Big Tent participants attending an Aug. 3 workshop titled “Preparing Leaders for Tomorrow’s Ministry” were given a first opportunity to ask questions and give feedback to members of the General Assembly Special Committee for Review of the Preparation for Ministry Process and Ordination Exams.

The 220th General Assembly (2012) — in response to an overture from the Presbytery of the Cascades — called for a special committee to study the overall preparation for ministry process with particular attention to the place of the standard examinations within that process. The committee was charged to bring recommendations to the 221st General Assembly (2014) in Detroit.

The workshop, part of the Healthy Ministry conference at Big Tent, was led by Diana Barber, associate synod executive for leadership for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, the committee’s moderator, and Timothy Cargal, interim coordinator for preparation for ministry/exams for Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly, who serves as staff support.

They provided background on the special committee’s charge and an update on its progress and, because the committee is now in the process of drafting its preliminary report, Barber and Cargal invited attendees’ questions and comments on the study’s progress to date.

Among several possible types of recommendations that are being considered by the committee are a non-written assessment as an alternative to the customary written standard exams, encouragement to presbyteries to take advantage of the flexibility within the current Book of Order, and consideration of a proposal for a form of licensure.

A few participants questioned the prominent emphasis given to ordination exams over such issues as readiness and fitness for ministry and general leadership qualities.

Diana Barber

Special committee moderator Diana Barber is associate synod executive for leadership for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. —Danny Bolin

“In the committee’s charge, I heard a deeper call than what was reported on here,” said the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, resource presbyter for the Presbytery of Northern New England. “I’m not sure that our seminaries are preparing candidates for readiness for ministry in today’s context, such as bi-vocational, part-time, and new ministry initiatives. In the presbyteries, we have to deal with non-traditional models, and seminaries have to deal with it for their future.”

Also raised briefly was the value and relevancy of the Biblical language requirement for teaching elders. Michelle Bartel, a member of the special committee and a former moderator of the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates, said that when members were polled, no one thought it should be abolished.

The committee plans to bring its preliminary report to the 2013 Fall Polity conference, Oct.14-16, in Detroit, again soliciting feedback. It will then meet again in early 2014, when it will finalize its recommendations to the 221st General Assembly, incorporating all of the feedback received from across the church.