Recently, I went to Cuba. The readers of this blog know this. Many of my friends know this. Even those around me at the office know this. This is a series of reflective posts based on that experience. Note, I am not a pastor and will not be in the ordination process — either as elder or deacon. However, I am a former lay minister, in a different denomination, and preach from time to time. I have a Masters in Theological Studies from a UMC Seminary. Plus, I am actually a member of the United Methodist Church and I hope it has a future.
Ordained Clergy in the United Methodist Church are required to have an MDiv (or 90 credit hours of seminary training). Further, they have to go through a process of review and cohorting that may last an additional three years. They have to pass several review boards as well, with the final being the Board of Ordained Ministry, which either grants them a recommendation or delays (if not denies completely) their recommendation. During this time, they have to write numerous papers on various topics among other things. They are, in many ways, held accountable to others during this time.
Recent studies show that ordained clergy in the UMC are dwindling. Why? I would say it is the process as the proximal cause while distal causes exist as well. Is the UMC doing anything to shape the process better? No. As far as I can see, they are making it worse.
I believe we must hold those who will be given the authority of ordained clergy accountable, not only to one another in their covenants, but likewise in their covenants to the larger United Methodist Church. At no point do I think we should end accountability, but the system we have now may need to be improved in order to move pastors away from what they are quickly becoming and towards something more biblical.
In Cuba, they do things differently. It is rare — I didn’t see a one — that someone is singularly a pastor. Rather, they exist as husband-n-wife teams (pastor y pastora). To be sure, there are congregations with senior pastoras. If the senior pastor is male, this doesn’t mean his wife is a pastor’s wife. Rather, the pastora if co-pastor. In the congregations we attended, the pastora displayed as much leadership and control as the pastor.
Once a couple identify as being called to the role of pastor, they begin to train under their pastor y pastora. This may take a few years. At some point, they enter into an extension seminary, which is hosted by a central church of the city. This is actually a seminary designed like a community college. It’s a two year program, I believe. But, here is the kicker. It is not merely for pastors y pastoras, but also for laity. That’s right…for laity. They teach the basics. Wesleyan theology, the bible, and the such.
During this time, the pastor y pastora are given charge of a mission. A mission is not a church. Don’t make that mistake. During this time, the pastor y pastora are charged with growing that mission into a church, i.e., a building with walls along with a house for the pastor and family. There is also a target for membership. The pastor y pastora are still members of the other church, learning and growing and being blessed by their pastor. But, they are also seminary students and pastors in their own right.
After graduating from the extension seminary, they are free to enter into the national seminary, which is like a bachelor’s program. This is required for all pastors, by the way.
There is still the itinerancy program, and if the pastors aren’t growing the church, they move them. There is still accountability, not only to the pastor y pastora of their church and to the members of the congregation, but also to the District Superintendent and to the Bishop.
Can you imagine if we trained would-be pastors in our local churches, so that they must begin (or grow) a congregation and make it successful before they can be pastor? Pastoring is more than making sure you can fill out quarterly reports, can design worship services, and will attend meetings. Granted, pastoring today requires those things (although I’m still mystified by the amount of paperwork the local congregations and their pastors have to continuously fill out), and for some, that seems to be all there is — except for the supposed need to be “prophetic.”
Or, shoot, if we trained laity in our local churches so that they could be effective in the ministry of the local congregation? I’m not talking about (just) working in assistance ministries either — because everyone should do this. Yes, they even had this in Cuba. No, I’m talking about training laity to preach, to teach, and to think theologically. Imagine training laity to…preach…to offer pastoral care…to offer spiritual formation… Just imagine a laity equipped to honor their gifts (with gifts recognized as something more than the gift of administration or quiet obedience; cf. Romans 12.6–8; 1 Corinthians 12.8–10.).
Granted, Cuban Methodists have a wide open field in which to do the pastor/mission method. They can go many places with no local church in driving (walking) distance. In the United States, however, we seem to have two or three churches on every corner. To have a pastor/mission movement may be difficult to do, however, I’m sure we can still learn something from their method. Further, I’m sure we can learn something from the way their view their pastors and the training of their pastors (and laity).
I get the sense from Cuban Methodist pastors that they not only truly love their calling, but are free to fully explore it. They are there working day and night to grow their congregation and then defend it. Some of the places we went, didn’t have much of a wall. Not many had glass in the windows. Some had dirt floors. Yet, their pastor y pastoras (or pastora y pastor) new every aspect of their building and their congregation. They weren’t worried about passing boards, but about the souls they were there to win and then to pastor — and raising up laity to do the work of the church.
So, what do we do? Our system, I do not believe, is going to last much longer. How do we change it and make it look like systems that are actually working?