One role of the priest is to strengthen their community. We do this in a variety of ways: we tell the story; offer pastoral care; we coach people through their own journey; we gather the people in praise.
But one aspect of our leadership is to identify individuals who have gifts the church needs to lead as ordained clergy.
I don’t mean finding someone who likes to do mass. Anyone ordained, who might not have any sense of physical presence, the church understands as having the authority over the mass. The mistake, however, is that the church often ordains individuals who only have a sense of self through ordination, and have little coherence outside of the role. Their sense of authority is found only in the collar, and not intrinsically. This leads to all sorts of mischief.
Too often we let individuals discern themselves and wait for people to discern the call. while sometimes this has merit, it also falls upon the ordination committee to say, “actually, no. That’s not a call. You just like to be in charge.”
The priests we need are not simply those who do the work that others do not want to do. The busiest person in church is not necessarily going to be a good pastor. Better to call those individuals who are visibly competent (rather than merely enthusiastic) leaders.
Competence, of course, is subject to interpretation. But I would suggest those who are conscientious, follow through on their assigned tasks, have a visible understanding of spirituality, a curiosity about others, a sense of self, and can relate to the challenges others face, would be good persons to consider. Likeability, while not the only reason to call someone to the priesthood, is desireable and often underestimated as a virtue.
Certainly there’s no single characteristic to who a leader is, and few have all of them. But any member of the commission on ministry should have some sort of understanding, and reflect upon anyone entering the process – would I have this person as my priest?
Granted, we need all kinds in the clergy. But if we are to build our congregations, it falls to clergy, and reliable, resilient and faithful laity, to identify those who can effectively help the church live into the future, who can share our story, work effectively with others, and lead our communities to become stronger in the world.
A community organizer once said to me, the reason for all these individual meetings is to identify leaders. It’s not therapy. It’s not friendship. It’s finding who has the capacity to take responsibility and bring others along.