Friday, February 27, 2009

Hubris, Chutzpah, and A Long Pause

One of my mentors in ministry advised me that its greatest challenge was learning to say "no." She said that there would be more opportunities for ministry than I would have the time or energy to undertake. I did not know then how right she was.

But my delay in posting from 2/15 to the present has not solely been a matter of busyness. It has also been connected with the loss of nerve. Who am I, recently fellowshipped but not yet ordained, to advise about examining for ministry? If I am challenging other ministers, it's chutzpah. If I'm challenging the gods, it's hubris.

Thankfully, my nerve has returned. This project is not about my relative inexperience in ministry. It's not even about my expertise in examining. It's about the synergy that comes from building and facilitating a high-performing team. The best examining processes are developed and implemented in teams. It's no accident that the Supreme Court has 9 members. Good examining requires teams.

So I'm not going to write a lot more right now about changing the examining process for UU ministry. Rather, I intend to move forward with my recommendation to the MFC that they charter a research team and volunteer to serve as a participant or facilitator.

In the meantime, if you have stories, questions, or feedback, please submit them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An Aside: RSCC Interviews and "Recommendations" from the Center for Ministry

The other day a seminarian told me that she'd received a "yellow light" from her Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy (RSCC) because she hadn't acted on a "recommendation" from the Center on Ministry. The RSCC told her how to implement the Center for Ministry recommendation, and required her to do so before returning to see them again. Obviously, she did not know that Center for Ministry "recommendations" are requirements unless you can make a well-documented case that they are erroneous.

You may wish to fault this aspirant for her naïveté. However, it's likely that other aspirants have been similarly naive.

After the interview, a friend told the seminarian that therapists and counselors don't direct, they recommend. This leaves me wondering whether she shared her Center for Ministry report with others and obtained guidance in its interpretation.

As my mother used to say, "a word to the wise is sufficient." May these words be that for current and future aspirants.

Step 2, Part 2: Further Research

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
US poet (1819 - 1892)

OK, OK, I'm not going to claim I contain multitudes. However, I am learning that writing a blog means at the least that I sometimes repeat myself (and probably sometimes contradict myself as well).

One of the challenges in the next step of the research is distinguishing the basic competencies expected of all UU ministers and the competencies (or the levels of attainment of competencies) for different types of ministry. (Currently, the three broad categories are parish, religious education, and community. Each of these categories could have subcategories, such as medical chaplaincies, prison chaplaincies, adult education.) For example, chaplains may rarely preach and may not have or need the expertise in this competency parish ministers develop. Conversely, some parish ministers may rarely provide counseling and may not have nor need the expertise that chaplains develop.

There is merit in having the assessment for preliminary fellowship be for ministry in general. It allows the newly fellowshipped to explore different opportunities in ministry without seeking the MFC's approval for every change. Conversely, it allows the MFC to set foundational qualification for all UU ministry.

Yet, examining need not be an either/or proposition. The MFC could continue to examine candidates for ministry in general while directing or weighting some of the questions to be more specific ministry or ministries for which the candidate is preparing. I suspect that it may already be doing so.

While I have been focusing on competencies and interviewing in this blog, a thorough soup-to-nuts review would include the entire process of ministerial formation and development. The magnitude of this task is another argument for the development of a research team. Maybe the team members will be the multitudes to which Whitman was referring.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Step 2: Conducting Research for the MFC, Part I

My many years in planning have taught me that my crystal ball is often cloudy. When it comes to research, it can even be stormy. Research will go where it will. What follows is intended to be neither comprehensive nor definitive.

"Research" is too large a topic to be covered in a single post. So this is Part I.

The best place to start is assembling the research team. It should include individuals with expertise in examining, ministers successful in different types of ministry, and interested stakeholders.

The team would start by collecting information from the MFC and others about the history of the MFC and its current practices. It would then conduct a literature search and look for "best practices" in examining in other denominations/religions and in related occupations. Focus groups also are likely to be helpful.

One of the challenges facing the research team will be obtaining consensus about just what is expected of UU ministers. For example, for years there has been much discussion about UU growth (or the lack thereof). People have argued about whether this means growth in numbers of congregants, social justice, spiritual depth, or some other parameter. How important is "growth" and what is meant by it?

To put this search for consensus and clarity in the broadest perspective, what do the UUA and its member congregations hope to accomplish in the foreseeable future and how will they examine for ministry so as to support those objectives? This links examining to workforce planning and workforce planning to strategic planning.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Beginning Again at the Beginning: A Research Team

This morning someone pointed out to me that it's hard to find my recommendations for the MFC on this blog. That observation is accurate. I have been dancing around the subject, collecting my thoughts, while I sought a better understanding of where the MFC was in its process. I will use the label "Recommendations for the MFC" to make it easier to locate posts on this subject.

Now I am ready to make more specific and systematic recommendations. Once I get them all together, I will submit them to the MFC. In the meantime, I would love your feedback.

Each year when the MFC visits Berkeley, it has an informal get-together on Holy Hill. At this year's gathering, it was quite evident how hard the volunteers who make up the MFC work reviewing tons of paperwork and attending meetings. Redesigning an examining process is a major undertaking. Any recommendations for the MFC should account for these facts.

My first recommendation is that the MFC charter a research team. Ideally this team should include as a consultant or a member a psychometrician (a psychologist who specializes in tests and measurements). It should also include UU and non-UU ministers and laity. A process like this always benefits from a multiplicity of perspectives.

The first task of the team would be to review the existing competencies and to collect information about ministerial competencies. Excellent sources for such information are ministers who are well respected by their colleagues and by those whom they serve.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where is the Ministry?

After more than 30 years of organizational development (OD) and human resources work, I find myself serving as an OD consultant to a local UU congregation and the author of this blog. As a recently minted UU minister, I am trying to figure out what it means to do this work I love as a ministry.

In some ways OD work is naturally a ministry. You are ministering both to an organization and the individuals who make it up. To take a broader, ecological view, you are seeking to understand and support the organization and those affected by it as part of the interconnected web of existence. In business-speak, you look for employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and affected communities. In congregational consulting, you work with the members and friends of the congregation, visitors, the congregation as a whole, the committees and groups, the board and the officers, the minister(s), the staff, neighboring UU congregations and communities, the district, and the UUA. (And, I'm sure I've missed a few.)

Somewhere during my medical center chaplain residency, I recognize that my OD background was not always serving me well as a chaplain. I wrote that I needed to move my attention from the god of efficiency to the goddess of compassion.

So what does it mean to have a compassionate organizational development ministry? In this time of economic and political turmoil, this is a wonderful question. Organizations are dying right and left; individuals are losing their jobs.

Many years ago I read Healing Into Life and Death by Stephen Levine. It had a profound impact upon me. It made me recognize that our ministries aren't always about healing into life; sometimes are about healing unto death. And the "death" may not be the death of the body; it may be the death of old perspectives and beliefs.

Over at Philocrites, there is a wonderful post and comments on the question of whether UUism is or can be transformational. By claiming that UUism could guide one in growing a soul, A. Powell Davies built upon the salvation-by-character theme of William Ellery Channing.

The comments at Philocrites indicate that the word "transformation" has different meanings to different authors. I can testify to the transformational nature of UU communities and UU ministers. What are your experiences of transformation in UUism? Are their competencies possessed by UU minsters that facilitated those transformations?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Examining for UU Ministry & the UUA Presidency

On Wednesday, iMinister posted the written responses of Peter Morales, a candidate for the UUA presidency, to a question in a candidate's forum. The question was the following:

Imagine five years have passed and imagine that your vision for UUism is fully alive and thriving. What three to five goals have been realized?

His response included the following goal:

We have developed a strategic vision for ministry and are beginning its implementation. Our strategy for ministry has been developed through consultation with stakeholders. Our strategy is a comprehensive approach that includes recruitment, training, placement, mentoring and development of professional ministry.
I am very heartened by these words. While the subject of this blog currently is examining and interviewing for UU ministry, Peter's broader approach is to be commended.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sex, Lies, and Competencies

Okay, I cheated a little bit, maybe even lied a little bit, in my choice of title for this post. It's not going to be about sex or sexual competencies; however, it will be about lies and competencies. I just wanted to give a shout out to a wonderful movie title, "Sex, Lies, and Videotape."

In Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams, Lou Adler argues that we cannot trust our intuition when it comes to using interviews to make hiring decisions. Though it is possible that interviewees may lie, he is more concerned about the lies that interviewers consciously and unconsciously tell themselves about the selection process.

Though it might well be said that in calling ministers one should use head, heart, and soul, Adler is pointing the hard headed work is needed to make good selections. He cites a study (John Hunter & Frank Schmidt, "The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology," Psychological Bulletin, 1998, vol. 124) which found that the typical employment interview is only 57% effective in predicting subsequent success on the job, or only 7% better than flipping a coin. He cites several reasons for this low success rate; a critical one being too much focus on the interaction between the interviewee and the interview, and too little on the candidate's capacity to do the job. In other words, interviewers were examining the interviewees' capacity to interview rather than their ability to work. Could "ministerial presence" be another name for competency as an interviewee?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Paradox

Just finished listening to Numbers, a This American Life podcast. In Act 4 of this podcast, a marketing man tells how he used the tools of modern brand marketing to "sell" himself to his own wife and how it helped their marriage. Act 5, Break It Down, is a short story by Lydia Davis about a man who tries to calculate what love costs.

The contrast between the two Acts is telling. Both the marketer and the love love their partners. The marketer began going steady with his wife when they were both 14; they both went to the same college; they've been married for several years. The lover describes a mutually intentional short-term relationship.

The marketer thought he knew nearly everything there was to know about his wife. He felt silly using the tools of his trade to market himself to his wife, but he was doing it as a project for work. Much to his surprise, he found out that there was much he did not know.

Particularly compelling was an observation by Ira Glass, the host of the program. He speculated that the marketing work so well because it allowed a translation of what was most important to the wife into words the husband could understand.

The emotionality, the pain, and even the despair in Act 5 are more obvious. The lover loves; yet he (she?) must face the inevitability of the end of the relationship.

What do these stories have to do with "Calling Ministers"? The parallels and the paradoxes are interesting. Like love, there are aspects ministry that can't be quantified. Both stories from This American Life show the limits of communication. The surprise is that in a situation (a marriage) where one would think certain tools (marketing) would not apply, important lessons were learned.

They are interviewing and assessment tools that were developed in academia and first applied in the private sector would benefit the examining process for UU ministry. Much would be learned, both by the examiners and the examinees. In future posts will explore the benefits and the limits of applying these tools.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Professional Competencies

As stated in an earlier post, there are 15 areas of competence for fellowshipping as a UU minister. 10 are academic, and 5 are professional. The latter are worship, preaching, music aesthetics; pastoral care and counseling; leadership and organization; administration and management; and anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism.

Those of you who are reading closely will note that the "5" areas of competence are actually 12 areas of competence. Let's take a closer look at a couple of these:

  • Worship, Preaching, Music Aesthetics: Candidates are expected to know the theory and art of worship, preaching and rites of passage, and have experience in conducting religious ceremonies.
  • Pastoral Care and Counseling: Candidates should be familiar with theories, techniques and issues related to pastoral counseling, and be able to demonstrate ability in pastoral counseling. One unit of Clinical Pastoral Education is required.

The first question that naturally arises regarding the Worship area of competence is whether there should be a comma and the word "and" after the word "Music" in the first competency. Are candidates expected to be competent in "music" and "aesthetics" or "music aesthetics"?

How much experience are candidates expected to have in conducting religious ceremonies? Are there measures of competence in conducting such ceremonies and how will candidates demonstrate that they competently conducted such ceremonies.

There is some guidance in the Pastoral Care and Counseling area of competence. Candidates must have completed one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Is that sufficient experience? What distinguishes a successful CPE unit?

There are over 250 theories of personality. How "many theories, techniques, and issues related to pastoral counseling" are candidates expected to have absorbed? How are they to demonstrate competency?

Some of the above questions are difficult, if not impossible, to answer definitely. However, it's quite possible that the competencies could be written in a manner that would make expectations clearer.