It’s that time of year again. United Methodist candidates are being interviewed to become credentialed clergy – consecrated and ordained. For most candidates, it’s a six to eight-year process. I served on our conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry for a time and as its chairperson. I witnessed a broad spectrum of candidates who came through the process. Most candidate did well; the vast majority made it through the process with relative ease. Some candidates were not ready. Others lacked self-awareness.
In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of candidates having self-awareness. Effective clergy have a high level of self-awareness to help them navigate the relationship system of a congregation. Why seminaries don’t teach students how to develop awareness of oneself in a relationship system is beyond me. Pastors get themselves into trouble, not because of their theology or their concept of God, but because they don’t know what to do with tension or a high level of anxiety in the congregation. In addition to candidates working on their level of awareness, interview team members need to work on it, too.
It’s important that an interview team work to create an interview process that is fair. Sometimes there are problems with the interview. Most boards have procedures in place that encourage a good process and they have procedures in place in case something goes wrong. Ideally, everyone on an interview team is working to manage their anxiety. But, it's not always the case.
My assumption is that process is more important than content. Yes, candidates need a certain level of content to be ready and effective in ministry. But it’s the interview process that makes the difference. Of course, when it comes to process, there are lots of variables to consider. I’ve created a list of variables that I think go into predicting the quality of the interview process.
- The level of chronic anxiety in each member of the interview team and the candidate. Chronic anxiety can actually be measured.
- The number of life stressors in each member of the interview team and the candidate on the day of the interview. This number also can be measured with a simply questionnaire.
- The number of resources available to each person on the interview team and the candidate. This would be the number of important people that are available to each person as a resource.
The result (of the three variables) is equivalent to an emotional state that determines the level at which one is functioning. If 1 and 2 are low and 3 is high, the functional level is higher. If 1 and 2 are high and 3 is low, the functional level is lower. Other factors like the amount of time available for the interview, the quality of the space and the overall energy level of the team and the candidate also make a difference.
It would be possible to predict the outcome of the interview if these factors could be measured for each member of the interview team and the candidate. These variables contribute to one’s ability to manage oneself in the face of tension and anxiety.
In general, if an interview team can stay actively engaged while also managing their reactivity, even if a candidate is highly anxious, they will more than likely arrive at decision with a high level of confidence. If the candidate is doing a good job of managing themselves, but their interview team is not, the candidate may find it frustrating as they attempt to navigate the intensity. If both the interview team and the candidate are not managing themselves, watch out!
In reality, there is wide variation within teams and between teams. Some members of an interview team do a better job than others at managing themselves. One person doing a better job of managing themselves in the interview can make an overall difference. But it’s the complexity of variables that make it difficult to know if a candidate is getting a fair process. But again, who is responsible for a fair process? When each person plays a part, it’s impossible to assign blame. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.
Even though some candidates will complain about their interview team, there is a good chance that they will encounter a congregation that is just as challenging as an interview team. Even the most capable pastor can struggle to lead a highly anxious congregation. Understanding relationship systems through the lenses of Bowen theory can make a difference. But it requires that individuals do the hard work of researching and understanding their family of origin. My hunch is that if a motivated board of ordained ministry worked on Bowen’s concept of differentiation of self, they would make better predictions on which candidates are ready and effective in ministry. If I’m right about this, bishops and supervisors might want to take note. The upfront effort will save them countless hours of dealing with ineffective clergy.