United Church of Christ

November 2019

“How do we know what to include in a program of growth after a Fitness Review? How long should such a program be? How do we help the minister take responsibility for their actions, and give them the resources so they can be healthy in ministry in the future?

            Committees on Ministry are entrusted with the support and accountability of ministers in the UCC. Following a Fitness Review that results in a disciplinary outcome (Conditional Affirmation, Censure, or Suspension), a program of growth is required prior to reaffirmation of standing. Programs of growth, when appropriated designed and implemented, address specific areas of the Ministerial Code that were violated, and develop an appropriate plan to help the minister gain the resources and competencies to help them commit to healthy practices of ministry. By their nature, programs of growth are individual in nature and relate specifically to the minister in question. However, there are some strategies that a Committee on Ministry can use to develop an effective growth plan.

            First, consider whether a psychological assessment specific to the concerns from the Fitness Review is appropriate as a first step towards building the rest of the program of growth. Most Ministry Development Centers or other professional counseling organizations that do psychological assessments for Members in Discernment also provide this sort of service following clergy misconduct.

            Second, look to the outcome(s) the Committee wishes to see at the end of the program of growth. What will be the signs that the minister is able to minister effectively without conditions? The Committee will have already identified the parts of the Ministerial Code that have been violated on the part of the minister; what needs to happen to ensure this behavior does not continue? Beginning with the goals helps define the objectives of the program of growth, and helps target the particular elements of the program of growth. MESA recommends the use of SMART goals – goals with are Specific to the individual, Measurable (there’s a way to tell whether someone has achieved the goal), Attainable (it is within the power of the minister to achieve the goal), Relevant to the concern, and Timely (there is a realistic timeline outlined for completion).

            An element of a program of growth is often “go to therapy for one year.” Worthy as this is, as written it is neither specific nor relevant. How often should one attend therapy? What are the topics for conversation? What is the goal of attending therapy? Is there a signed release so that the therapist can share appropriate information about progress towards goals with the Committee on Ministry? A better way to write this would include all this information. This resource on Programs of Growth has some additional samples, identified in relation to the UCC Ministerial Code and the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers.

            Third, build checkpoints into the program of growth so that the Committee on Ministry can assess progress towards goals. If a program of growth is for one year, the minister can expect to check in with the Committee on Ministry (or a representative) every three months. Programs of growth may be extended if the minister is making progress but needs more time to complete the plan. As with all forms of ministerial accountability in the United Church of Christ, if a minister refuses to participate in or does not make adequate progress on their program of growth, the COM may determine that it is appropriate to terminate the minister’s standing. While this outcome is unfortunate, it is entirely preventable on the part of the minister. 

            Finally, consider carefully how and whether apologies or other acts of reconciliation are appropriate. This may involve the use of restorative justice practices (which are best done with trained practitioners), written or verbal apologies, or some other actions. Of important consideration in this element of a program of growth is the impact on those who have been harmed by the minister. What do they need in order to heal? For some, it may be a commitment on the part of the minister NOT to contact the harmed party.

            Programs of growth have the potential to enable the minister to take responsibility for their actions, build competencies in areas of the Marks that are necessary for faithful ministry, and grow in their practice of ministry. They require considerable work to develop effectively, but the benefits can be significant.

Questions for Reflection:
            Where has the Committee on Ministry seen the benefit of Programs of Growth in the past?
            What worries does the Committee have about developing or monitoring Programs of Growth?
            Where do we need to focus as a Committee on Ministry in order to create more effective Programs of Growth?

Other COM News:
The MESA Team is hard at work finalizing Section 3 Resources for the Manual on Ministry, available on the Manual on Ministry page. Access these materials from the website as needed; over time they will be updated periodically, with most recent revisions noted at the bottom of the document. Current resources have a blue stained glass banner and are easily identified as Section 3 Resources.

The MESA Team is dedicated to supporting your vital COM work through regular trainings offered online. Please check this site regularly for updates. MESA will host several sessions introducing the new Manual on Ministry to the Church in 2019. This year, we are requiring advance registration, so click the link at least one hour in advance of the training (but as early as desired). At a recent MESA Team Retreat, the team discerned that in 2020, MESA needs to prioritize the production of training videos for Committees on Ministry to be able to use at their convenience. As a result, MESA will not be offering live Zoom trainings for the first half of the year except in exceptional cases. During that time, MESA will still be able to provide in-person conference COM trainings, and to consult as needed. Further, knowing the value of live trainings involving multiple conferences, MESA will discern the best ways to offer Zoom trainings in the second half of 2020. In the long run, this will advance our shared goals of accessible and available COM training materials to meet the varied needs of the Church in different times, so we are grateful for your understanding.

Here are some upcoming trainings:

  • November 21, 7:00 - 8:30pm ET, MID Process with Renee Jackson. Come to this webinar to understand the key roles of Discernment Partners and the steps in the Member in Discernment process.
  • December 12, 7:00 – 8:30pm, Marks Assessment with Renee Jackson. This webinar is designed to facilitate the understanding and use of the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers, particularly with Members in Discernment but also with authorized ministers.
  • December 17, 7:00 – 8:30pm ET, Pastoral Relations with Stephen Boyd. This webinar focuses on the purposes and benefits of a Pastoral Relations Committee, addressing concepts like fostering healthy communication, appropriate and inappropriate roles of a Pastoral Relations Committees, and practical aspects such as setting up and maintaining a healthy committee.

Please review our Community Guidelines before posting a comment. If you have any questions, contact us.