Postmodern Ordination Exams

Today is Ord Day in the PCUSA which means that many students and candidates for professional ministry in my denomination are being examined in one or more of the following required exams:

  • Bible Content
  • Biblical Exegesis
  • Theological Compentence
  • Worship & Sacraments
  • Church Polity

Today is the first time all standard exams will be given online.  Very 21st Century of us.

Some believe the exams are nit-picky and discourage creativity.  They are right.  These exams are about specifics and basics.  Just as Picasso proved himself as a classical painter before introducing cubism, we want our future pastors to know the most basic foundations of the Bible, Reformed Theology and the Constitution of our denomination before creating new ways to serve, worship, and understand God. 

Having said this, I have a couple ideas for ordination questions that I’d love to see included in these Postmodern Ords.  Except for the Bible Content Exam, the questions tend to be essay questions, and in keeping with that . . .

Question 1:

A couple in your church has just lost their newborn after two days in the Intensive Care Nursery.  The child died an hour ago and you’ve been called to come be with the family.  During the visit, they ask you to baptize the baby.  What is you response based upon:

  • Reformed Theology
  • The Directory for Worship
  • Biblical References
  • Pastoral Considerations

Question 2:

A young woman has been worshipping with your community for several weeks and she wants to join the church officially.  However, she cannot say that Jesus Christ is her Lord and Savior.  She would like to believe that she lives a way of life that conveys that Jesus to be her Lord and Savior but – if she’s honest – she tells you that she’s unclear about the Trinity, she fails at following Jesus most of the time, and she doesn’t trust Jesus as much as she would like.  She is trying to be authentic in what she says she believes.  What is your response to her based upon:

  • Reformed Theology
  • The Form of Government
  • Biblical References
  • Pastoral Considerations

Question 3:

A ruling elder has broken her ordination vows.  She has spread gossip about the pastor and sabotaged the committee work surrounding church redevelopment.  What is your response as her pastor based upon:

  • Reformed Theology
  • The Form of Government
  • The Directory for Worship
  • The Rules of Discipline
  • Biblical References
  • Pastoral Concerns

These would be open book questions.  And they would look at church issues in a  wholistic and multi-layered way. 

What questions – or topics for questions – would you like to see asked in 21st Century Ords?

Image is Factory by Pablo Picasso.

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7 responses to “Postmodern Ordination Exams

  1. I have no question suggestions but just as a point of reference–the ordination exams are being given in the office adjacent to mine today!!!

  2. As a parishioner and not a pastor, I would be very interested to know your answers to these questions, and my pastor’s answers, and what the “right” answers are (because there must be “right,” or at least many WRONG answers, I assume?). Would you please consider taking a stab at answering, or maybe writing about what you would hope a candidate would consider in each category for each question?

    • The questions illustrate the complexity of professional ministry in that there are so many things to consider. Answering this question is an all day venture – which is what real ords involve, but generally speaking I’d want to see that the candidate has a grasp of theology, Bible, denominational government, and a pastor’s heart.

      For example, if the person answered #1 by chastising the grieving parents about the theological incorrectness of baptizing a dead baby, that would be a wrong answer, even though it is not theologically correct or necessary to baptize a child who has died. I would want to hear this while taking into account pastoral care and an ability to finesse tricky situations like this. I would want the test-taker to be able to convey the love of God and a Biblical and theological understanding of baptism. I would want to know that the candidate can find support in denominational documents and that he/she understands everything from appropriate boundaries to the theological ramifications of their words and actions. Hope this helps.

      • It does indeed help, and is pretty much the answer I would expect– from my perspective, privileging the personal over the doctrinal. Perhaps part of your objection to (reticence about?) the exams as they are is that they are more theoretical than practical, more head than heart, and heart (people skills, compassion balanced with dictates of Bible, doctrine, conscience, polity) is so much where the work of a pastor lies. Rather like trying to examine / gauge “bedside manner” skills of new doctors.
        I am interested in the second question as well, maybe because I don’t know what the “right” (church’s official) answer to that is, and in the community where I live and have attended church on and off for years, I have met many, many people who might describe themselves this way, myself included.

      • Note to all: this HH (the Commenter here) is not the same person as the one I refer too HH. That other HH is my spouse (“Handsome Husband.”) Just wanted to be clear that these two are not the same. Thanks Hh (Hippiehigh) and I’ll try to answer that second question too. :)

  3. Jo Ann Staebler

    Superb real-world 21st-century questions! And “post-modern” in that there are no exclusively correct answers–the proof is in the thoughtful consideration and what it reveals about the candidate.

  4. hippieseminarian

    That first question, in spirit if not word for word, was included in last year’s examinations. Maybe they’re growing a little?

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