What is your educational background? How did that education equip you for ministry and how did it fall short?
AB: My educational background is as follows:
B.A. in Christian Ministries, Malone College, Canton, Ohio.
M.Div. in Biblical Studies, Ashland Theological Seminary, Ashland, Ohio
M.A. in Religious Studies, Ashland Theological Seminary, Ashland, Ohio
Th.M in Theological Ethics, Duke University Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina
Ph.D in Theology, University of Durham, Durham, UK.
I believe that my educational background helped indeed in equipping me for ministry. I have never accepted the theoretical/practical distinction. Theology is an inherently practical discipline. If theology needs to be made practical, something has already gone wrong in how theology is done. I have been a full-time pastor for twenty-six years and an adjunct professor at a seminary for seventeen years. I have no idea how to understand the unity and fellowship of the church apart from the doctrine of the Trinity. I cannot articulate the sacrificial presence of the church in the world apart from the crucifixion of Jesus. I have no way to understand what it means to offer hope to the world without the resurrection of Christ our Lord. Those who think that theology is somehow beside the point for the ministry of the church misunderstand the function of theology and the ministry of the church.
Of course, education cannot prepare a pastor for everything. But neither can medical school prepare a doctor for everything, nor can law school prepare a lawyer for everything.
What is the mission of the current fellowship you serve? How are they impacting the community they serve?
AB: I am the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Ohio. We are in a downtown setting in a town of approximately 13,000 people. Our primary mission over the years has been as a benefactor church; that is we have provided funds for other churches and agencies to do ministry. That has led to a decline in our congregation. We are attempting to remedy that by actually doing ministry ourselves. We have just begun a relationship with Children’s Services in our county and we are planning a regular mission situation in Haiti.
How could the UMC better support you in ministry?
AB: The best way that the UMC can support me in ministry is to stay out of my way until I need them. There is too much top down perspective in our denomination. We strangle pastors and churches because the hierarchy frankly gets in the way, even though they are well intended. I am glad to have the resources of the denomination, but I can work very effectively without their “help.” I have said to my bishop and superintendent, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”
If you could change one thing in the ordination process, what would it be? If you could change one thing in the appointment process, what would it be?
AB: I wouldn’t change anything about the ordination process per se, but I would interject more flexibility that would take into account unique and differing situations. With more and more churches in decline and more and more part-time pastors, local pastors, and bi-vocational pastors, we need to accommodate those realities. Holding on to a legalism at all times that simply responds “but that is what the Discipline says,” will make things even more difficult. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to work outside the process as well.
As far as the appointment process—I would like to see the bishop and the Cabinet employ the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule. I have great sympathy for bishops and superintendents who have to muddle through the appointment process being forced to make decisions that are not good ones. But I fail to see the logic in taking a pastor out of a church where things are going well in order to appoint her or him to a church that needs to be “turned around.” Too often what ends up happening is that the Conference ends up with demoralized clergy and even more churches in need of revitalization. If pastor and church are working out well, leave them alone. It is not a matter of what the larger church needs. The larger church is only as strong as each individual church.
What congregational expectations of the pastor are unrealistic?
AB: Nobody in the church believes that the pastor can do it all. What they do believe is that the pastor should devote time to the areas of ministry that they believe are most important. Since church folk disagree on what areas are most important, the pastor gets pulled to and fro by different people with different expectations of what the pastor should prioritize. There are two problems here: the first is the idea that the pastor provides the only, if not the primary care of the church. The second is that the pastor encourages such a view by their enabling in the way they discharge their own duties. Pastors all too often enable their congregations to hold dysfunctional views of the church and who is responsible for ministry. Pastors need to be willing to give up control and encourage and allow their laity to perform vital ministry on behalf of the church of Jesus Christ.