Q1. Why is seminary a graduate degree?
A1. Status. Seminary used to give BD (Bachelor of Divinity) degrees. They changed to MDivs some time in the ‘60s. Now, many offer doctorates as part of the package – all before the new clergyperson has ever been appointed to a charge.
Q2. Of what value, really, is the undergraduate degree?
A1. Ostensibly, it provides the comprehensive background an educated person needs to function in a white collar job. (This is getting more unrealistic by the year.) The Bachelor degree is a generalist degree; the Masters is a specialist, professional degree.
A2. It also provides some valuable growing-up time before entry into a profession in which one will exercise significant leadership.
Q3. What could we do to streamline clergy education for those coming late to the process?
A1. We could take COS (Course of Study) much more seriously, making it more or less equivalent to seminary.
A2. We could combine COS and ACOS (Advanced Course of Study), without requiring a Bachelor’s degree to enter ACOS.
A3. We could eliminate the requirement for any undergraduate education for a student of a given age, and replace it with a comprehensive cultural literacy and communications test which the candidate could prep for at his or her own pace.
A4. All this would also make clergy education more affordable. We wouldn’t be saddling our candidates with so much debt for fancy credentials.
Q4. How could we encourage those now staying at the PTLP stage to advance to FTLP and those at FTLP stage to advance to Elder’s orders?
A1. We could again require ordination to perform the sacraments.
A2. We could make it easier to advance in the system, as recommended, above.
A3. By putting together ministry teams, we provide better supervision and mentoring by Elders to LPs.
Q5. If we required ordination to perform the sacraments, how would we bring sacramental ministry to our smaller congregations?
A1. By re-instituting the office of Presiding Elder, in which a staff of Elder-Senior Pastor and one or more LP-Associates work together to provide team ministry to a circuit of congregations.
Q6. What should be done with Deacons?
A1. We should eliminate Commissioning and return to two-stage ordination. Deacons could be ordained while in process of completing education and elected to Probationary Membership. After completion of educational requirements for non-pastoral ministry and a period of supervision, the Deacon could be elected to Full Membership in the Conference. Other Probationary Deacons would conclude the pastoral ministry requirements and after a period of supervision, could be ordained Elder and elected to Full Membership. We could also return to Associate Membership, in which Deacon is a final stage for someone serving in a pastoral role (with limited sacramental faculties).
Q7. What should be done with FTLPs?
A1. Move them on to Deacon/Associate Member or Elder/Full Member, as possible.
Q8. What should be done with CLMs and PTLPs?
A1. In the pastoral field, these should be considered as entry-level or assistant sorts of ministries.
Q9. Do these suggestions show an elitist attitude in favor of Elders?
A1. No. I would make it possible for all those who are giving their full devotion to the call and who are up to the job to fulfill the requirements of an Elder, as long as they are willing to do the work.
A2. At the same time, I would require much more of Elders. We have too many people with fancy degrees who don’t produce much. We need to both raise our esteem for ordination, as such, and be less snobbish about our position as Full Members of Conference.
Q10. What about guaranteed appointment?
A1. I’m not sure we can afford guaranteed appointment unless we raise up a band of clergy who can lead us to growth again.
Q11. How could we avoid lack of accountability in the clergy?
A1. End the bishop’s lock on BOOM nominations.
A2. Change how we elect bishops.
A3. Change the process of holding bishops accountable.
A4. End guaranteed appointment.
Q12. How can we best supervise local churches?
A1. Annual accreditation by a lay-led visitation team using a criterion-referenced system. Every local church to be visited every spring, setting up possible remedial actions to be reviewed at fall Charge Conference.
A2. Do real Charge Conferences.
Q13. How do we insure doctrinal orthodoxy from our clergy?
A1. Refuse to ordain anyone from seminaries that don't teach the faith.
A2. Refuse to ordain anyone who doesn't know our doctrine or who refuses to teach it.
A3. Refuse to put people on the BOOM who are heterodox.
A4. I have no idea how to do this in our current state, in which there are so many clergy making it up as they go along. There are all kinds of crazy things taught every day in UM churches by both progressives and traditionalists that horrify me. And our congregations have had such a train of preachers come through with all kinds of different theologies that they are inured to it. In the end, personnel = policy, for both good and ill.