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I am interested in the rationale of why the First District discourages new ministers. A cousin of mine informed me of this after discussions with older ministers she knows in this district. I have also met at least two who were told that there was no room for them. (They moved on to other denominations in different states). Who determines whom the Holy Spirit leads to the ministry? Is this a written rule? If not, why is this being done? Is it only the First District, or do other districts do this as well? What is the purpose of actions such as these?
-- Anonymous, March 08, 2000
I am a minister in the First District, and in some circles would be considered fairly new. I accepted my call in 1989, and was brought into conference in 1991.
Many of the people that came in at the same time that I did, did not go the course. Some left the ministry, others moved on to other denominations.
The only ones that I honestly saw discourged were those who did not attend to the obligations that were presented them, up front, when they came into the ministry.
To come into the ministry in the A.M.E. Church you are asked to have certain qualifications, at least in the First District. To begin your trek you have to have a high school diploma, to receive your first level of ordination you must have an undergraduate college degree, to receive your ordination as an elder, the First District, or let me narrow it to the Philadelphia Annual Conference since that is where I have intimate familiarity, they require a MDiv (masters of divinity).
Between these points, at least in the Philadelphia Annual Conference, there is ministerial institute that you are expected to attend. Here you are prepared both in the polity of the A.M.E. Church as well as some indepth study into the Bible and other assorted topics.
At each step of the way people depart. Some can not make the educational standards, some can not meet the time demands of work and performing their ministry.
Some just come to the conclusion that perhaps the pastoral ministry was not for them in the first place. But I have not seen any encouraged to depart, unless it just became painfully obvious by their instructors that despite their desire to become part of the ministry, they just were not academically able to meet the standards. And even in cases like this, I have seen mentors and instructors work with the individual so they could exercise their gifts and graces in other forms of ministry, other than pastoral, where the education and academic standards were not as strict.
I can not say what you heard and what was related to your cousin is unequivocally untrue, but I can honestly say that now, in my nearly 10 year trek in the First Episcopal District, I have not personally seen what you have described.
-- Anonymous, March 11, 2000
I am the spouse of a minister who was trained in the first district (and now serves in the tenth). I think Rev. John hits the issue pretty much on the money, but I wanted to add a few points.
The first is "The First", in many different ways. One of those is in the area of ecclesiastical leadership and preparation. Consider that the First is also the home of Harvard Divinity, Yale Divinity, Union Theological, Boston School of Theology, and a host of other first- rate, challenging seminaries. These schools offer tremendous preparation for ministry.
Such high caliber is needed because the First is a highly educated area. It is not sufficient to enter a pulpit in the First with Mother Goose tales and lots of gravy with no meat. The church as whole requires spritual, emotional and intellectual challenge. The First is reflective of that, especially in the intellectual area.
The attitude of the Boards of Examiners and the Ministerial Institutes of the First in particular and African Methodism in general reflect the need for our Zion to mature to the fulness of ministry in the 21st century. Today's pastor must be equipped to handle not only the preached word, but also business administration, pastoral counseling, educational planning, government interfacing, financial out-sourcing and resourcing, physical development, and leadership. Yes, the church in general and the Black Church in particular have done all of these things in the past, but with the advent of high-tech, media, tape ministry, and the modern approaches of life, the intensity of the skill set is much higher as well.
TO this end the Ministerial Institutes play a vital role not only for the new minsiterial candidate, but also for the expecting and needy congregations. The candidate benefits from a plan of training that touches on most of the needs delineated above. The congregation benefits fro knowing that a new pastor or ministerial staff member has at least the fundamentals under her or his belt.
In times like these, we need the fulness of God's power in our ministers. On the one hand, "the Holy Spirit is enough." On the other, the tools the Spirit may use to be enough include proper preparation of the candidate. If the Board of Examiners for a District seem tough, it's because they understand the demands that will be placed on the new minister "in times like these".
-- Anonymous, May 01, 2000
Jerryl, Your response to the impediments of "newbie" AME ministers in the 1st District is extremely interesting. However, if the implications of these barriers are true for "screening" candidates huge problems are on the horizon for this denomination's future. In short your careful dissection outlines the growing schism between seminary trained clergy at 1st tier divinity schools vs. non-trained seminary clergy. Consider the following hypothetical. Minister A is an unlettered AME minister, obedient to God's call to preach the Gospel, and thru a Holy-Spirit directed evangelistic program builds a congregation from initially 200 members to 2,000 members in 5 years. Minister B is a Princeton trained seminarian with an impeccable academic pedicgree. He is widely published in scholarly journals and promotes a "high liturgical worship service" [i.e. European anthems, cerebral sermons, etc.]. His congregation began with 200 members but after 5 years membership is 300. Which of the two is carrying out the divine directives of our Saviour? Are we not guilty of behaving like 21st century Pharisees when we make arbitrary decisions about whose calling is authentic? This is an important topic and I would like to see additional responses. Thanks for the insight.
-- Anonymous, May 03, 2000
Bill, your hypothetical raises some interesting questions, and gives me pause to review my own initial response. Let me offer a gut reaction first, then a more reasoned one.
I agree that "fruit" is the true value of a ministry. Initially, one might think that the pastor that has produced the ten-fold increase in membership has produced more fruit. Certainly the numbers would suggest this. Conversely, having a seminary education is not the sine qua non of ministry. While you cite it in a hypothetical situation, I have seen this type of disappointing "growth" in the real world.
My initial response suggested that the seminaries cited were among those that offered "preparation". They can provide tools that can ameliorate a minister's mission. But the true tool for any ministry is the Holy Spirit. I cite the following examples: Jesus, Peter. Holy men and women of God, yielded to His Spirit, will usually be more successful in the true goals of the gospel.
In this stream I look a little more closely at "fruit". There is a danger in the numbers game. Many of us view it as a quick insight to the "success" of a ministry. This may be biblically based as well (rf. Acts 2). But simply acquiring members is not the whole mission of the church. I believe "quality" is as important as "quantity". There will be times in the life of a charge when it will go through tremendous quantitative growth, but at some point there must follow quality, or that charge is in a revolving-door situation. I am reminded of charges that report 104 accessions at conference every year, only to report 3000 members year in and out.
I believe the AME church specifically, and the Church at large, needs both quantity and quality. We still have a quantitative mission, in places such as Alberquerque and Phoenix, where there are large numbers of "our people" who may be going unchurched, or having to choose alternative worhsip experiences in the void of an AME presence. But we most certainly have a qualitiative mission, in any city where we are currently established and yet unemployment is still double-digits, home occupation is in federally subsidized and owned housing rather than self-ownership, education is abjectly inadequate, substance abuse is rampant, morality is non-existent, economic empowerment is a crack-pipe dream, and hope is just another shard of shattered glass on the playground of despair.
I agree with you that the Lord can, and will, use a yielded heart. In situatations such as the ivory towers of intellectually enriched congregations, such a heart may require additional skills to accompany it. In every congregation, the heart must first be loving, committed, and dedicated to the Great Commission.
Another dimension to the increase in supernumeraries is finding effective ways to press their skills and commitment to the achievement of "quality". We have traditionally assigned one pastor to a charge. But as the call of the Lord grows within the body, the needs of the body must also be growing within our charges. I believe our bishops may need to give deeper consideration to the assignment of additional staff to charges that have such a need. I recall that you are from the 11th District. Bishop Cummings, your outgoing prelate, is one who has done this in the past. A more universal consideration may be part of the ministerial need within our Zion as we move to improve the quality of our ministries.
Let me, on a personal note, reasure you that I don't mean to sound disputatious in this thread. I am enjoying the dialogue.
-- Anonymous, May 04, 2000
Hello Jerryl, On a personal note let me be the first to assure you that I enjoy reading your thoughtful threads and don't in anyway consider them "disputatious". This forum is only benefitted by insightful comments of the type you bring to the table. Pleasantries aside, let me now tackle your critical elements about church growth. Your analysis reveals some of the key shortcomings about "quantitative growth" strategies. As one who makes a professional living, [I work in the field of econometric forecasting],I share your suscpicions [sp] about numbers. The dichotomy you offer [quantitative vs. qualitative] I feel is useful in determining how "well" a ministry is progressing. The NT speaks authoritatively about maximizing growth [Great Commission, parable of the feast, Peter's Seminal sermon in Acts, etc.] as well as qualitative growth [Pastoral Epistles, Phillipians 4:8-11, Whole Armor of God, etc.] The hypothetical I offered previously implies both membership growth and theological development in Case A. Nonetheless, I happily accept your critique and am glad you explicitly pointed out this distinction. I should have know that a member of John Bryant's Distict would clear up this confusion :-)
-- Anonymous, May 06, 2000