Over the years I have had the great privilege of being a member of several different District Committees on Ordained Ministry as well as chairing a few. There are many things I like about the United Methodist process of discernment in the call to ministry, but I have also wondered if we haven't also hindered the call or in some cases even missed the call of others because our process is so Westernized and institutionalized.
I have said to some of my colleagues over the years that I doubt that Jesus or Paul or any other biblical character would be approved by any UM Board of Ordained Ministry, not because the members of these Boards are not spiritually discerning folks. I greatly admire many of my colleagues on the Board of Ordained Ministry. It's just my hunch that our process itself would question their readiness and even their fitness for ministry. Some may find that comment too harsh, but I have trouble seeing the parallels between the biblical call stories and how those calls are worked out, and our contemporary process for discerning that call. In the Bible when God calls, the one so commissioned immediately gets to work. When someone approaches us with a call to ministry, we immediately want them to complete a battery of tests and read books and fill out a manual.
When one considers the seismic shifts currently happening within so-called "mainline" Protestantism-- the decline in churches, the average increase in age of most congregations, the difficulty that most churches specifically and the denominations generally have in moving into the twenty-first century, while they unwittingly continue to structurally operate as if it is 1957-- it should also be pondered that perhaps a change in the ministry inquiry and discernment process is also required. We want to attract younger clergy to our denomination, but we believe that in the process that we must work to "institutionalize" them so they will be loyal United Methodists. In that process, I can't help but notice that more than a few quickly get fed up with the hoops and strings and drop out, while others don't even venture into the so-called "mainline" denominations in the first place. Like Jeremiah, they have fire in their belly and a burning in their bones, and they are not about to let an "institution" slowly extinguish the fire.
Am I suggesting that we should no longer require psychological testing? Of course not. Do I want us to take just anyone who "feels" God is calling her or him to ordained ministry? Not at all. But I do think we need to be open to, not only using the ministry discernment process to work through one's call to ministry, but we also must know when the process is an obstacle, and then be willing to move the strings and hoops out of the way, so that some dynamic "burning bush" commissions will be allowed to move forward without hindrance.
Having spent time in Cuba teaching Methodist pastors there, the Cuba Conference's approach to ministry is quite different. When a person sensing a call to ministry approaches a District Superintendent expressing such, she or he says, "Great! Go out and start a house church, and when you have ten members, come back and see me."
Is such an approach perfect? No... but there does seem to be something more biblical about it.
At least it appears to be more biblical than, "You think you are called to ordained ministry? Great! Here... take this test."