Many of you will know that this message comes at the beginning of a week in which my focus will be on a re-accreditation visit from the Association of Theological Schools, the body that accredits theological colleges in the United States and Canada. As a result, the idea of evaluation is very much on my mind—and perhaps on yours too as end-of-term essays and exams approach.
I find I often associate evaluation with another word: accountability. One of the key purposes of accreditation is to hold us as a theological consortium accountable to what we promise: do we deliver quality theological education that meets the standards that are expected of an organization like ours? For the last two years, our consortium has been engaged in a lengthy process of self-evaluation to demonstrate that we do in fact meet these standards. But self-evaluation alone doesn’t lead to accountability: we need this week’s visit from an external team for that.
One of the challenges that some clergy face when they leave seminary and enter ministry is that they don’t know to whom or for what they are accountable. Sure, the congregation expects them to be there on Sunday and to show up for parish council meetings. Bishops or dioceses might have expectations for continuing education or service to the diocese. But beyond that, it’s not always clear what a clergy person is meant to do and to whom they are accountable. Will anyone care if you have a daily life of prayer? Will anyone notice if your sermons lack adequate preparation or elderly parishioners don’t receive home visitations?
Successful and flourishing ministry is rooted in many things, but accountability is certainly one of them. Clergy need structures of relationships that remind them of this, including spiritual directors, strong lay leaders, friends, family, supportive clergy colleagues, archdeacons and bishops, and what you might call “faithful cranks” in the pew who aren’t afraid to tell you when you’ve gone astray. It can be hard to hear these voices sometimes but that doesn’t mean they are not important (nor does it mean they are always right). Problems in churches tend to start when a culture of accountability begins to deteriorate—or never existed in the first place.
I hope that this college can be a community of accountability. It’s why I encourage you to come to me with your concerns and complaints. It’s why I meet with the students on the College Council to be in communication about our common life. I know that many of you support and hold each other accountable in various ways. Thank you!
So I welcome the visit of the Association of Theological Schools this week. I think we have a good story to tell about theological education in Montreal. But I’m also looking forward to what our visit team has to say about our work so that we can continue to improve and grow in a spirit of accountability.
This message was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.