Monday, March 1, 2010

Unqualified Hireling Ministers

My position on the issue of education and ministry grows out of my origins as a minister's kid. In fact, my earliest memories are of life on a seminary campus where I lived with my father as he completed his graduate work. In my world, professional ministry was not something one took on until one had completed both undergraduate school and three years of graduate training. Those men and women who began serving churches in anything other than in the roles of student and assistant before they completed this necessary education were irresponsible- like public school teachers without grad degrees in education, like bus drivers without licenses, like psychotherapists without clinical training. How can one possibly accept a paycheck for professional ministry until one has the educational background and preparation in biblical scholarship and ministerial skills? Following are reasons why you should have a graduate degree before you become a professional member of the clergy.

Reason #1 Your religion and its sacred texts are more complicated than you think.

Despite what many people apparently believe, you actually can't interpret the Bible just by reading it "spiritually." As it turns out, there are methodologies with which one should first become familiar before speaking authoritatively on biblical texts. When interpreting ancient readings, it helps to know just a little about biblical criticism and history- unless, of course, you want to believe that God created all other civilizations to be helpful tools for our spiritual revelation. I tend to believe that other civilizations weren't thinking, writing, and behaving for our benefit but for theirs. Therefore, to interpret their literature, I find it helpful and respectful to acknowledge that it is possible that one cannot directly translate their motivations without first knowing something about their culture. But that's just me...and every other responsibly educated social scientist out there.

That's not to say that one has to be entirely academic when reading spiritual texts. I do believe there are human and spiritual commonalities across time that transcend cultural difference. I also believe that one can receive amazing wisdom in very non-linear, emotional, and inexplicable ways. It is sometimes beneficial to read the Bible "spiritually". Hell, I once received an important message from a fortune cookie. You just never know. So, I have nothing against spiritual interpretation per se. It has a role to play, but a hell of a lot of the the nonsense I've read and heard from many Christians might be eliminated if they had clergy who knew that a pericope was not some kind of exotic fruit.

Reason #2 Churches are full of human beings with complicated needs. They need people with expertise and training not a Pollyanna with a Christ complex.

You can't just go into a church, which is a financial and social body as well as a religious one, without being prepared to deal with the fiscal, emotional, psychological and business needs of that community. A Masters of Divinity is a three year graduate program that prepares professionals to encounter these difficulties. It probably should be a longer program but that's what we've got now. One hopes that those who possess this graduate education will continue to discipline themselves with continuing education and experiential learning. My own father did post-graduate work in clinical psychology after he earned his Masters of Divinity. Education is not a catch-all or a cure-all but it certainly does minimize the number of potential clergical dick decisions such as when my friend's untrained "Pastor" advised exorcism for her children. Being all revved up in the spirit of Jesus ain't going to cut it when you find yourself facing a budget shortfall or a case of child abuse.

I'm still floored whenever I hear about anyone in the paid ministry who has not completed a graduate education. How does that work, exactly? With a graduate degree, one can justify asking for a salary. A qualified minister has undergone coursework in topics such as biblical scholarship, theology, hymnity, and pastoral counseling. Their parishioners can expect a level of expertise, discipline, and access to information that will enhance the well-being of the community. But what if they just show up for work filled with the Spirit of the Lord but pretty light on credentials? What gives them the right to dispense religious teaching any more than the next person? Because they want to? Because they have a special interest? I'd like to teach anthropology to grad students. I've taken two introductory classes in community college. That should qualify me, right? My husband would like to fly a helicopter. He does own a model that actually flies. Maybe that's enough. I say we let him wing it. My father used to assist in autopsies. I say he should give surgery a shot.

Sure, some people are called to the ministry. Fine. So minister. But when you get paid to do that work, you set yourself up as one with authority to whom people in really serious trouble will turn. People respect that authority and they can be hurt by that authority. Badly hurt. I've seen it happen far too many times. This is why responsible people insist upon certain protocols in determining which individuals may provide which services and under what circumstances. Professional clergy must be responsible to a set of standards to which they are held not only by their congregations but also by a governing body outside the congregation.

I see the role of professional clergy as educators, advisors, and administrators. Their usefulness rests in their training and they should be trained to execute the tasks of research, counsel, and business. Their spiritual authority should not exceed that of any other member of the congregation. We should not hire clergy primarily because of their enthusiasm for their faith any more than we should hire college presidents for their enthusiasm for academics. How would that look, anyway?

"And why do you think you would make a good college president?"

"Well, I like to boss people around and I've visited several colleges.I know where the bathrooms are, and I look good in a suit. I'm an excellent bullshit artist and I really want this institution to succeed."

"Well, then, you're hired! What more could we want? I predict that under your unqualified but enthusiastic leadership, we'll achieve all the goals of our five year plan!"

Let me be clear. I am not against emotion, faith, and enthusiasm, but I do differentiate between professional clergy and faith-led ministry undertaken as a spiritual endeavor. As a Friend and as a spiritual person in general, I believe that all are called to ministry. I do not believe that any one person's calling, no matter how fancy or famous, is intrinsically superior to any other person's calling. For some of us, our ministry is obviously traditionally spiritual. For others not so much. We're all precious snowflakes that way, relying on each other to collectively express the fullness of humanity none of us can achieve on our own. We all have something to bring to the community which is why I so appreciate unprogramed Friends' meetings. None of us has authority beyond that borrowed from the community itself in the process of corporate decision making. We recognize that certain members have certain strengths, gifts, training, and talents that will serve us powerfully in specific situations, but do not assume that such gifts qualify them to dominate the discussion or the community in general. I recognize the unique wisdom others can bring to a community but I reject that anyone's wisdom is so unique that they, without any kind of academic or professional training, is better qualified to interpret scripture, advise others in distress, or make executive decisions. I believe we are all spiritual equals. No one has the right to assert any personal authority over any other human being.

We would expect that in addition to that enthusiasm, professionals and community leaders should have the training and background to justify giving them so much access to power. So this is why I am baffled when congregations hire clergy without educational and experiential backgrounds designed to prepare them for them for the position. Enthusiasm alone does not qualify anyone for practical authority. Or maybe I've missed something. Is there a religious wisdom meter out there of which I am not yet familiar? Is there some kind of spirit breathalyzer that can indicate when a person is drunk on the Lord and ready to lead a group of people in their religious life? What gives them the right to assume leadership in a community of potentially endangered, vulnerable human beings? Are they at least given a list of emergency numbers to call when some twenty year old "minister" first comes across a domestic violence victim or a pedophile in their congregation? Are they prepared to deal with it when the parking lot needs paving or the belfry has bats? Mightn't it make a teensy bit of sense to actually require that before someone takes on the role of leadership that they have taken just a few classes, at least, to prepare themselves for the professional clergy? It seems to me that a congregation that hires a minister with less than a graduate degree is like a family that hires a thirteen year old for a babysitting job. The kid's probably a great sitter so long as absolutely nothing unexpected happens while you are away. Likewise, a minister without training will probably do a great job so long as they are placed in a church without any problems. Have you ever been to one of those churches? Me neither.


RantWoman said...

Excellent tirade!

This is all very well for the hireling kind of ministers.

Lately I have been thinking as well that merely acknowledging that we are all ministers really does nothing to help us keep our ministries from tripping over each other!

I have been further meditating about what practices help in this realm. Maybe one of these days I will mix this in with some "Why do I blog?" thoughts.

Karen said...

I often feel that there are jobs that simply shouldn't be given to people under 30, or maybe 40. Not because younger adults don't have incredible compassion, insight or intelligence. Rather that it takes us humans a long time to get round to maturing. I'm 40 this year, and I feel like I'm just on the verge of becoming a grown up. There's so much emotional maturity required to deal with working as a pro cleric, and the experience of having dealt with crises and lived through traumas is surely part of that.

Actually, I tend to believe that if we raised the age requirement for the armed forces to 30, we'd put an end to war. Who'd choose it by the time they'd begun wrestling with their own mortality?

Hystery said...

I think you are onto something with your thoughts about raising age requirements. I'm very like-minded. In New York, we have new laws for graduated drivers licenses for teenagers. This falls into the same category. Teens' reflexes, vision, and physical endurance can be amazing but their judgment and morality have not yet matured. It is not just experience, it is brain development and it is unfair to put a person with a still-maturing brain in life and death situations.

Rant Woman,

Thank you. Tirades are very cleansing. ;-) But I also want to address your thoughts about Friends ministries. Is it enough to say that we are all ministers? I believe we are all ministers whether we know it or not but I think you make such an important observation. We do trip over one another. We are careless in our ministries or even unaware of them. What structures do we have in place in our Society in general and within our specific meetings to nurture these ministries and bring them into maturity? And if these structures and methods exist, are we using them properly? Are they effective? In too many cases, I fear the answer is no.

RantWoman said...

Actually, I know a couple young ministers from different circumstances and I am really enjoying watching them grapple with the tasks and realities of their calling. I also have the impression that they are really well supported which I think is critical.

One of the things I really love about my Meeting is the wide range of ages of people involved with it. Another is that people who are new to Friends arrive at a wide range of ages. This means that a spirit of freshness and inquiry frequently comes mixed with the unique gifts offered by life at different ages.

As for the mentoring, cultivation of ministries, funny you should ask. The topic is much on my mind lately but that does not necessarily mean I have much that is informative to say just yet.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

On your reflection, I feel ambiguous and conflicted...

As a former teacher and youth pastor, with post graduate work and a brief time at seminary (I dropped out) elder, and member of various denominations, and an avid reader of church history, blah, blah;-),
I think neither education nor the lack of education are reliable sign posts to Truth.

The latter--lack of formal education would seem to be a sure no-brainer, but George Fox would seem to show that isn't true. So many brilliant religious leaders of his time who read Greek and Hebrew, with many years of advanced education created the hell of the English Civil War, etc., had a lot of head theology but little Truth.

On the other hand, maybe Fox wouldn't have been so unaware of his own dark side if he had gone to college. Maybe God would have been able to lead him even better with formal training.

And there is so much suffering and awful stuff happening in churches led by uneducated leaders...

And I am very thankful for my formal training at three universities and a little seminary. All that learning did deliver me from a lot of illusion/misinformation, taught me to be more open, less certain, etc.

On the third hand;-), I've known/read far too many brilliant religious leaders who had no spiritual sense--even led people into terrible wrong...

I think that experience is very important, probably far more important than formal training. At least my own work as a youth minister/then teacher would seem to support that. Very seldom, almost never was I in a situation or with persons in which any of my classes in college/graduate school/seminary helped me.
For instance, while I was fascinated by the Welhausen theory of the O.T. and it helped me understand Scripture much better, it wasn't of any use when I was trying to help teenagers deal with immoral temptations, insecurities, family problems and trauma, doubt, media deception,peer pressure and jealousy, etc.

On the fourth hand;-), you're right a degree in counseling would have helped me immensely.

Here's where I am now after a life-time of experience and learning and too many wrong turns...

A religious leader needs:
#1 an experiential relationship with God
#2 formal or on-the-job-training in
spiritual counseling. A background in secular counseling might be worthwhile, but having both formal and wide-reading in modern psychology, I know many secular counselors are even more bonkers than the daffy-religious ones.
#3 a scholarly background in literature, both sacred and secular
#4 lots of experience on the job...
#5 a tremendous amount of humility in herself/himself, but deep confidence in God.

And much more...

As for the fifth hand alternative...;-)

In the Light,


Hystery said...

Daniel, to your list I would recommend that those who are engaged in paid ministry should have continued oversight and counseling from a body of peers and mentors. There is tremendous burn-out among clergy and too much temptation to develop a Christ-complex or worse, a God-complex. Too often, congregations burden their ministers with their problems, crises, and bickering and give little to nothing in return. Clergy need and deserve a group to minister to them and to prevent them from getting too big for their britches.

I certainly feel that training in psychotherapy (both spiritual and secular counseling) along with courses in business administration and organizational behavior, the arts, music, etc. would be helpful. Different congregations will have different needs. My father's churches often were rural churches with recent histories of mergers and discord. His education and practice in psychotherapy was useful. Continuing education for clergy would be a lovely thing too. You can teach old dogs new tricks and old dogs could go back into the seminaries and teach the young pups a thing or two as well.

I differentiate between spiritual ministry which I believe belongs to all of us and the business of shepherding a body of worshipers. If it must be done (and as an unprogramed Quaker I'm not convinced of this)paid ministry should be done by professionals not by enthusiasts. Correction: Paid ministry should be done by enthusiastic professionals.

Lots of stupid sh!t is done in the name of God by people who mistake the arrogant desire to manipulate vulnerable people for a spiritual calling.

RantWoman said...

Daniel, I love your list, AND

--I am ALL ABOUT humility and personal confidence in God bearing through.

--How exactly is one supposed to get the on-the-job experience to make one a leader?

--Can you suggest approaches for acquiring the on-the-job training in spiritual counseling? I am asking because I have been thinking lately about pastoral care among unprogrammed Friends.

I think at its best, unprogrammed Friends' committee approach (speaking for my meeting) can bring many Friends' different gifts to bear on problems; at its less than best, there can be even more amateurish tromping among spiritual daisies and emotional landmines than if such care is done on an individual basis by someone inexperienced.

--I guess my confidence in God experience also means experience drawing gifts even when the gifts are delivered quite imperfectly but maybe that is just more of that humility stuff.

Daniel Wilcox said...


I strongly agree with your points. Sometimes religious leaders are so alone. They need close relationships too.

Because of both my theology and my experience, I question whether there should be any paid religious leaders. I don't think there should be any clergy--laity difference whatever. There are just too many problems/abuses.

I am showing my own religious biases (and maybe 60's mentality:-) here, but what is the point of someone saying/printing: "I am the most right reverend doctor so-and-so" or even worse "Your Excellency, Your Holiness" etc.?

I deeply appreciate the Methodist pastor here who says he prefers to be called simply by his first name. He says,"Yes I earned my degrees,but do I call a member of my church "Congregant So-and-so?"

What happened to the humbleness that Jesus spoke of?

It would seem better if congregations of the faithful (as Friends ideally try to do) were the center and that from there members would be called to volunteer ministry.

If the congregation needs someone to serve full-time in some capacity, then they would set money aside in a fund where the individual would be amply supported, but it wouldn't a salary(an adequate amount, not expect the person to support his family on what most paid ministers and missionaries get)

A salaried ministry seems to always cause problems. Either it produces the horrible abuses that George Fox and others have observed, or it leads to guilt and over-work or it too often makes congregants think that the outreach/care/business of the meeting should be done by the paid clergy/recorded ministers (EFI in Friends).

That isn't NT, nor does it produce vibrant meetings.

Seeking and living in the Truth sure is difficult and complicated, even if it does start "like a little child."


Morgaine said...

And thus I remain a solitary practitioner...I have a deep-seated aversion to organizations herding sheeple.

sta┼Ťa said...

"I differentiate between spiritual ministry which I believe belongs to all of us and the business of shepherding a body of worshipers. If it must be done (and as an unprogramed Quaker I'm not convinced of this)paid ministry should be done by professionals not by enthusiasts. Correction: Paid ministry should be done by enthusiastic professionals."

Within unprogrammed Quakerism, we rather have our heads up our butts about paying ministers. To us, paid ministry = "shepherding a body of worshipers," which, of course, we are deeply suspicious about.

But what about the spiritual ministry which belongs to all of us?

If we expect that kind of ministry to be done always and exclusively without pay, then it is done only by those who can afford to do it: those who are not working two jobs; those who are not single parents; those who can afford babysitters; those who can take time away from paid employment; those who don't need to work for pay. I could go on. You all could add items.

In many of the Meetings I've been part of, I've seen ministry -- including committee service -- unwittingly restricted to people with a certain amount of money and/or family support.

In other Meetings, I've seen support for people who are called to ministry extend from helping with travel expenses to helping with things like rent and groceries, if the minister is called to work that precludes paid employment.

I see this as an issue of social and economic justice.

I realize this is going off on a bit of a tangent, and that I should follow it up with a real post to my own blog, rather than a comment here. :)

Regarding young ministers:

In my experience, with good support and oversight / accountability / anchoring, young ministers can do quite well, and can bring real riches to their communities. But that presupposes that their Meetings, or Covens, or Circles, have a certain number of people with enough depth of experience to do that. I have a middle-aged F/friend who's really struggling in zir ministry b/c ze's a "young person" in zir Meeting, which is very small, and zir Meeting can't provide adequate support and oversight. Luckily, ze's not afraid to look elsewhere for oversight (and in some senses, clinical supervision). But that means those things are coming from someone not rooted in that community.

Which brings me to a larger issue: some Quaker Meetings are very good at providing adequate support, anchoring, and oversight to ministers. Some are lousy. Some of that's about resources within each Meeting; some of that is about temperament. Like much in unprogrammed Quakerism, it varies widely.

The structures are there in unprogrammed Quakerism. And when they work -- in my experience both supporting ministers from within Meetings, and as a minister from within a Meeting -- they work well. But when Meetings don't have the resources, it's hard for everyone involved.

I guess that's more like my five cents' worth! LOL.

Hystery said...

If I had my druthers, there would be no people who set themselves up as religious least not in the paid jack of all trades kind of ministry. What bothers me about it is not so much that I assume that such people think they are more religiously gifted than their congregations (although some do), but that those they serve begin to allow their own unpaid ministries to atrophy. They begin to expect their clergy to do all the heavy lifting and I've seen this wreck the lives and families of paid clergy. So there's that.

On the other hand, whether I like it or not, people do seek out paid ministry as a career and those who do so without any kind of professional training can be a nightmare for the communities they "serve". I don't know a darn thing about Pagan ministers but among conservative Christians...don't even get me started. I've heard distortions of biblical translations used to legitimize all kinds of abuse.

I'm not sure what gives any person, whether Friend, Pagan, or Protestant minister, the right to pose as more spiritually authoritative than any other person, but I do think that those who find themselves in positions in which others seek their counsel, should be prepared to offer guidance grounded in scholarship and professional responsibility rather than charisma and enthusiasm.

Hystery said...

I should point out that this particular post is focused on Christians and Friends but I do also believe that Pagans need graduate level educational programs, not merely for leadership, but because Pagan history and spirituality will be analyzed and deconstructed by others in academia. Since it is going to happen and is happening, I think that Pagans should prepare themselves to be on the cutting edge.

Morgaine said...

Agreed, Hystery. For me (and I did complete my Doctorate of Ministry, and am continuing toward my Master's in Druidry) the education is a vital portion of a very personal journey and continues to be. Our religions are so rooted in cultural studies and history, that to gain understanding takes great effort and discipline and a mind dedicated to expansion and learning. But, I find it hard to claim a capacity for leadership or teaching when I truly still believe there is so much more to learn. I don't know where the threshold is that one crosses to become worthy of a "paid" ministerial position. And in my own mind, I would struggle with being paid to "perform a service" when the service seems always to land on my doorstep in the form of strangers, friends and loved ones who seem to be happy when I can help them, but have really no idea how much they are teaching me without charging me for the learning.

Hystery said...


I appreciate your perspective as one trained to the ministry as I do Stasa's. I also know that Daniel and I share some common observations from our respective childhoods on ministry.

Unlike many Pagans and liberal Friends, my experience of individual clergymembers has been almost uniformly positive. My main criticism would be that the churches they served abused their willingness to give and shirked their own duties toward spiritual development. As a young person, I was mainly aware of just how abusive a congregation can be to their clergy. As an adult, I became increasingly aware of just how abusive clergy could be and I saw that most of these occasions of abusive come out of situations in which the clergy is not trained.

I was called to ministry as a thirteen year old and followed that calling to a liberal Christian seminary (several years after I had become a Pagan). I opted to take the MA program rather than the M.Div. program because I had already determined that I did not wish to be a therapist, businesswoman, community organizer, and musical director. I wanted to be a scholar and public speaker. That was the role I most loved and wished to emulate in my father's career. I saw that the other stuff, at which he was excellent, were also exhausting to both him and to his family.

Having given up the idea that I would be a minister in the same professional context as had my father, I have struggled to figure out what my ministry will look like. I cannot imagine that my meeting will have any interest in my calling to ministry and certainly, I have found little insight as to how the Pagan world would encourage me in my individual calling.

The existence of professional ministry, as I see it, obscures the real and urgent need to develop individual ministries. When our ministries fall outside of that which is typical of paid ministries, we are not taken seriously. I saw this as well with my father when he decided that he needed to move outside of a preaching ministry to the practice of psychotherapy (he had post-graduate training in psychoanalysis and therapy). His denomination did not recognize this as a legitimate ministry and he was forced to switch denominations.

Friends seem to do a much better job envisioning a diversity of ministries but I think that issues of age, class, and gender often make the implementation of an individual's unique ministerial plans a pipe dream.

Morgaine said...

Don't mind me, really; I do mince words. When you said, "When our ministries fall outside of that which is typical of paid ministries, we are not taken seriously." I understand what you were getting at. And I have many continuing good experiences with the Christian, Islamic, Native American and loosely-termed Pagan communities.

But I have to say that in my own experience many people take me seriously and more still do not. The ones who do are generally on their own path of spiritual development and the others seem to be more interested in the camaradarie, the teamwork and the recognition. I don't believe any of them are wrong -- except when their interests and goals harm another's spiritual path.

My concern re. organized herding of sheeple is that when someone in need seeks out a place of spiritual growth and is instead handed a learning list that is more aligned with social development rather than spiritual development under the guise of spiritual development, many in my experience find their own fulfillment lacking or empty and end up with the impression that spiritual development has something more to do with works and deeds rather than real growth and attunement to the spirit.

For me, fulfillment in ministry comes from many places - I get the privilege of working with our local community resources (including many churches of differing denominations) for the least of these in our area, storytelling, one-on-one energy work with those who seek it out from me, assisting with fostering children of abuse, mentoring, spending time with the elders of the community, vocalizing in the community our need to move into a cleaner environmental future, materializing small changes one by one (and taking the dry spells in service to focus on those more personal growth issues).

And for the record, you come across to me as a powerhouse and I cannot imagine that once fixed on a goal, you would find yourself not taken seriously by your peers. So keep writing about these subjects because it feels good to explore them.

natcase said...

Excellent discussion and very clarifying to me. I really like the distinction between spiritual ministry belonging to all, and trained work being something else. I believe on first crack that it ties into what I'm coming to on the nature of work and sabbath, and our meeting (and I expect other meetings') feelings about hireling anything: all the work of the meeting should all be done for love, not money. Which is a lovely blessing when it happens, but the work does need to be done regardless. I think the problem is we can mix up the "professional" part with the part that does not depend on training. The former, being entirely of this world, does require growth and training and learning in this world. The latter is just grace.

Hystery said...

Most things improve with deepening and training. Some of that training costs money and some does not, but most deepening takes time and the support of our families/Friends. I'm frustrated because I see so little support of ministry among Friends whether that ministry is an intellectual/spiritual service or the ministry of after-meeting hospitality. We take each other for granted. We criticize over minutia and dismiss love and intention.

My father's ordained ministry was often dismissed in this way. Sure, they paid him, but they were petty and manipulative. He straddled the role of Jesus Christ stand-in and abused employee. Other parishioners who did all the heavy lifting in the congregation. God help you if you were the one who was willing to care for the babies, or teach in the Sunday school, or clean the building and maintain the grounds. You were then a target.

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