Saturday, February 12, 2011

To Be or Not to Be...a Minister

This week I was part of a long intense process where candidates for ministry come before a Board of Ministry to be "reviewed and evaluated" as to whether they are ready "to be" a minister. After seminary there is a preliminary "testing" and if you pass that you are checked out for a 3 year "provisional" period. Next you write a whole bunch of papers in response to a series of questions, video tape a sermon and a bible study, and come before 3 separate committees to respond to what you have prepared.

I would not want to have to do this "again." I did it 38 years ago and wonder if I would make it through now. My understanding of some of the doctrines and theology that are evaluated...well are different than what a committee might want to hear. Wear and tear do that. Doctrines that come out of books take on a different "look" when exposed to the light and the dark of real life.

Then there's the preaching committee. I listen as candidates have to "defend" their sermons. The sermons get picked apart by well meaning ministers who make up the committees and whose task it is to pick them apart for the good of the cause. I know my sermons get evaluated most every week but I often do not have to see the "report card." And fortunately my folks are not sitting out in the congregation holding up numbers on cards like they are scoring an ice skating performance or diving competition.

The picking apart probably happens at the same time families are picking apart chicken on a plate just after service. But at least I don't' have to listen. The candidates I sat with last week do.

Each would be minister's call is "questioned." You may think that to be strange and even a bit cruel but that is the way it is supposed to be in this church we called Methodist. God's call is real but it is meant to be examined by the church one is "called" to serve. Then we ministers have to equip ourselves for ministry. It's important stuff so that equipping is examined as to its quality and effectiveness.

Around 40% of the candidates do not make it through the first time and are deferred for another year when they must come back and do it again having learned something and often needing to do some more work in a certain area. It is hard telling this "called of God" people that they are not "ready."

In conversation we hear expressions like, "It's not rocket science"..or "It's not brain surgery" when someone is referring to a certain skill level. Well what we ministers do is neither of the above but we do work with people's lives and we do handle "the scared word and the holy elements." Yes, one can actually get some kind of license to be a "minster" from a magazine but you can't do that in our system. We've decided that this "work for God" stuff is too important. You have to be tested. Some may feel they have been "drawn and quartered" but it is all done by those of us who had to do it ourselves. We know it is important and it is needed.

So now I'll stop this and go back to preparing this week's sermon knowing that I will not have to take it before a committee but before a "real life" group of people who are not as much interested in taking it apart as hoping it will feed their spirits and help them experience the divine while discovering meaning in a world where challenges are at every turn.

Personally I think the sermon this week is a 7.8....but I never know until I dive off the platform...

God bless those dear people I faced this week who are willing to go through this time of testing. It's worth really is.


Friday, February 4, 2011

A Preacher's Groundhog Day

Was it because it actually was near Groundhog day or was it due to the natural anxiety that anyone has about being caught "not prepared?" I've been told that the "naked dream" is common when it comes to our shared human condition.

You know what the naked dream is do you not? It is when you dream that all of a sudden you are in a group of people and you do not have any clothes on. So you hide under a desk or in a closet or you hear the laughter of those who observe. The resulting panic and embarrassment leads you to wonder just how in the world did this happen? Whose fault is it?

Those who make their money writing books about anxiety and worry and dream interpretations say that this "naked" condition represents being "exposed" in a state of being unprepared. The pop test is put in front of you and you have no idea what the subject matter even is. It is time for a speech and the audience is waiting and your name is called but you did not know you were giving the speech. It is time to pay the bill but you have no money. You are "naked."

Well I had a kind of strange naked dream last night. It was a version of the movie "Groundhog Day." It started with me marching into a crowded church and giving the same sermon every day. Each time I marched into the sanctuary the crowd was the same, the people lining up to go into church were always in the same line with the same expressions on their faces. They didn't seem to much care to be there but the conversation never changed.

And...I kept giving the same sermon...and I got the same reaction...sort of bland but acceptable...nothing really special but then the time was over stared all over again....same crowd...same sermon...

And then...

I was walking into the same church but the person walking beside me was different, the crowd seemed like mostly the same crowd as before but all of sudden it was "the next day" or something...but alas I had that same sermon that I had been preaching to the same crowd over and over again...but this time I was supposed to preach a different sermon guessed it I was "naked." I had no other sermon. What I had was that same old, tired sermon that was about to drive me crazy. I was tired of hearing myself all those days...but this crowd had not heard it like I had. They were expecting not the sermon from "yesterday" but a fresh new one "today." But all I had were yesterday's words...If I preached it "again" I would see the expressions of their faces of bewilderment. "Doesn't this clown know he preached that same sermon yesterday...what's the matter with him?" Naked!!

I did not have time to run to the "file" and find an old sermon that I could give in a fresh way that the crowd had not heard. I did not have time to "compose" new material. All I had was the old "Groundhog" sermon.

The great thing about the "naked dream" is that you wake up, usually with "some" clothes on. So I woke up, laid there a minute tyring to figure out if this really happened, and then took a deep breath that it was after all a dream.

But then I got up and saw my shadow....O my

Bless you...and Happy Groundhog day