Board of Ordained Ministry establishes Residency in Ministry program and names full-time director

May 17, 2007

On June 24, the North Alabama Annual Conference will commission new probationary deacons and elders. However, beginning with this class of new clergy, they will not be called "probationers". Instead they will be known as "Residents in Ministry" and the three year period leading to their ordination will be an intentional journey the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry hopes will help them become stronger clergy leaders.

"Our effort is to make sure clergy entering into relationship with the Conference will receive instruction, information and challenges to make their ministry the most productive it can be from the beginning," Director of the Office of Ordained Ministry Rev. Don Neal says. "We want to help establish the practice of growing throughout their ministry."

Through establishing the Residency in Ministry (RIM) program, the Board of Ordained Ministry is purposely trying to shift the perception of the probationary process from a period of confusing hoops and hurdles to a well-organized professional development program that fosters covenant relationships with peers and provides needed skills for ministry.

Rev. Neal shares that other Annual Conferences have developed a Residents in Ministry process, but North Alabama is going a step further. In June, Rev. Amelia Sims will be appointed as the full-time Director of Residency in Ministry to oversee this new program. She will be the first full-time director of a residency program in an Annual Conference.

"I am really excited about it," Rev. Sims says. "This is going to change how pastors become pastors and grow as pastors. It will make future pastors more effective and will help make more effective churches."

The 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline gives the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry the responsibility to offer a program for commissioned ministers that extends theological education by using covenant groups and mentoring to support the practice and work of their ministry as servant leaders, to contemplate the grounding of ordained ministry, and to understand covenant ministry in the life of the conference. (paragraph 326).

Rev. Neal says, "The Intent [of RIM] is thinking of new ways to do things and make growth a part of these ministers' ministry forever."

Rev. Neal credits Dr. Will Garrett as being the catalyst for the development of the new RIM program. Rev. Garrett oversaw the Board of Ordained Ministry's probationary process over the last few years. During that time he talked to clergy about their experience in the process. "He heard parts that were missing from the process," Rev. Neal says. "Some expressed the process was more hoops to jump through rather than a time of learning."

So a committee that was intentionally diverse and representative -- including current probationary clergy, Board of Ordained Ministry members, a retired former District Superintendent, elders and a deacon -- was formed and they developed the RIM process. That Committee included Ralph Barrow, Mary Bendall, Bill Brunson, Lonna Lynn Higgs, Warren Nash, Don Neal, Todd Owen, Herb Robertson, Sheryl Thornton, Roger Thompson, Mark Parris and Will Garrett.

The process they proposed is that the three years following commissioning for ministry and preceding ordination as elder or deacon is a Residency in Ministry. The Residents will be assigned to covenant groups of five to seven peers who will work and grow together during the process. Each covenant group will also be assigned a coach. The coach will be a trained North Alabama deacon or elder who will model, lead and serve as a guide for the group. Each year of the residency process is organized around a specific theme, chosen for its practical application and usefulness in the professional development of new clergy.

  • The first year of the residency process is built around workshops and seminars focused on ministerial identity. This year's focus includes training in three separate workshop settings on individual strengths assessment, family systems theory, and ministerial integrity
  • The focus in the second year of residency is ministerial leadership. It will include a series of six workshops focusing on leadership integrity, vision and values, decision-making and change management, equipping the laity, managing staff, and faith and money.
  • The focus of the final year of residency is on integration and ministerial effectiveness. The thrust of this year's efforts is toward preparing the residents to assimilate and coherently articulate their experiences in ministry and training, not only for their required written requirements and interviews, but more essentially for their practice of ministry.

Rev. Neal shares that the intent is to have nationally known resource people to lead these workshops and seminars. He shares that some of these seminars will be open to all clergy so they all will have the opportunity to continue professional growth in a certain area of ministry.

Rev. Sims explains that those ministers commissioned on June 24 will make up the first RIM class. This summer one of the first things on her to do list as the Director of RIM is to meet with the each Resident's Staff Parrish Relations Committee (SPRC) and District Superintendent to explain the Residency in Ministry process and its expectations.

She says, the purpose of meeting with each resident's SPRC is "to let the church know what their pastor is doing because the local church will be part of the process too. That is one thing that has been lax in the current process -- communication. Things are not always understood between the Board of Ordained Ministry and the local church."

Rev. Sims adds, "We want to make this time more than a requirement of the Board of Ordained Ministry. We want to let churches know that you will see an improvement in your pastor because of this process."

She also shares that another aspect of her role as the Director of RIM will be to develop relationships with seminaries and seminary students.

"We are wanting to attract some of the top seminarians. If they are looking for a place to serve, we want to let them know that God may be calling them to North Alabama," she says.

Rev. Sims also has set a goal to foster a connection with seminary students from North Alabama. She says she want to help those students establish groups at seminary and to make sure they each are having constant contact with someone in the North Alabama Conference while they are in school.

Rev. Sims concludes that one of the most exciting aspects of the new RIM program will be that it will help clergy leadership be more effective. "It will help ministers grow in their spiritual leadership, and in the understanding of who they are both as leaders and as Christians."

As Rev. Sims takes the role of Director of RIM this summer, she has plans to develop a Residency in Ministry section on the Conference website so that more information about the program will be available to the Residents and to local churches.

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