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.”
Over the next eight days, almost 600 inquirers and candidates will write a just over 1,000 total ordination examinations. Roughly 20% of those will be Bible Content Examinations (BCE), and the remainder are fairly evenly divided across the Theology, Worship & Sacraments, Polity, and Exegesis exams. Those taking the BCE on February 3 will receive their results immediately upon completion (since it is a multiple choice exam taken online), while those taking the other “ords” will anxiously be waiting to receive their results about a week after the Reading Groups meet on March 5-7.
For many of both those under care and those overseeing their preparation, the ordination exams have been reduced to a binary system. Either the exam will be “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory.” Either the inquirer or candidate fulfilled the requirement, or didn’t. Frankly, if that “bit” of information is all that is gathered from the process then it is hardly worth the effort. So, in this post I want to offer some guidance on how to interpret the exam results so as to maximize the benefit to both the inquirer/candidate and the church.
To begin with, we need to note that the BCE serves a different purpose than the other exams. There is a reason why the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations advises that the BCE be taken either in the second semester of the first full year of seminary studies or (with the twice yearly offering begun in 2009) when entering the middler year. The BCE is something of a “diagnostic” test. It reports not only an overall assessment of biblical literacy, but breaks that down into familiarity with different sections of the canon.
To maximize the benefit of the BCE, presbyteries and those under their care should look at not only the overall score (that determines the “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” status) but also relative strength across the canonical sections. If the results are significantly weaker in some areas, then inquirers should look for opportunities in their seminary program to take courses or avail themselves of other opportunities to improve their familiarity with them.
The other exam areas, sometimes called the “Senior Ords,” have a different purpose. They exist to provide a “blind review” of the candidate’s ability to use “pastoral imagination” in drawing from seminary training and ministry experience to respond to scenarios like those encountered in pastoral ministry. Rather than being “diagnostics,” they are rather assessments of “integrative” ability as the period of preparation is reaching its end. They are evaluated by future colleagues in ministry based on the standards of whether the paper adequately and fully responded to the issues actually raised in the scenario (key skills for all teaching elders), and whether the paper demonstrates the level of competency that would be expected of someone beginning in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
Neither the candidate nor the presbytery can maximize the benefit of these exams without reviewing together both the exam responses and the readers’ comments, and comparing those assessments of “fitness and readiness for a call to ministry requiring ordination” (G-2.0604) to everything else that has been learned through the preparation process. Do the exams and their evaluations confirm what was already known, or do they suggest something entirely different? And if the latter, what needs to be done to reconcile the two different pictures that have emerged?
We’re expending a lot of time, energy, and expense on the ords. Let’s use the information they provide to maximum benefit.