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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 22, 2011

More Flexible, Less Regulatory

three multi-color SlinkiesOne of my major projects for the remainder of the summer is to work on a new edition of the “Advisory Handbook on Preparation for Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” Now that we as a church are working under a revised Form of Government, there is a need to update this standard resource for those under care in the process of preparation for ordination as teaching elders in the church and those who work with them at both the congregational and presbytery level.

The last update of the “Advisory Handbook” was completed in 2007 when extensive revisions were introduced into what was then G-14. As the introduction to that edition explained, those changes were “intended to encourage the church’s movement toward a more flexible, less regulatory polity. Such a polity recognizes that there may be different and equally acceptable ways to uphold the national standards for preparation, ordination, installation, and the practice of ministry” (i).

Certainly the desire for “a more flexible, less regulatory polity” was one factor that led presbyteries to adopt the amended Form of Government referred by the 219th General Assembly (2010). We now have constitutional requirements for those seeking to become eligible to accept a call requiring ordination as a teaching elder that focus much more on outcomes than process. Rather than a checklist of regulations to be worked through, the constitution now talks about the need to “make an informed decision about the inquirer’s suitability for ordered ministry” (G-2.0603) and to provide “support, guidance, and evaluation of a candidate’s fitness and readiness for a call to ministry requiring ordination” (G-2.0604).

To be sure, there are still standards that must be met. This “evidence of readiness to begin ordered ministry as a teaching elder” still includes the same academic requirements and satisfactory completion of standard ordination examinations. But now there must also be evidence of a candidate’s personal qualities of “wisdom and maturity of faith, leadership skills, compassionate spirit, honest repute, and sound judgment” (G-2.0607). You can (and still must) provide transcripts and exam papers as “evidence” that academic and testing requirements have been met, but what is the “checklist” process that provides evidence of wisdom, maturity, leadership, compassion, honesty, and judgment?

If you are going to assess those kinds of qualities, then the center of the preparation for ministry process is going to have to be the building of a relationship. Now, those who know me will understand that I am not a “warm fuzzies” kind of guy (“personable,” I like to think, but not “warm fuzzies”). So when I identify relationship building as the core of the work between an individual, a congregation, and a presbytery in discerning one’s call to ministry, I am not talking about just getting to know one another. I am talking about building the kind of relationship where both affirming and challenging truths can be spoken and heard. It takes time to build those kinds of relationships, and it takes work to gather the information about the person and the current needs of the church and the world to make decisions about “suitability” and “readiness” for ministry.

Given the marvelous diversity God has created among God’s people, there cannot be a “one size fits all” process for building these relationships to assess these kinds of standards. There will be some commonalities—some stops along the journey everyone must visit—but not a single roadmap. That has some implications for the kind of “Advisory Handbook” we need in this new “more flexible, less regulatory polity” context of preparing folks to serve as teaching elders. I will share more about what that might look like in my next post.

Categories: Ministry Context