Reflections from South Georgia Board of Ordained Ministry

I returned last week from our annual Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) meeting for the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. This Board interviews candidates for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. The meeting is always emotionally draining as we interview new candidates for almost 11 hours per day for two and a half days. This year was particularly tough as we interviewed twice the normal number of candidates. The increase came because two years ago our conference reduced the provisional period from three years to two years. At this meeting, we had the last three year group of provisional members and the first two year group of provisional members all apply for status as Full Members and Ordination as Elders/Deacons.

Here are a few interesting insights from our BOM meeting.
For the first time ever, the BOM voted that all approved candidates would only be approved pending a suitable appointment. What does this mean? The Board was already doing this for new Provisional Elders (PE) (Provisional members are in a time of probation as they prepare for ordination and they are guaranteed an appointment). If there is not a place to put the new PE – either no appointment or one not able to pay them the required PE minimum salary – then they had to wait a year. They do not have to come before the BOM again, but they would not be commissioned until the next year.
  • This year, “pending a suitable appointment” extended to all candidates – including those approved for Full Conference membership and ordination as Full Elder (FE). Why? Because once a candidate is approved FE (after PE) the minimum salary requirements increase as well. They may already have an appointment, but if it doesn’t pay the required minimum salary for Full Elders then the Conference Equitable Compensation Committee must pay toward that pastor to help them reach the minimum. Last year, the Equitable Compensation Committee was over budget by more than $150,000. Almost 40 churches received help from Equitable Compensation. All that money comes from apportionments paid by all local churches – and apportionments are being paid less and less by churches across the denomination. Considering our Conference was $800,000 over budget last year, that is a number that cannot continue and must be managed better.
  • This means if the candidate is approved and there is not an appointment available that pays the minimum salary for Full Elder, they will not be ordained that year. They will not have to resubmit work to the BOM, but they will have to wait at least one year to be ordained.
  • South Georgia is not the first conference to do this. Many conferences have already adopted approval “pending a suitable appointment.”
The Boards of Ordained Ministry in almost every United Methodist Conference are faced with greater challenges than ever before. In years past, there was plenty of space for clergy and plenty of money to pay them. That is no longer the case. Because of this, the Board of Ordained Ministry expects the best possible candidates to submit their best possible work.
I will end with this. Many candidates believe that if they “answer” the questions correctly, or preach a decent sermon they will pass. That is also no longer the case. Boards of Ordained Ministry across our denomination are now looking much deeper into issues of personality, effectiveness, how the candidate handles conflict and adversity, and the overall impression of the candidate in all aspects of ministry (including the interview process). We are not charged with ordaining candidates who just get the answers to the questions correct. We are charged with approving candidates who can lead and excel in ministry in a fast-changing and complex world.
The bottom line? We don’t have any right to question anyone’s call from God. But we have every right to question whether that call from God is best lived and served out in the United Methodist Church.
Pray for candidates. Pray for the Board of Ordained Ministry. And Pray for our churches.

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