Saturday, June 27, 2009

Good Officers for Aspirants and Candidates?

Yesterday, an aspirant told me that she had overheard a proposal here at General Assembly that there be "Good Officers" for aspirants and candidates.

"Good Officers" are ministers who have been designated to investigate and mediate disputes between ministers and congregations. The aspirant stated that an aspirant or candidate unhappy with the decision of an RSCC or the MFC may not feel comfortable discussing that decision with a representative of the body that made it. Talking to a knowledgeable third-party could be of benefit.

The aspirant is a student at the Starr King School for the Ministry and can turn to the experienced and knowledgeable faculty there for guidance. But what about the many UU aspirants and students who do not attend UU seminaries?

I believe that this suggestion has sufficient merit to warrant further exploration by the UUMA. What do you think?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Editors: Don't Let Your Papers Leave Home Without Them

Sinces lots of very personal information ends up in your Center for Ministry report, CPE and other evaluations, etc., you'll have a natural inclination to protect your privacy and not share this information any more widely than necessary.  Overcome this inclination!

I'm not suggesting that you put this material on your Facebook page, but I am suggesting that you find several confidants to look at your material so they can:

  • serve as editors; and 
  • predict the interview questions you're likely to receive.
You may believe that your academic advisor can review your material and satisfactorily advise you.  You might be right.  However, don't wait until after the RSCC interview to be disabused of this notion.  Ask ministers, seminiarians, and loved ones to give you their best guidance.

Another critical bit of info.  Unless they have changed their procedures, the RSCC administrators do not give your paperwork to your RSCC liaison until about 2 weeks before your interview.  If you want to have an informed discussion with your liaison months before your interview (always a good idea), be sure to send your liaison enough information for her/him to be able to give you good advice.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Fire in the Belly; Pain in the Heart

No, I'm not trying to come up w/ a list of symptoms for some undiagnosed illness. Rather I've been looking at my own motives for writing this blog.

The pain in my heart is for all those who have been unnecessarily wounded by our current processes for examining for ministry. Let me stress the word "unnecessarily." We need an examining process. There are those who may not be ready for ordained ministry. For those who are ready, a good examining process endorses their efforts and demonstrates support from our Association.

The question I'm raising is whether our current processes for examining for ministry represent best practices in examining and, if not, what are the best ways to modify them.

The MFC has asked the Board of Trustees to charter a comprehensive review of ministerial examining. It's great that we're on the same page regarding this need.

Yet, the fire in my belly and the pain in my heart are fueled by concerns about the damage that may be done while this review is undertaken. On Sunday, I heard another tale of woe about the actions of a Regional Subcommittee on Candidates (RSCC). My interlocutor wanted to know why the RSCC would substitute its judgment for those of individuals such as CPE supervisors and internship supervisors who had much more experience with his performance.

OK, let's presume that this candidate had "stage fright." Several other candidates have reported having same. After all, it feels like one's entire future is being compressed into a one-hour interview. Let's also allow that susceptibility to stage fright isn't a good trait in ministry. The question remains whether we want to use this as an opt-out in our examining process or merely advise candidates how to prepare to overcome it.

WARNING: I may be radically oversimplifying. There may be many reasons over and above stage fright that are causing these candidates to stumble. It just saddens me that so many are receiving what appear to be unnecessary wounds.


  • Let's not wait several years to convene a blue-ribbon panel. Let's start modifying the process now. The MFC and RSCCs can provide additional guidance about their current expectations. This guidance will inform candidates and provide useful information for the panel.
  • Seminaries, academic advisers, internship supervisors, CPE supervisors, and others should be designing and implementing more opportunities for candidates to become test wise. For example, Fred Helio Fred Garcia teaches an outstanding course at Starr King in Media Skills in Public Ministry, which can help candidates prepare for challenging interviews. (As an aside, the film Frost/Nixon is a guide to some of the the perils and challenges of interviewing.)
  • Candidates and aspirants can do more to educate themselves about the process and prepare themselves for the interviews. I am pleased with the buzz for this blog. We may start a new motto: "Mock Interview: Don't leave for your MFC/RSCC interview without one."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Best Predictors

The mantra for performance based interviewing was the following: The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Therefore, we designed interview questions that allowed candidates to describe how they had performed when facing tasks and challenges similar to those of the positions for which they were applying.

However, there is an even better predictor of future performance on a job than past performance in other jobs and life situations: Past performance on the same job. Christine Robinson, aka iMinister, well makes that point in her comment below on my last post. Her thinking is affirmed by Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, Outliers: The Story of Success, in which he criticizes many evaluation techniques as being poor predictors of future performance. He calls this "the mismatch problem," and encourages the use of on-the-job evaluation.

This is a justice issue. One of Gladwell's examples was preference for minorities at the University of Michigan law school. Twenty years after the preferences were granted, minority attorneys who had been granted preferences were performing as well as non-minority candidates who had "higher" qualifications.

In "Minorities Will Strive to Cross a Higher Bar," David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, cites a recent study that shows that undergraduate minority students at elite private universities who receive preferential treatment perform better. People do respond to rising expectations. Kirp shows the fallacies in claims that this preferencial treatment creates another kind of mismatch problem.

How does all this translate into recommendations for examining for ministers?
  • Use the best measures available and recognize their limitations.
  • Take iMinister's advice and put more emphasis on on-the-job performance rather than academics.
  • Provide preferential treatment when warranted and publicize your processes and rationales. This whole-person approach can consider class and other distinctions and expections that have impacted past performance.