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Discernment Stages and Characteristics
Career Development for Ministers, Becoming a Minister, Support and Caring in Congregations

Developed by Rev. Jeannie Shero 

A person who is considering a ministerial calling will exhibit different characteristics and behaviors as they move through their discernment process. Tailor support to best match the person’s stage of discernment.

Emerging

Characteristics / Behaviors

  • Feels or thinks that ministry is appealing or even awe-inspiring
  • Often gravitates to religious events, trainings, classes, etc.
  • Asks questions of clergy/students:

    • What is needed to lead and run a congregation?
    • How does a person become a minister?
    • Is it possible to stay in their current job and still do ministry?
    • May begin to talk about a desire or sense of calling to do ministry (could sound nebulous or like it might take place in living daily life)
    • Seeks more responsibility and leadership in the congregation

In Care Program Support Role

Home Congregation Support Role

  • Provide opportunities to be a leader in the congregation
  • Provide opportunities to explore theology, specifically Unitarian  Universalist (UU) theology
  • Offer chances to be noticed and encouraged
  • Offer good conversation partners
  • Introduce person to resources and discernment support available from your In Care Program

Considering

Characteristics / Behaviors

  • Uses the language of calling (often tentatively)
  • Explores the barriers to the calling and asks questions about financial realities
  • Explores theological schools or other higher level degrees
  • Discusses with family and friends
  • Explores the possibility of called ministry with their own or another minister

    • Questions the impacts on their relationship with their congregation/minister
    • Does reality checking to see if others can “see” a minister in them
    • Uses language such as:

      • “I’d love to be able to pursue this further, but…”
      • “Could I really pay for this and make it work?”
      • “Am I too old/_________ for this kind of change. Is there any other way?”
      • “Can I succeed in school?”
      • “Does this make any sense?”
      • Others see and name their potential for ministerial calling
      • Might apply for aspirant status with the MFC

In Care Program Support Role

  • Include the person in the participant information sheet
  • Strongly suggest that they contact the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Ministerial Credentialing Office to learn more about how to proceed
  • Provide discernment conversation partner(s) who will

    • Foster exploration of blessings and challenges of ordained ministry including financial implications, scholarship sources, financial aid process, realities of job market including the potential need to relocate for ministry work
    • Describe other paths to religious vocation (see below)
    • Be open to their questions, fears, hopes
    • Be honest about their strengths and growth areas—even if it means discerning away from professional ordained ministry
    • Help them create authentic language to describe their calling
    • Offer resources and help locating more resources as needed

Home Congregation Support Role

  • Provide opportunities to be a leader in the congregation
  • Communicate with In Care Program leadership about the person’s emerging calling to some type of ministry
  • Minister serves as a conversation partner similar to discernment conversation partner

Claiming

Characteristics / Behaviors

  • Willing to pursue the calling, may still be somewhat wary
  • Shares their calling with more people
  • Plans to go to theological school, enrolls
  • Feels overwhelmed with the requirements and process of ministerial formation
  • Undergoes theological re-formation, deconstruction, reconstruction, etc., in school and congregational life
  • Applies for aspirant status with the UUA Ministerial Credentialing Office
  • Prepares for candidacy
  • Completes career assessment

In Care Program Support Role

  • Include the person in the participant information sheet
  • Encourage active participation with peers
  • Invite to student-minister gatherings
  • Provide a vocational advisor
  • Encourage work with a spiritual director, therapist or both

Home Congregation Support Role

  • Minister serves as a conversation partner
  • Offer support and show interest in person’s formation process

Invested and Pursuing

Characteristics/ Behaviors

  • Attends theological school (if they do not already have an MDiv)
  • Fulfills requirements and applies for Candidate status with the UUA Ministerial Credentialing Office
  • Develops relationships with other students, ministers, and professional staff
  • May experience a shift in calling from what they originally expected
  • May experience setbacks or take a break
  • Engages in ongoing discernment about ordination and ministry setting

In Care Program Support Role

  • Unitarian Universalist connections and experiences
  • Collegial connections and support

Home Congregation Support Role

  • Offer support and show interest in person’s formation process
  • Provide congregational leadership experiences, if possible

Affirming and Ritualizing

Characteristics / Behaviors

  • Completes requirements of Ministerial Fellowship Committee process leading to preliminary fellowship
  • Prepares for ordination and the first position

In Care Program Support Role

  • Collegial connections and support
  • Support during the search process

Home Congregation Support Role

  • Offer ordination support and encouragement

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For more information contact mcodirector@uua.org.