There are times I think our non-denominational brothers and sisters may have it right. God calls someone as a leader for God’s people, the people recognize it and ordain the person, and they are off and running in the pastoral world. Of course, those times are usually in the days leading up to one of the many checkpoints that I must cross on my journey toward pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian tradition.
This requires connection to a church through the session, connection to the presbytery through the oversight committee, and a visit to the career counseling center—all of which provide some community discernment. The journey requires tests, applications, updates and endless reflection and retelling of my own stories- of coming to faith, hearing God’s call and listening for where I’m headed. It requires a graduate degree with academic and practical training. And through it all, I am required to wait on the Lord’s timing, not run ahead.
The latest of these requirements is the Bible Content Exam. In theory, this exam gives a fair overview of what sort of Biblical knowledge a candidate has. In reality, you are given 100 opportunities to show whether or not you are familiar with a specific verse, person, location, or concept that appears in the Bible. Depending on which 100 questions pulled, you may or may not actually get a good read on what you know.
There are about 20-25 old exams available to review online and take as practice tests. I scored at or above the 70% required to pass on all but 1 of a dozen practice runs. Most of the time I was in the 80-85% range. My actual score today was among the 2-3 lowest scores (though I still passed).
I am a little ambivalent about this… I mean, I understand that as a pastor, I ought to have a decent handle on what is in the book. And I did fine on the questions that asked me to complete a partial quotation or identify major themes. The questions I didn’t get were the ones that asked me to choose between minor prophets who spoke on similar themes or pick which quote didn’t come from a particular book. I also stumbled on questions in the history arena, which is typical of the way I think… I just don’t do well with that sort of trivia.
No, I don’t consider the scriptures trivial- but I do believe it’s more important for a pastor to have a working knowledge of how to find those details. More important is the need for a pastor to have a solid understanding of how scripture is the foundation for our doctrine and how our doctrine is to be lived out in a world that is far from God’s Kingdom. That’s what the other end of the Ordination Exam spectrum is all about testing. And that’s what the real world practicum test drives, so that when the training wheels come off I am a little more ready for the work I have been called to do.
So, as another semester begins, I shall dig with gusto into the work of preparing faithfully for that work God is preparing for me.