21. MINISTRY OF PASTOR (Ministerial Education Commission)

That the Assembly resolve to

1.         establish a review the ministry of Pastor with a view to achieving the following outcomes:

            (a)        evaluation of the ways in which the Church has been able to implement the assessment, educational and oversight responsibilities assumed within the Regulations in relation to the ministry of Pastor;

            (b)        identification of the areas where the current expectations about how this ministry will be administered and supported are being achieved and where they are not;

            (c)         identification of concerns related to the selection and appointment of Pastors; and

            (d)        make recommendations to the ASC arising from the review;

 2.        authorise the Assembly Standing Committee to

            (a)         appoint the Review Group;

            (b)        finalise its terms of reference;

            (c)         receive the report and take action, including amending the Regulations, in the light of the report; and

 3.        request the Standing Committee to report to the 14th Assembly on the outcome of the review.

Rationale:

In a re-ordering of the ministry of the Uniting Church in Australia, the 11th UCA Assembly, in 2006, resolved to introduce the Specified Ministry of Pastor, a lay specified ministry to which people would be commissioned for the exercise of specific responsibilities such as pastoral care, leadership, worship, service and evangelism.  As people representing the beliefs and practices of the Uniting Church, Pastors would be accountable to the Presbytery, which would have responsibility for their selection, commissioning, formation, training and supervision.  Preparation and selection for the role of Pastor would be competency-based. 

The intention was to gather up, into the one specified ministry, a range of lay ministries already being exercised on a full-time or part-time basis, often without due accountability, and to encourage people to move into specified ministry in the future; and to do all of this in ways which were flexible and permission-giving and enabled equipping to happen while in the role.

Six years have now passed since the introduction of the Specified Ministry of Pastor, and the Assembly Ministerial Education Commission (MEC) believes that it would be timely now to review the Specified Ministry of Pastor to evaluate the ways in which the Church has been able to implement the assessment, educational and oversight responsibilities assumed within the Regulations in relation to the Specified Ministry of Pastor.

Anecdotally the MEC is aware that a number of concerns and questions have been raised across the Church in relation to the Specified Ministry of Pastor.  A review would provide the opportunity to air these concerns and test their validity through appropriate research, and to bring recommendations to the 14th Assembly as to how they might be addressed.

These concerns and questions include:

  • A perception that implementation of the Specified Ministry of Pastor has been somewhat ad hoc, with different presbyteries employing different processes and practices, and often setting different standards in the competencies to be achieved.
  • The manner in which presbyteries have exercised their assessment, educational and oversight responsibilities has often been less that optimal, due to the inadequacy of available resources, both material and in terms of personnel.
  • There has been some confusion concerning where the boundaries lie between the responsibilities of the presbyteries and synods in accordance with Regulation 2.14.6.
  • There has also been confusion about whether Pastors are required to undertake continuing education for ministry, since the Regulations and the Code of Ethics appear to be at odds with one another on this issue.
  • The word “Pastor” itself has created problems.  Particularly, for cultural reasons, in  multi- cross-cultural congregations, but also in congregations where members have been inclined to refer to their minister as “Pastor”, there has been a blurring of the roles of ordained and lay ministers.
  • A question has been raised as to whether the Ministry of Pastor is seen in some quarters to be a quick and easy entry into ministry which bypasses the more rigorous preparation and training offered by the Church’s theological colleges for candidates for ordination.  In connection with this, the comment has been made that perhaps there should be a time limitation on the practice of ministry as a Pastor, with regular review and encouragement to candidate for the ordained ministries where people demonstrate the appropriate gifts and the Church discerns a call.