Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Successful UMC Interviews

Here is Andy Bryan’s guide to a successful interview in the United Methodist Church. 

It’s just three steps:
1) Be relentlessly positive about your current ministry,
2) Use copious amounts of orthodox Wesleyan terminology,
3) Restate everything you say with “relevant” and “accessible” illustrations.

In the UMC, to get from “not-a-pastor” to “pastor,” there is a series of interviews or conversations we have. First, with our pastor. Second, with our Pastor/Parish Relations Committee. Third, with our District Committee on Ministry (dcom). Some pastors stay there, and return annually for a continuation interview. Others go on to the next interview, with the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (bom). Of course there is more to it than that, but that’s the rough outline.

The interviews with the dcom and the bom are often very stressful, tense, and create anxiety and tears, which people always say they want to change, but no one ever really does. So I’ll try.

If a candidate for ministry, a licensed local pastor, a candidate for ordination, or any other of our variety of categories of pastor will just follow these three simple steps, I promise you the interview should be a success.

1) Be relentlessly positive about your current ministry. There is a time and a place to express uncertainty, doubt, and frustration about ministry. Every one of us needs to find that time and place and share those things with trusted friends. The dcom and the bom are not those people.

You must speak about fruit, and outward focus, and specific projects you are doing in your community, and “new people” in the church. If possible, tell a story about one particular person whose life was impacted through the ministry of your congregation. Subtlety and nuance are not valued here; be clear and be bold and be precise.

And if there are none of these things in your current setting, you must talk about the potential you see for these things in the future. You must say that your are “planting seeds” or “trying to turn the ship around” or another metaphor that implies a long process that is making incremental progress. And by the way, be relentlessly positive about the potential that you see in this process, too.

2) Use copious amounts of orthodox Wesleyan terminology. There is pretty much a list of terms that the people on these committees are looking for. Things like “means of grace” and “prevenient, justifying, sanctifying” and “open communion table” and “way of salvation” and like that. Know and understand what these terms mean, and use them often.

Some individuals on these interview teams see themselves as guardians of Methodist orthodoxy, so this is no place to be creative or philosophical or try to say things in a new and fresh way. Stick to the script. If you can work it in, quote from one of John Wesley’s sermons or recite a verse of“And Can It Be That I Should Gain.”

If you want to do a more creative, poetic, or edgy theology, do it at another time and place. Do not try to impress the dcom or the bom with new words and phrases. You will not get extra credit for being pithy. Speak Wesleyese. (Weslese?)

3) Restate everything you say with “relevant” and “accessible” illustrations. This is a crucial step. You cannot just leave your ideas in the realm of “by the book.” You cannot just give an academic response and say no more. You MUST then follow it up with “in other words,” and proceed to illustrate the point with language that you would use in a confirmation class, or with people who are brand new to church.

Yes, your interview audience is a group of educated church leaders who are in the loop. But they want to hear that you are able to relate to people who are not. Talk about the way of salvation, then say, “Because life is a journey, right? You go from beginning to end not in a smooth straight line, but in a series of hills and valleys, and the grace of God is with you in every step.” Or some such thing.

Remember that these are church leaders who are panicking about the future of their denomination, and desperate for “new people” in the church. Fair or not, they are looking directly at you to be the one to “save the church,” and to do that you need to be both perfectly orthodox and refreshingly relevant.

And so that’s it. If every UMC interviewee will just do these three things, I promise you your interview will be successful. And if it isn’t, if you get a call that says the committee has not approved you for certification or continuation or commissioning or ordination, you have every right to ask for clear, concise, specific reasons why not. Do not settle for nebulous and confusing answers. If you need to, call the chair of the committee and ask to see in writing the exact reasons you have been denied. Also ask them specifically what the next step is, how would they suggest to go about it, and what the timeline is for completion. Ask for specifics, and do not settle for anything less that utter transparency.

UMC candidates for ministry, this is your life; this is your calling; this is your identity. No, it is not fair for so much to be decided about such significant matters in a mere hour-long interview with a handful of people. But listen, the system isn’t going to be changing any time soon, which means candidates are going to have to be the ones to do so.

Be relentlessly positive.  Be unflinchingly Wesleyan. Restate everything with simple, relevant illustrations. And if you need any help, give me a call and we’ll see what we can do.


Unknown said...

Thanks Andy! I'm putting this in my folder of ordination stuff to refer to before my next interviews.

john said...

definitely do NOT refer to the DCOM chairwoman as Babe LOL