  These new ministers would enter into a probationary period during which they were actively mentored by UUA staff as well as colleagues.  (the current once a month phone call with a self-chosen and usually far-away "mentor"  is completely inadequate to the task of ministerial formation).  The congregations who hired them would be mentored and watched as well. (because it is not unknown for congregations to choose a "green" minister in order to keep the balance of power in the lay leadership and remain complacent)   During this time their ordination would be local and temporary.  When a new minister completed three years of full time ministerial work (or its equivalent in part time work), they would be eligible for Final Fellowship and a "tenured" ordination.  Their task at that point would be to present the actual results of their ministry, rather than the results of their experience in seminary, which is really quite a different thing.  Much of this would be a matter of portfolio review.  Not everyone would be asked to interview with a committee; it's obvious after three years who is succeeding in ministry, and who has never gotten a job or who has failed. It's an expensive thing we do, interviewing virtually everyone who asks us.  

Just a thought, and I welcome comments!


Judy said...

How do you see community ministry fitting in with your proposed model? How might hospitals, community agencies, legislative advocacy networks and such be monitored during the probationary period? Or do you see community ministers serving a probationary period in the parish, and then getting a go-ahead to do community ministry after tenured ordination?

Thanks for continuing to shine a light on ministerial credentialing issues.

Christine Robinson said...

I don't think that community ministers should have to serve their probationary period in a parish setting. That would be too burdensome...and the system is already quite burdensome. Generally, the minister would show, after three years of full time work, that they had been successful at whatever their ministry was; that the public had been served, change promoted, a job held, and they would be granted final fellowship. In situations where there had not been success; the new minister had been fired, say, it would be harder to figure out where the fault lay, and so the person might be given an extension to try again.

RevNaomi said...

Deciding who's competent based on job isn't useful, either, as it would discourage parish and religious educational ministers from practices that challenge their communities in some necessary ways for fear of job loss and being branded "unsuccessful".

Also, it gets us away from really determining the varieties of successful excellent ministry.

What makes for excellent successful ministry? That's the question that underlies any formation process. And in times where people can access their wisdom very widely and easily (more so than ever before), there's also pressure on the models of ministry that grew out of accessing and disseminating wisdom that was much more restricted and expensive.

There's also the allure of having clear definitions and determinations so we don't have to be comfortable with ambiguity. Comfort with ambiguity, with change, with new and unfolding models and practices of ministry, and how to practice risking faithfully gets us back to how well we're living our faith in the free church tradition.

Rev. Jay said...

I like the idea of holding congregations accountable to the process as well. It may be that those of us who are "green" are chosen by congregations who want to remain complacent and in charge of the power, but it's also very real that only those of us who are "green" are the only ones willing to accept calls to dysfunctional congregations. As a result, an otherwise competent, though new minister who should have no problem progressing to final fellowship in due course ends up stymied and penalized by the congregation's own incompetence.

RKooyer said...

Is it not the ultimate decision of the congregation whether to call someone? Do they really need the RSCC's, or for the matter the MFC's, backing? What can the UUA deny a Church, Fellowship or other church body who calls a person who has not been "blessed" by the MFC or RSCC?

Be bold and read a person for who they are in the pulpit and not for what some other body tells you they are.