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Using the Marks for Assessing Members in Discernment and Developing their Learning Plans
A Resource for Committees on the Ministry

The Ministry Issues Pronouncement affirmed a shift in the culture and process of authorizing individuals for ministry, from one of certifying that individuals have met educational attainments through degree programs to one of assessing their actual qualities and abilities. To that end, the MIP produced a list of “marks” of faithful and effective ministry that good ministers exhibit. The use of Marks allows committees a way to assess individuals who have not prepared for ministry through institutional degree programs. But just as important, the use of Marks demonstrates that the denomination holds its own expectations of those being formed for ministry, independent of and alongside the expectations that may be held by other institutions. Using the Marks as a basis for assessment is consistent with trends in education and formation toward competency-based learning. When these Marks are used with individuals, they reveal patterns of strength and weakness, promoting both realistic assessment and planning for continuing development.

This shift in process and culture admittedly requires more work of a committee. However, by becoming more involved in the direct assessment of individuals’ qualities and abilities, committees will live more deeply into their calling as those charged with identifying the church’s new leaders and equipping future saints for ministry.

This resource is designed as a workshop that takes about two hours.

I. Warm-up Reflection

Craig Dykstra, senior vice president for religion at the Lilly Endowment, writes that “To be a good pastor you have to be very smart in lots of really interesting ways” (“Pastoral and Ecclesial Imagination,” in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry, Dorothy C. Bass and Craig Dykstra, eds. Eerdmans, 2008, p. 51). Being a good pastor, he goes on to say, requires both substantive knowledge and practical know-how. These two (substantive knowledge and practical know-how) are not the same thing, but they are both essential to “being very smart.”
The Ministry Issues Pronouncement affirms the distinction between “having smarts” and “being degreed.” They overlap, of course. By pursuing formal degree programs, ministers in formation have the opportunity to develop their smarts in classrooms and internships. These experiences are very important to the formation process. But ministers also develop “street smarts,” if you will, through lived experience. Some kinds of knowledge, in fact, can only be gained this way.

  • In what ways do you think good pastors need to be “very smart”?

II. Exercise on the Marks

If you had to come up with a list of knowledges and know-hows that ministers ought to manifest, what would make the list? To use the language of the MIP, what do you think are the “marks of faithful and effective ministry” for any UCC minister?

  • Create a list of the qualities and abilities you consider essential to faithful and effective authorized ministry.
  • Now, read through the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers of the UCC (Draft 3.1, pp. 17-21). Are there similarities between this list and yours? Differences? Note: Click on the word “Draft 3.1” for a link to the document, then scroll down to the appropriate page.

III. An overview of the process

A COM must make an initial assessment of a Member in Discernment’s knowledge and skills. You identify the marks that s/he already has and correlate them with past coursework completed through formal degree programs as well as other past ministry and life experiences. Then, you identify the marks s/he still needs to develop and correlate those with courses or experiences you would like to see her/him have. This leads to the development of an educational and formational plan (the “EFP”) for a Member in Discernment. Note: You will develop an EFP for all MIDs, including those enrolled in formal degree programs. There may well be formative experiences (mentoring, internships, spiritual direction) you would like to require of a MID that lie outside a degree program.

  • Review the Initial Assessment chart (Draft 3.1, p. 62) and the Chart Correlating the Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministers with Educational Content (Draft 3.1, pp 142-48). You will see that this Chart is partially filled in. Note: Click on the word “Draft 3.1” for a link to the document, then scroll down to the appropriate page.

IV. Working with cases

As you know, all Members in Discernment are different. Each MID will require an EFP that is tailored to them. In developing these plans, you may initially think that the most challenging MIDs will be those without formal theological education, but all MIDs potentially pose challenges to a COM. To practice using the Marks for assessment and the development of an educational plan, try working with some cases. These cases may remind you of members you’ve worked with in the past, or they might help you envision the sort of members you will encounter in the future.

  • Divide into groups of three. Group One will work with The Case of TJ; Group Two with The Case of the Farmers, and Group Three with The Case of Felicia Franklin (see cases, below).
  • Read the case itself first, without looking ahead to the suggested EFP and continuation of the case.
  • Use the Correlation Chart (Draft 3.1, pp. 142-148) to identify the marks already evident and the marks still in need of development for the MID in your case. Note: Click on the word “Draft 3.1” for a link to the document, then scroll down to the appropriate page.
  • Then draft an Educational and Formational Plan for your MID.
  • Now, read the suggested EFP. Are there similarities between the plan outlined there and the one you came up with? Differences?
  • Finally, read the continuation of the case. You will see that the plot thickens! How would you handle the case now? What would be your next steps as a committee?

Each group can share its results with the whole gathering.

The Case of TJ
TJ retired from the Coast Guard after 20 years of military service. With a pension and benefits package that were adequate, he returned to Ames, Iowa, where he had grown up. After two years of retirement, regular attendance and membership at the local UCC and some regional lay school courses, TJ talked to the pastor and congregation about a path to ordination and possible missionary work in some underserved region. After some time in discernment, the congregation and pastor recommended TJ to the Association’s Committee on Ministry as a Member in Discernment.

The COM met with TJ and conducted a get-acquainted session. Pleased with their conversation, they encouraged TJ to be active in the Association and Conference during their season of discernment. They selected a mentor from the COM. They asked TJ to provide a brief chronological overview of his life experiences and a return visit.

This is what the COM learned from the overview of his life experiences: TJ grew up in Ames, Iowa, attending a UCC church, going through confirmation and all the activities of the church until he went off to a UCC-related college and earned a liberal arts degree. Subsequently he joined the Coast Guard. TJ attended UCC churches when they were available, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches when they weren’t. He had been to General Synod a few times and toured the national headquarters in NYC and Cleveland.

In college, TJ had taken survey courses in the Old and New Testaments, religious ethics, and humanities courses in church and society and human sexuality. Of course, that was 25 years ago.
In the Coast guard, TJ advanced through the ranks. He taught life skills to those joining the Coast Guard. He took courses every year in leadership, diversity training, first aid and CPR, and he kept up with new rules and regulations for the mounds of paperwork. TJ attended church as often as possible without elected responsibilities. At the regional school, TJ took what was offered: UCC History and Polity, Bible courses on the Beatitudes, the epistles, and Advent and Lenten lectionary courses.

The COM met with TJ throughout a year, watched him as he became active in the Association. They worked with him on a portfolio of experiences and an Individual Educational Plan.

Question for discussion: What educational plan would you design for TJ?

Suggested Individual Educational Plan for TJ:

  • Attend two years of seminary at one of the UCC-related seminaries which would include appropriate psychological testing and boundary training.
  • Serve and internship in the Association (near Ames).
  • Teach in the regional lay ministry school.
  • Seek a call in the Association. (Scholarship aid would be contingent on TJ wanting to come back to the Association to seek a call.)

The Case of TJ, cont.

TJ, retired Coast Guard member and now fulltime seminary student and Member in Discernment, is closely adhering to his Individual Educational Plan, except for meeting periodically with his assigned mentor and the COM. Because the COM has a balance of clergy and lay person and at present, the chairperson is a new lay leader, TJ finds her persistent questioning and invitations to meet regularly annoying and intrusive. He is excelling in all of his classes, having hired someone to tutor him in Greek. As recommended by the COM, he serves on an Association planning committee, voluntarily teaches biblical studies (Old Testament prophets and the Gospel of Mark) at the regional lay ministry school, and as time and finances allow, he attends lectures by prominent, progressive biblical scholars. He always volunteers to preach at the Association and Conference annual meetings.

The COM see TJ in his various public roles, but for quite some time he has been unable to attend the COM meetings as requested. He has curt with the chairperson when she called to invite him to their last meeting. The chairperson had heard that he was aggressive and self-promoting as the Associational meetings. The COM noted that physically his appearance had changed, notably his weight gain and paled coloring. Since these observations and hearsay are not covered in the “check list from the new manual,” (the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers) they moved on to address what they could and should, but didn’t call him to accountability.

The COM used the Marks to assess the knowledge and skills area where they thought TJ had done well in the public arena. The chairperson and his assigned mentor sent him a supportive letter and a summation of their assessment and asked him to call them when he was ready to meet with them.

Question for discussion: If you were on TJ’s COM, how would you have handled the situation? What would you do next?

The Case of the Farmers

Pat and Jan Farmer, a young adult couple, run a small truck gardening business with their extended family. Pat and Jan use the computer and internet for advertising, marketing, contracting, licensing and bookkeeping.

As early as their teens, Pat and Jan were called on to fill in for the vacationing pastors in area UCC and Lutheran churches. When their UCC church was between pastors, Pat and Jan took turns leading worship and helped the church conduct business. After the second interim, Jan and Pat presented themselves to the local church as wanting to be licensed or ordained pastors.

After a considerable time of discernment, visits from the Conference minister, and the COM, the church agreed to support this couple during their discernment period. The church recommended them to the COM as Members in Discernment. The COM and Jan and Pat agreed that they would seek licensure as a path to ordination. They covenanted to follow an Individual Educational Plan.

Questions for discussion: What educational plan would you design for the Farmers? Would you design a joint plan, or different plans for each of them?

Suggested Individual Educational Plan for the Farmers:

  • Four settled UCC pastors in the 100 mile radius of the couple would serve as mentors over a two year period for the following ministry activities: preaching, church administration for a small church, visitation in the home and hospital, working with youth.
  • Pat and Jan would take online courses from UCC-related seminaries on UCC History and Polity, Surveys of Hebrew and New Testament scriptures, and other courses their mentors and regional lay school did not offer. The regional lay school was 100 miles away, so Pat and Jane would alternate between the two of them attending.
  • Pat and Jan agreed to a conversation with a psychologist, not for testing but for assessing healthy relationships and boundaries. They would view “A Sacred Trust” videos.
  • They would take an active role in the Association.

The Case of the Farmers, cont.

Pat, Jan, and the COM are struggling with their agreed-upon Individual Educational Plan that was to prepare them for licensure and toward ordination. Being licensed pastors at their local church, meeting with mentors, going to the regional lay school, and taking online courses, plus running a small truck farm was too much! It seemed everything that could go wrong, in fact, did. The COM knew their circumstances well since a member of Pat and Jan’s church served on the COM.

A more protracted plan was negotiated and some expectations were modified. More at-home reading, listening to assigned podcasts, time on the UCC website and www.textweek.com were recommended. The four mentors, Pat and Jan would “chat” online or telephone once a month. Pat and Jan would continue to alternate attending the regional lay school.

The COM agreed to hold their meetings periodically at the church where Jan and Pat served and at least some Committee members would attend the morning worship service to assess the relevant Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers.

Questions for discussion: If you were on the Farmers’ COM, how would you have handled the situation? What would you do next?

The Case of Felicia Franklin

Felicia Francis Franklin had been a member of another denomination for all of her childhood and young adult life. She was into her third year of seminary when she learned of the United Church of Christ’s General Synod support for Marriage Equality. Felicia immediately joined the nearby UCC congregation. Seeing her enthusiasm, warmth, and readiness, they recommended her to the Association Committee on Ministry. The COM quickly met with her and put together a portfolio of her Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers. They also put together an Individual Educational Plan.

Question for discussion: What educational plan would you design for Felicia?

Suggested Individual Educational Plan for Felicia:

Since they had not seen her in her preparatory stages, the COM gave her two options for her last year of seminary. One was shadowing a UCC pastor who was in a church near the seminary. The pastor would also mentor Felicia and give her opportunities to work with the youth and occasionally preach. The second option was to conduct a short-term book study sponsored by the UCC church at the shelter for battered and abused spouses. She chose the latter.

With Felicia’s knowledge and permission, certain members of the COM accepted assignments to drop in on the book study, have lunch with her at the seminary, and one person agreed to talk with Felicia’s former pastor and former regional director to verify her past level of participation in church.

The Case of Felicia Franklin, cont.

While enthusiastic and warm toward the spouses in the shelter, Felicia’s leadership of the book study was marked by inconsistency and odd remarks. At times her interpretations of the book reflected theological convictions that were out of character with most UCC churches. She told one woman she would help her file for divorce without getting to know the woman or her situation.

When the COM member met with Felicia’s former pastor, he told a story of an energetic but scattered young woman who was inconsistent in church participation and who did not follow through on responsibilities. To hear him tell it, Felicia was more interested in criticizing the denomination’s politics than anything else. When the COM member met Felicia for lunch at the seminary, they ended up spending the whole time in a long philosophical argument about abortion. Felicia didn’t introduce her to anyone at the seminary, and when they passed by the chapel, it was clear Felicia rarely attended and didn’t know when services were held.

Question for discussion: If you were on Felicia’s COM, what would you do next?

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Contact Info

Barbara Blodgett
Minister for Vocation and Formation
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115