Friday, August 13, 2010

Jumping Through the Hoops

In a recent issue of The Christian Century, columnist M. Craig Barnes recounted the story of a Presbyterian minister who had left a well-paying job as an accountant and relocated her family to Pittsburgh so that she could complete her degree in preparation for ordained minster. Now a year out of seminary, she has yet to find a place of ministry and is questioning her calling.

Barnes uses this story to discuss the call to ministry and the process of discerning God’s will. I believe that he is misusing this woman’s story. Her experience is not about calling but about preparation for ministry. She has been asked to “jump through hoops” in order to fulfillment the church’s requirements to serve as an ordained minister. This has nothing to do with discernment or calling.

This gifted woman—a talented lay person, committed wife, and loving mother—was probably already serving a vital role in her church when she perceived the call to ministry. When she expressed a desire to serve, she was asked to follow an academic path that was designed at least 150 years ago for single young men who had recently completed a college degree. In order to become a minister, she must follow a path that is impractical, wasteful, and uninformed.

Now I am not questioning the need for education, a responsible process of discernment, or the achievement of a specific level of competence to be recognized as an ordained minister in a denomination. I am questioning the delivery system. Asking someone to follow the path required of this woman is the height of arrogance. The assumption is that there is only one way to do this and it will be imposed with no flexibility.

With advances in distance education, self-directed learning, and accessible travel, there is no need for a person who has been called to ministry to pull up stakes and relocate across several states in order to be trained as a minister. Seminaries and churches can work together to provide quality learning environments for prospective ministers. If we do not follow this path, we will not only lose competent and committed servants for the cause of Christ and his church but we will assure the irrelevance of denominations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


A very good piece that should be sent to every ATS-accredited seminary president. The PCUSA, United Methodists, and several others are very resistent to changing the 150-year-old tradition.... And it's a shame.

Dayne S.