It is not an easy thing to be ordained Reverend in the Canadian Mid-West District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
The interview questions are picked from a list of several hundred and deal with everything from the content of Ezekiel 37, to your understanding of the Trinity, to how to deal with unwanted sexually attraction. Being pushed through these high intensity moral and theological intervals drains even the most stalwart of candidates.
It gets even more emotionally taxing when those who have been grilling you for two hours shift gears and become the most pastoral of caregivers, placing their hands on your exhausted and quavering shoulders, and earnestly pray God’s best for you. Usually their prayers reflect a genuine empathy for you and joy in your future. But occasionally they can be guilty of containing strong coaching elements:
“God, Carl here has just told us how he struggles with pornography from time to time. This is hurting his ministry and his family life. Would You deliver him from this? Would You help ol’ lust riddled Carl to find himself an accountability partner to walk with him in this time? Would You help Carl, who even now is probably thinking heaven knows what kind of perverse thoughts, find the desire to put an internet filter on his devices? Would you help Carl not watch movies alone in his basement until the wee hours of the morning?”
If it seems like I am taking shots, it’s OK. I’m currently the longest serving member of the ordination committee (10+ years) so I’m primarily taking aim at myself.
Contrary to my caricature of the interview, we are actually heavily slanted towards candidate success. Indeed, if they have done well with the sermons and papers submitted prior to the interview they basically arrive “pre-approved”. We even give the questions ahead of time. These questions are 99% the same as during my own interview in 2003. In fact, the entire process appears to have not changed much.
Candidates still cram during their drive to District HQ in Regina. The District Superindent still makes the call personally to deliver the news ASAP. In my case, I got the call on my flip phone during the drive back to WPG. The newly minted “Reverend Weselake” stopped at the Red Barn Restaurant in Moosimin and, although it meant spending a double digit percentage of his youth ministries budget, bought himself the largest steak on the menu. This too continues. After a recent series of interviews, I saw a fresh new Reverend out celebrating with their spouse at the Keg – I hope their church footed the bill!
From the outside it might look the same, but from the inside you would see huge shift.
Back in 2003, I remember being eager to talk through the questions with my assigned mentor. I anticipated discussing various theological perspectives. I was disappointed to have my mentor steer me away from discussion and towards definition. I remember his words well:
“The ordination committee is not looking to have a discussion. They don’t care about options for how you might see it. They want you to articulate the Alliance stand on it and know you agree.”
Cue the cue cards.
I wrote “atonement” on one side, and then what I was supposed to say on on the other side with a couple Scripture references just in case I was asked – “and where would you find this?” I ended up with a cue card for every question and flew threw the interview on the strength of my short term memory. My mentor set me up well to succeed by having me memorize the right answers.
But the same strategy would backfire badly today.
Yes, the questions are the same, but our values have changed. The need to be right in a decisive and convincing way is no longer a high value in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Indeed, not only is this strict dogmatic approach not a high value in ordination, it is actually a warning sign the candidate may not function well long term in our denomination.
This is a significant shift to have made in 15 years.
I hope those of you in the Alliance can see the emerging distinctiveness of our brand – some would say this is actually a return to our roots – is the legitimacy we allow for variety of theology and praxis? Is not part of what defines us both the goal for one hundred percent fidelity to Scripture and the humility to acknowledge the futility of realising that goal? Many of us use the image of the denomination as being a “big tent”. The four pegs of the tent are Christ as Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. When we say this, what we are also saying is the rest are details.
Not minor details. But minor relative to this unifying Christological core.
This shift has changed what we are looking for in the ordination process for the better. We no longer look for those who believe only certain things, rather, we look for those who are able to believe a certain way. Specifically, we are looking for men and women who are able to handle complexity with dexterity, non – essentials with humility, and who find their security not in their theological rightness – but from their lived identity as sons and daughters of God.
This lets us find an additional unifying core – in addition to the tent pegs. We can now unify around our common love of diversity. Contrast this celebratory unity with the begrudging unity whose facade crumbles every few years at General Assembly. That is unity despite diversity and I am not sure you can have unity DESPITE diversity.
I wonder if true unity comes not despite our diversity, but because we have a love of diversity in common.