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Clergy Credentialing for a Missional Movement

Insight

What is the impact of the process of clergy credentialing on the vitality and vibrancy of a missional movement within a denomination? In a word—significant.

The more centralized, professionalized, formalized, and lengthy the clergy credentialing process is within a denominational family, the less vital and vibrant is the missional movement of that denomination. This has a negative impact on the numerical growth of the denomination.

The more localized, experience-based, informal, and abbreviated the clergy credentialing process is within a denominational family, the more vital and vibrant is the missional movement of that denomination. This has a positive impact on the numerical growth of the denomination.

Forty years ago I first realized various denominations had developed a two-tiered system for credentialing. The first tier was the preferred tier, and this tended to focus on a more centralized process.

This first tier was driven by tradition, a hierarchical view of clergy as compared to laity, an institutionalized approach to denomination, a desire to be sure clergy had the theology and practice that fit the expectations of the denomination, a felt need to express some type of control over clergy, to guarantee clergy were pure morally and ethically, and to produce clergy exceptional in the quality of their ministry practice.

Not all characteristics were present in every denomination, but many were. The client focus for this first tier process was the denomination. This process produced in clergy a sense of entitlement to their ordination and a place of service within their denominational tribe.

The second tier was driven by expediency, an egalitarian view of clergy as compared to laity, a missional approach for the denominational movement, a desire to provide continuing education and coaching for clergy around theology and practice that fit the expectations of the context in which they served, a felt need to empower clergy, a trust that their spiritual call to ministry and an active community relationship with other clergy would positively impact their moral and ethical lifestyle, and to empower clergy for quality ministry practice.

Not all characteristics were present in every denomination, but many were. The client focus for this second tier process were the people who were the focus of the ministry. This process produced in clergy a sense of entrepreneurship and the freedom to minister in a more prophetic manner.

These two tiers were not mutually exclusive. Some denominational tribes had characteristics in their credentialing processes that overlapped the two tiers.

Intentionally or unintentionally in some denominational tribes the first tier clergy were first-class clergy and the second tier clergy were second-class clergy. The systems set up some decades ago often focused the second tier process on emerging clergy from immigrant groups or lower socioeconomic groups. This perspective cast a sense of paternalism regarding the second tier clergy.

In recent decades—with an increasing emphasis on bivocational pastors, mid-career persons going into ordained ministry, a renewed emphasis on starting churches, an elevating of the role of laity, and an urgency around missional efforts that include various congregational expressions and not just traditional congregational forms—more emphasis has been placed on fast-tracking persons into ordained ministry.

Both a response and a cause of this is the decentralization and virtual nature of theological education plus the creation of the Master of Ministry degree as a shorter educational track to clergy credentialing than the traditional Master of Divinity degree.

Working against this in some denominational tribes is a fear of ascending and descending legal liability issues. In the past fifteen years this led some denominational tribes to adopt processes that gave them greater control over the credentialing process and who serves as approved ordained clergy. This has worked to the detriment of these denominations as missional movements, and decreased the desire of people to serve as clergy in these denominations.

Through the years with my personal conviction about urgency surround the Great Commission, I have favored the more localized, experience-based, informal, and abbreviated processes. There are risks in both directions. My preferred approach results in a larger pool of clergy from which to draw, and may or may not result in more dysfunctional clergy. The best news is it results in a growing denominational tribe and a stronger missional movement.

The more centralized approach results in fewer clergy, and has not shown that it results in fewer dysfunctional clergy or more exceptional clergy practice. The extra work and time in first tier approaches may be a barrier to a missional movement rather than an enhancement.

Copyright 2016, Rev. George Bullard, D.Min. Ministry Legacy Season Insights from George Bullard at www.BullardJournal.org December 15, 2016 Edition

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