Anyone who has been a minister more than five minutes knows they are not good at everything the rôle demands. And any half-decent congregation knows they cannot expect their minister to excel in every department.
A common solution is to accept the imperfection, and look for different strengths in the next minister (who will have a new collection of weaknesses). We lecture those church members who complain about a minister’s failure in the omnicompetence department.
When church leadership teams have had unrealistic expectations in their search for a new minister, I have heard senior leaders in my denomination inform them that the minister of their dreams doesn’t exist, or that the Archangel Gabriel isn’t currently looking for a new position.
You would think we had accepted the notion that ministers have some gifts and graces, but not every spiritual gift. You would have thought that we had accepted the New Testament notion about the Body of Christ, where all the gifts needed are not localised in one person, but distributed throughout the whole Body.
You would have thought that, but you would be wrong.
The current selection criteria for the Methodist ministry expects those called to presbyteral ministry to show the ministry of prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. (We are at least let off from being apostles.) Take this paragraph from the document:
Candidates for presbyteral ministry should show:
• Understanding of the prophetic, reconciling and healing nature of Christ’s ministry.
• Evidence of the capacity to become a representative of Christ and the Church, particularly
o The ministry of word (preaching, evangelism, apologetics, theological and prophetic
teaching and the articulation of faith and human experience).
o The ministry of sacrament (in acts of celebration and devotion, especially in baptism
and eucharist) and
o The ministry of pastoral responsibility (oversight, direction, discipline, order and
This is what I mean when I say that the church at an institutional level colludes with the dangerous myth of the omnicompetent minister. This is ammunition for those who would load not only unrealistic but damaging expectations upon ministers.
Contrast this with Ephesians 4:11-13:
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (NRSV)
Tell me who knows better: the Methodist Church or the New Testament apostolic witness?
We should do at least three things:
- Local churches should be encouraged to build their leadership teams to reflect the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, and teaching ministries. It can create tensions between people with differing passions (as I know from the time I did this), but it is worth it.
- In the Methodist case, circuits should be encouraged to invite presbyteral ministers who between them share differing gifts so that as a team they can offer these to the circuit.
- The Methodist Conference should urgently revise its selection criteria.