Local Church Ministry Discernment

Experience suggests that it is valuable for the well-being of a Member in Discernment for the church in which he or she holds membership to have a Ministry Discernment Committee. Furthermore, it is good for the church to form a Ministry Discernment Committee just for the MID–as a separate task force in the church devoted solely to this purpose–rather than assigning this function to an existing group or committee within the church.

The Ministry Discernment Committee (MDC) should be appointed by the appropriate governing body of the church whenever a member is interested in being received into a covenant of discernment and formation with the Association (or even before). The makeup of the MDC will vary depending on the structure of a local church. A typical model calls for 4 to 6 members—one or two chosen by the MID, one or two chosen by the governing body, one member of the governing body itself, and the pastor.

The MDC assumes responsibility, together with the pastor, for fulfilling the steps analogous to those detailed in the current Manual on Ministry regarding the local church’s role in the in-care process. The MDC should meet regularly with the MID. Its purpose is to create a supportive and exploratory environment in which the individual can risk testing his or her vocational aspirations. It represents the local congregation in helping this individual discern the particular gifts for ministry which God has given; it also provides a forum for exploring the individual’s possible call to authorized ministry. This involves reviewing the MID’s personal history, experience in the local church, and spiritual journey.

Discernment is a way of arriving at understandings, decisions and outcomes. There are varieties of discernment practices among UCC congregations. They will look different in the various settings of the UCC and will reflect the cultural and racial diversity of our denomination. Areas of discernment to explore with the member include his or her:

  • understanding of Christian faith and practice including beliefs about God, Christ, and the church, and commitment to a Christian life including worship, prayer, and service.
  • sense of call
  • gifts for ministry
  • understanding of call to authorized ministry as distinct from the call of God to all people within the community of faith. This includes discussion of the differences among licensure, commissioning, and ordination;
  • vision of functioning as an authorized ministry, including discussion of some of his/her role models in authorized ministry and how s/he might function differently from them;
  • questions about authorized ministry and anticipated challenges as s/he imagines fulfilling the office;
  • approach to conflict;
  • experiences in leadership;
  • understandings of the physical and emotional stamina and maturity needed to function effectively as an authorized minister;
  • anticipated preparation for authorized ministry, including a discussion of whether relocation is possible for seminary, regional educational programs, and/or mentoring;
  • financial situation, recognizing that preparation for authorized ministry can be expensive and time-consuming;
  • questions about employment during the time of preparation for authorized ministry, including concerns about balancing academic preparation and work;
  • questions about household and relationship, including how significant others feel about his/her decision to pursue authorized ministry and how s/he anticipates balancing preparation and family.
  • Discuss: Have you had these sorts of conversations with members in your congregation before? How have they gone? What has been important to emphasize, in your experience?

It is vital that the member and the MDC enter into and continue in discernment as the open-ended spiritual practice that it is. No one truly knows the outcome of discernment at the beginning. It is a process of conversation, prayer, listening, waiting, gathering and sharing information and insights, and most especially, being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.