Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Mock Interview - Your Key to Success?

Sorry I've been off-line for a few days. I picked up a bug -- biological, not computer -- that put me out of commission. I'm glad to be back.

Although the main purpose of this blog is to recommend modifications to the examining process for UU ministry, the recommendations (even if immediately accepted) couldn't be immediately implemented. Therefore, individuals preparing for MFC interviews in 2009 can expect to be examined under existing procedures with whatever modifications are already in progress. Not wanting to leave these candidates in the lurch, this blog will also include suggestions for preparing for your MFC interview.

Though I have sought and received input from many individuals, including the aspirants, candidates, ministers, seminary professors, UUA board members, UUA staff members, and WRSCC members and staff, the opinions expressed here ultimately will be mine. (At least, until you start posting comments on them.)

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a small town to raise a minister. Many, many people assisted me in preparing for my MFC exam. Today, I will focus on the Mock Interview, which I found to be the turning point in my preparation.

Those of you who have carefully examined the Competencies for UU Ministry may have some idea of the fear and trembling with which I faced the examination. Whom do you know is well-versed in all 14 of these competencies? After 4 years of seminary and a year of residency, I was aware that there were still gaping holes in my knowledge. Cramming felt like drinking from a fire hose, alternating with despair regarding the impossibility of filling all the gaps before examination time.

Well, in the mock, I learned that I could handle most of the questions that were directed at me. More importantly, I was advised by seasoned ministers that I should give up trying to become "Mr. Know-It-All" (my phrase, not theirs) and focus on ministerial presence.

I have much more to say about the mock, but this post is long enough and the day has gotten away from me. More soon.


  1. It's the "ministerial presence" that gets most folks, as you probably know, so I'd be interested in your take on that.

  2. Thanks. What a great question.

    Let me start by saying that it's precisely the vagueness of the term "ministerial presence,” that begs for job analysis and structured interviewing to help prepare candidates to acquire the experience and the skills so that they can demonstrate that they have this competence. What’s more dangerous about “ministerial presence” than some other competencies is that it might be viewed as an attribute rather competence; therefore, not to be acquired by those not so congenitally inclined.

    Since there is no commonly agreed upon precise description of ministerial presence, our individual understandings are like Venn diagrams, circles that overlap partially but not completely. Furthermore, even if we have similar understandings of what ministerial presence is, we may differ in our judgments regarding how it is demonstrated.

    Last, but not least, candidates may often not know when they are demonstrating ministerial presence. Many have to learn to “perform” ministerial presence by reflecting upon what they were doing or what it felt like internally when they received feedback from others that they had demonstrated it. As Jiddu Krishnamurti said, "We see ourselves in the mirror of relationship."

    In my own mind, for what it's worth, "ministerial presence" is a combination of pastoral presence and ministerial authority. (Yes, I know I have just defined an imprecise term with two more imprecise terms. It is precisely for this reason that further study is called for.) By "pastoral presence," I am referring to emotional presence and availability and the listening skills of the mirroring and empathy. By "ministerial authority," I am referring to the knowledge and confidence that may be acquired through ministerial formation.

    I know that these definitions are not satisfactory, or at least, I know that I am not satisfied with them. Individuals with more insight and experience in the profession, working in collaboration, could develop better descriptions. Such descriptions would be of assistance to both mentors and mentees in the formation process.

  3. Pastoral Presence/Ministerial Authority...also "gravitas" and that difficult to define quality that this would be someone I would feel comfortable having speak at my funeral. And the more I reflect upon these issues in my own ministry, the more relieved I am that I moved through all of the MFC requirements as quickly and deliberately and intentionally as I could, before I really had much of an opportunity to panic about them or even to reflect about how impossible they are to achieve in any "objective" sense. And the truth is, we don't really know what makes a good minister; we just know one when we see one. And few of our ministers really get a chance to explore and cultivate their full range of skills and abilities in the role before they are thrown head-first into all of its responsibilities, and even when we THINK we have done of good job of preparation and formation: both academic and practical coursework, a full range of on-the-job field education and internship opportunities, ample opportunities for psychological assessment and mentoring, we are often setting our candidates up for failure rather than success. Most physicians and attorneys, for example, undergo much more involved "on-the-job" apprenticeships before they are really allowed to engage in the full scope of their occupational responsibilities without the supervisory scrutiny of a more experienced colleague, and enjoy the support of an entire team of skilled and experienced support staff as well. Clergy, on the other hand, typically are "trained" in very different kinds of resource-rich, multi-staff environments before being cast loose to practice our vocation in small, complicated and relatively resource-poor situations where our own definition of "success" may or may not be closely aligned with the working definition of the community itself. The pressures to be "right" and to be "successful" often prevent us from listening closely and learning the lessons we really need to learn, in order to succeed in that very special context. The temptation to listen to our more "experienced" colleagues rather than the people we need to understand in order to serve only further complicates the situation. And so it goes from there. The most hopeful thing, I think, is the knowledge that our "people" really do want to see us succeed as clergy. Sometimes that knowledge alone is all we need in order to obtain all the "presence" necessary,

  4. Thank you for these wonderful observations. You've thrown more light on the challenges of new parish ministers and on the grace that sometimes saves them.

    I am concerned about the comments that "we don't know what makes good ministers" yet "we know them when we see them" because these judgments are contrary to the theses of this blog and the science that supports it. While we do not definitively know what makes a good minister, we certainly have some good general ideas and pedagogical principles around which we have built some aspects of seminary education, psychological examination, parish internship, and clinical pastoral education. This blog argues that we can use job analysis and structured interviews to improve our understanding of what we mean by good ministry, aiding those in formation and those who guide them.

    On the other hand, this blog is driven by the fact that we don't always know a good (or a bad) minister when we see one. A good minister may be hidden behind momentary discomfort as a bad minister may hide behind a good performance. While arguably the good and the bad will eventually be revealed, it is very easy to be deceived and to deceive ourselves in 60 minutes.