Commissioners hear rationale for increased flexibility in process to prepare ministers
What makes a person suitable for ministry? And what will ministry positions look like in the church of the future? These are some of the questions pondered by the Special Committee to Review the Preparation for Ministry Process and Standard Ordination Exams.
Reporting to the 221st General Assembly (2014) on Sunday, committee members noted that four out of 10 pastors in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are white males past the traditional retirement age. Most of these pastors fulfilled traditional requirements for preparation.
But American society and culture have changed a lot since these structures were created. As the population of the United States diversifies, the proportion of people belonging different racial ethnic categories is changing, so that there will no longer be a majority of any ethnic group.
Those who participate in the preparation process are a changing demographic as well. Although more men than women find positions as pastors, more women are completing ministry degrees. More people discover a call to ministry in the PC(USA) well after they have entered seminary, and then face multiple years in the preparation process.
Presenting on behalf of the committee were Diana Barber; Ruben Armendariz, Presbytery of Mission; Susan Niesen, Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy; and Nicholas Yoda, representing the Committee on Theological Education.
As small churches are falling below the level of being able to call a pastor, and midsize churches are disappearing, fulltime calls are becoming rarer. Many candidates who are seeking pastoral positions discover they may need to serve a church part-time and find another job that will provide more income and benefits.
Eric Thomas, a candidate from Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, speaking by video, said, “We need your help. We need greater participation of racial ethnic ruling and teaching elders at all levels of preparation process, especially examinations and evaluation.”
Niesen said that the committee has made a number of recommendations that show the reality of the current needs of the church. “These recommendations bring flexibility, a variety of gifts, a creativity that reflects God’s image in us,” she said.
While flexibility can be difficult in a church that values order, the committee says that presbyteries must be more ready to accommodate options for particular candidates. Simply checking boxes on a list of tasks for inquirers and candidates no longer works in the changing reality.
The Assembly Committee on Church Polity and Ordered Ministry will discuss the special committee's 12 recommendations.