Who’s Fit to Preach?

My memory of the fine details of my own life events isn’t too sharp. Since my own passage through the hurdles set before me by the Board of Ordained Ministry was thirty years ago, I don’t remember everything. I do remember writing out answers to many questions. I remember running all over Houston trying to find the site for my psychological test (I thought at the time that putting people through the stress of being given a wrong address for such an important event must be part of the test itself). I remember that my answers to the committee about the reason we were (then) ordained Deacon before being ordained Elder were somehow inadequate.

Beyond the fact that they approved me, I never heard any details of what the committee thought of me. Over the next several years I heard horror stories, mostly tied to results from the psychological testing and how candidates were quizzed on their pathologies – pathologies they claimed to know nothing about. I never heard anything about my test results – not a peep – so I guess I was distressingly boring.

I’ve not yet served on a BOM (or a DCOM), but the job strikes me as terribly difficult. It’s difficult because it is of such great moment for the candidate and the church. The candidates have invested hugely just to get there. Most have sacrificed their families in one way or another. The churches of the conference depend on faithful leadership, not just people who want a job, however nice and hardworking they might be.

In his book Bishop, Will Willimon puts it this way:

The free movement of the Holy Spirit is one reason it is so difficult for our Boards of Ordained Ministry to make decisions about the fitness of candidates for the ministry. Scripture is full of instances of God calling unbalanced, not-too-bright, ill-equipped, and even disreputable people to positions of leadership in the People of God.

It’s hard to be Methodist when we serve a God who acts like this. We love things to be proper and in good order. We want impeccable policies and procedures to ensure a well-oiled, well-functioning bureaucratic machine. And the machine works pretty well, though, unfortunately, not for the ends we ought to be pursuing.

If I were one of the BOM members that had to stand before the Conference and report and the incoming preachers, I’d much rather tell of their proven aptitude and early signs of success. I’d love to pass on their stellar recommendations from seminary. To have to say, “This person’s life is currently messed up, but we couldn’t deny God’s call,” would be mighty hard to do. No, we would never say that. We’d keep that in the confines of the committee, when we told the person either to seek another line of work or to come back in a year when life was more orderly and under control. Like ours.

Like Bishop Willimon, I fear that our high level of organization, structure and commitment to policy may often cause us to miss God. I don’t want to miss God. Even if it means I have to make a mistake sometimes.

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