Friday, October 12, 2007

The Root Problem of the UMC Ordination Process

Many Methobloggers and Methodist writers have written extensively in recent weeks about perceived flaws in the UMC process for ordaining ministers. As a person in the midst of the process, I understand the frustration of my colleagues struggling with contradictory instructions from institutional authorities, "lost" paperwork, unreturned communications, and long delays. And I appreciate the concerns of ordained clergy who desire for the process to be streamlined or reduced. But I think that none of these critiques address the root problem in the UMC ordination process.

It is this: our denomination is shrinking in America. At its birth in 1968, the UMC had 11 million United Methodists in the United States. Now that number has fallen to 8 million. That means that every year, there are fewer appointments for ministers. As one former Board of Ordained Ministry member explained to me, it may soon reach the point here in the Florida Conference where there are called, confirmed, and qualified ministers ready to enter into full-time ministry, but a scarcity of churches to send them to.

Were we a rapidly growing denomination, as we were in the 19th Century, the District Committees and Boards of Ordained Ministry would be struggling to find even semi-qualified candidates to fill pastorates in new churches as a wave of revival sweeps across the land.

Calls to streamline the ordination process, if answered, will only result in Boards facing the problem of too many elders and not enough churches. The real solution is nationwide spiritual revival. We may not like that solution because it is not something that we can legislate at General Conference, but it is the only solution that addresses the actual problem.


Todd said...

Having arrived on the other side of the process I can say that I understand completely the frustration. I wouldn't want to experience it again because of the frustrations of the process.

I believe the lasting benefits (becoming aware of what we believe corporately as well as personally, the feedback of good interviews, as examples) become overshadowed by the less satisfying elements of lack of communication and the perception of hoop jumping.

And I agree that the fear of a diminishing church is causing reactions. My fear is that as we react to what appears to be a downward trend that we will become MORE bureaucratic in how we respond.

John said...

My fear is that as we react to what appears to be a downward trend that we will become MORE bureaucratic in how we respond.

I agree. I just don't see a legislative or administrative solution.

revjfletcher said...

I can recall in Licensing School everyone having a different experience with the process up to that point. Some had interviews, some hadn't even received proper information and so on.

My process began in the Rio Grande Conference; I felt like I was getting the run-around--big time! So, I was advised to come the SWTX conference. My mentor always told me to stay on top of what I knew I needed to do and stay on those leaders to make sure they were doing the same.

Overall, I've had a positive experience so far.

Olive Morgan said...

We would welcome some of your trained methodist ministers to fill our gaps here 'across the pond' in the UK.

Mark Winter said...

I've been beating the revival drum for years. . .not just for the 'survival' of the church, but for the rescuing of our nation.

Oloryn said...

I've been beating the revival drum for years. . .not just for the 'survival' of the church, but for the rescuing of our nation.

Mark, I find that I agree with you, with quibbles, sort of. I just have this nagging feeling that pursuing or praying for revival for the purpose of saving the church or the nation may be self-defeating. It's almost as though you're 'seeking second His Kingdom and His Righteousness' - you're seeking first the church or nation you want rescued, and you want His Kingdom as an aid to doing it.

There are times I wonder if we've gotten to the point where we regard living in a culture that's comfortable with Christianity as an entitlement, and that's why God is letting the culture slide. If we're pursuing the regaining that entitlement, and trying to use God to get it, He may very well decline to participate.

Maybe I'm being overly picky, but I suspect that "God, send us revival so we can keep our nation or our church" is less likely to be answered than "God, send us revival, even if it means losing our nation or our church, because people are going to Christless eternities and that's not what You want." We need revival, desperately, for the latter reason. If He sends revival, maybe we'll get our nation or our church or our comfortable culture back, maybe we won't. As C. S. Lewis put it: "every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made" (see "First and Second Things"). We need to make sure our pursuit of revival doesn't fall foul of that.

Oloryn said...

BTW, some of the impetus for what I wrote in my last comment comes from Cal Thomas' and Ed Dobon's "Blinded by Might".

And Mark, I wasn't trying to jump on you, your comment just gave an opportunity to say something I've been holding in for awhile.

John said...

A very good point, Oloryn.

Tomorrow, my church will have a special prayer meeting to pray for revival. But I'm going to shape it so that it's not about praying for new members. It's all about the Spirit.

Chris said...

John, found this post on the weekly round-up - good thoughts.

First, I completely disagree with Dr. Miles. I don't think "streamlining" the process that it is intended to do.

I think the key problem lies in the inspiration that our leadership gives to us. For those of us that have been through the exceedingly long process (lots of hoops!) If we are inspired by our leadership, then we will do about anything in order to get where we want to go.

Your post begs a deeper question... and much more thought.

Anonymous said...

This posting, from 2007, shows a problem in and about the program. People have become so frustrated with the process that they have walked away to fulfill the calling. If I was to offer a change, I would first remove the local elder from the decision making process. What I would do is have the BOOM publish a rule book so that information is trueful and trustworthy. The District is not to be involved. If "Christian as Miister" is to be used, then bring this book into being useful, understandable, and in every church library. Second a guide is to be provided by the conference to make sure the candidate is properly lead through the intitial steps. Then appoint an acedemic advisor and a spiritual expression mentor so that a proper school can be chosen and the calling properly expressed. Then move forward. This said, there should also be an appeal of BOOM decision panel and a true and proper review of past practice. If the rules were broken to the point of candidacy injury in the past, ordain under a special corrective position such as the title "Approved Elder" or "Local Service Elder." These people will have all rights as an elder in full connection but used where they can do the most good. The original purpose for keeping the clergy moving was to keep power trips under control. This is not happening!