Ministerial Accountability

I’ve been blessed to serve on the South Georgia Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM). We’ve undergone many changes in how we evaluate clergy for admission into conference membership and ordination in the past several years. The process is more difficult now than when I went through, but it assures the conference that candidates have an understanding of Wesleyan theology and a command of the core competencies of ministry.

On the BOM, we joke about how glad we are that we do not have to go through the process now. We don’t really mean it – or do we? Think of the benefits to our church if all ordained clergy were required to periodically go through a recertification process. Many other professional vocations (with less impact on people’s personal lives!) require continuing recertification. At minimum, other professions mandate a certain level of continuing education.

In my time on the BOM, I have also served as the continuing education chairperson. While many take continuing education seriously, some do not. Do you know what happens if a minister does not attain the required number of CEU credits? Nothing. There have been attempts in South Georgia and other conferences to put teeth in continuing education policies. In South Georgia, the response was overwhelmingly negative to the idea of holding elders and deacons accountable for continuing education. The primary resistance was from the ministers! Can you imagine the response to a recommendation for some type of recertification?

Continuing education alone may not be enough. Let’s say a certain minister is not a strong preacher, yet a gifted administrator. Every year he/she looks for continuing education opportunities in administration, after all, that may be his/her passion! They learn a great deal, but all this new expertise in administration doesn’t seem to increase worship attendance. What’s wrong? They are, after all, fulfilling the requirement for continuing education.

Candidates interviewed by the BOM must show proficiency in the areas of theology, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, personal life and psychological health. They provide credit reports, criminal background checks, and divorce paperwork. We evaluate the whole person on the way in – and never again.

But look around your conference and ask yourself – which ministers have undergone the most recent disgraces? The large number of controversies and failures come from those who were approved years ago, or who have never been approved at all. Many live without accountability in both their personal lives and their public ministry.

Don’t hear me wrong – this is not about running people out of the ministry. On the contrary, I think the best system would be more akin to how we evaluate probationary members. If we find an area needing work, we make suggestions and offer help. We give time, resources, and training. We bring them back the next year to ensure they have followed the recommendations. Wesleyans emphasize accountability, holiness, AND grace. Our goal should never be a witch hunt, rather a covenant of accountability that builds the kind of church that can transform the world.

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