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.
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Today I joined with a number of colleagues who serve the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the national level for presentations by and conversations with Gil Rendle about cultural forces in which denominations are currently going about their work. (I’ve discussed some aspects of his book, Journey in the Wilderness, in a previous post.) There was one question he posed to the group specifically with reference to those who are preparing for ordained ministry that I would like to pose to those who follow this blog.
First though, let me summarize the background against which he posed the question. In working with another denomination, he had been told that the persons who were preparing for pastoral ministry basically fell into three groups. First, there were the traditional candidates for ministry who had grown up in the church, moved from college straight to seminary, and were preparing for traditional careers within the church. Second, there those people for whom pastoral ministry would be a second career. Generally around 40 years of age, they were leaving careers in other fields and bringing their life experiences with them into future pastoral service. Finally, there was a group of people who had come from lives filled with difficulties. In the church they had found a place where people had loved and cared for them. For these a significant component of their interest in ministry seemed to be a desire for the church to continue to care for them.
The leaders of that other denomination indicated that, not surprisingly, a disproportionate share of their time, energies, and resources went into dealing with those persons in that final group. Because there are natural limits on time, energy and resources, the end result was that much less was left for the care and development of those in the other two groups who, also not surprisingly, generally showed more promise for ministry—especially at a time of such change and challenge for the church.
The question Rendle posed, then, was this: As we reflect upon this distribution of resources, what difference does it make in whom we identify as “the client” in the supervision of preparing for ministry?
If the “client” is the person in the preparation for ministry process, then the distribution of resources described is probably right. Those who have the greater needs for support in developing their gifts for ministry receive the greater share of the limited sources available. Those whose lives have had broader supports already need fewer supports in this process.
But what if the “client” isn’t the individual, but rather the church and the broader mission field to which it seeks to minister? Given the limits on time, energy, and other resources, would it make more sense to devote most of the resources that are available to those who show the greatest promise for ministry that will impact the church and its mission field?
Now, I would say that since God calls us all to ministry, the church broadly has the responsibility to assist people to develop their gifts for the service of the gospel. Given his broader comments during the day, I suspect that Rendle might say that in periods of growth (economic and otherwise) when resources are multiplying the same could hold true in the more limited sphere of those discerning a call to vocational ministry in the church. But in a time like this when there is a contraction of resources, when distribution of resources between clients is contested, determining the “client” ultimately being served by the preparation for ministry process is the church itself would lead to different decisions.
Even if we leave aside the specific context from which Rendle raised the question, it is still a provocative one to consider. From whatever vantage point you currently view the preparation for ministry process—whether that of an inquirer/candidate or of someone who works with them—who would you identify as the ultimate “client” of this process? Is it the individual person, or the church and its mission? How does your identification of that “client” shape your thoughts about the distribution of resources? Does your actual practice follow what your response to that question would suggest?