Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Pastor Interviews

Over the last few days, Dr. Ellis Larsen, of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, has been interviewing a number of our pastors. He is helping us to figure out a strategy for moving our preachers into ordination as soon as possible.

Our pastors are not lifelong Methodists, remember! Most of them were ordained in, or involved with, other kinds of churches, including Pentecostal, independent, Baptist, and Evangelique. Thus, they don’t have a well-informed, highly-tuned understanding of what Wesleyan theology and practice is all about.

One of the questions Dr. Larsen asked each pastor was the same question I have been struggling with over the last week: “Why are you a Methodist? What does being Methodist mean to you?”

Their answers were amazingly instructive. Let me give you a sampling of the general tenor and mood of their responses.

For one, almost all of them answered that they liked the “order” of the Methodist church. They liked the fact that the pastor alone is not the “chief” of the church. He or she doesn’t stand alone, but has the support of a network of church boards and councils, other pastors, and a mission director. Furthermore, the local church does not depend on the charisma or dominance of a single man or woman.

One pastor, in particular, had previously been a key leader in a small, independent church called “Eglise de Jerusalem,” which was led by a charismatic individual from Jamaica, New York. When this individual died unexpectedly, the entire church collapsed, and closed its doors. The pastor told me that he was relieved to be in a church which he knew would survive without him!

Similarly, many of the pastors expressed an appreciation for the structure and order of worship. Many of them come from Pentecostal churches, which tend to have services that can run as long as five or six hours … or however long the pastor “feels led” to let the service run! They have begun using the lectionary, worship planning materials, and written liturgy.

Regarding their faith, the pastors also mentioned that they liked the fact that Methodists did not claim to be the “only” or the “one true” church. There is a sense of openness, tolerance, and ecumenical goodwill in the Methodist movement.

In general, I believe that Dr. Larsen was impressed by the breadth, depth, and integrity of our pastors. By their own admission, they need more training and instruction in Wesleyan theology, and Methodist polity and history. And our next step is to put into place the processes and structures whereby these pastors will receive this kind of education.

That will be part of my job description over the coming years … to make good Methodists of these preachers! God help us all!!