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The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.

“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.

For quick announcements about changes or developments in the preparation process, dates related to exams or other key events, discussion boards, surveys, etc., you can follow us on Facebook at “Preparing for Presbyterian Ministry.”

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July 29, 2011

More Advisory, Less Handbook

No checklistsIn my previous post I explored some of the reasons why there is a need for a new “Advisory Handbook on Preparing for Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” Key among them are the needs to develop a “more flexible, less regulatory” process that focuses on the need to develop relationships where the serious work of discernment of one’s call and evaluation of one’s gifts for ministry can take place. But how does one write what at one level is a process and procedure manual that relates to constitutional requirements and still meet the goals of “more flexible, less regulatory”? Well, at the risk of running the turn of phrase into the ground, I would suggest that one strategy is to make it “more advisory, less handbook.”

Many of the handbooks that we encounter in both professional and private life have the quality of extended checklists. For a good portion of my life I have been first a Boy Scout and then a “Scouter” (an adult Scouting leader). Whether as a youth or a leader, I always had handbooks that laid out the requirements that would be necessary to move either myself or youth with whom I worked steadily along a path of advancement. There was also a lot of information to help one understand what was needed to meet those requirements. Indeed, the “helps” far exceeded the “requirements” in terms of the relative number of pages devoted to each. But the handbook was fundamentally a tool to be sure the readers knew the requirements and what was necessary to fulfill them. Complete the checklists, and you earned the award. Complete the required awards, and you advanced toward your goal and ultimately earned your Arrow of Light, became an Eagle Scout, received your Wood Badge.

But even though Scouting has its handbooks, those who have ever received these awards themselves or had a family member who did know that no two recipients ever did precisely the same things to earn them. It takes at least 21 merit badges to become an Eagle Scout, but only 10 are required of every Eagle—and there are currently 126 to choose from. To receive the Wood Badge as an adult Scouter you must “work your ticket” of five projects, but a fundamental requirement is that every ticket be custom crafted to improve the Scouter while benefiting others through the Scouting movement. In both instances there are “Scoutmaster conferences” that focus on advice for how to use the requirements to develop one’s personal qualities and interests.

The goal of the new “Advisory Handbook,” then, is to create something more akin to a “conference” than a “checklist.” It will both review requirements and suggest ranges of options for meeting them. It will raise questions perhaps more than it provides answers. It will share experiences and insights gained over the years, but will try to continually push both those under care and those from sessions and presbyteries who work with them to ask why are we doing this and how does it promote discernment and development of gifts for the particular individual.

To get a taste of where this is leading, I am releasing a “sampler” of some draft materials from the “Advisory Handbook.” It includes a Table of Contents (as an outline of the whole), the introduction, and portions from two sections. You can download the “sampler” by clicking here. Be sure to provide your comments and suggestions, either here or by sending me an email.