Five Things I Think I Think about Committees on Ministry (COMs)

This post was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website on January 22, 2018

After serving for nine non-consecutive years and counting on the Susquehanna Associations (New York Conference’s) Committee on Authorized Ministry, I have arrived at some speculative conclusions and definitive conjectures about the work that we and other Committees on Ministry (CoMs) do, on behalf of the United Church of Christ (UCC).

You know about CoMs. They are the “workhorses” of UCC Associations; as such, they are as busy and important as (if not moreso than) any other Association or Conference board or committee. CoMs support the authorized ministers of their Associations. They license lay ministers for sacramental ministry; they direct the training and preparation of ministerial candidates (known as Members in Discernment, or MIDs);  and they recommend qualified candidates for ordination. CoMs organize ecclesiastical councils and ordination services. They look after ministers’ continuing education, required training, and “standing.”  CoMs meet with non-UCC ministers who seek UCC affiliation;  they interview authorized ministers who are newly arrived in an Association, and/or newly-called by Association churches;  they install ministers; and they assist ministers when they become embroiled in conflict with their parishioners. Indeed, many a Conference Minister has remarked that while there are no bishops in our denominational polity, if any UCC persons or entities do the work of bishops, it’s the CoMs—because they guide, facilitate, and “authorize” ministry and ministers’ careers.

So here are five things I think I think about CoMs:

1.  I think that CoMs (and Mainline Protestant denominations) do too many things. Read that paragraph again (above) that describes all the things that CoMs do. It’s an exhausting list—and we can well wonder if CoMs can do all those things thoroughly and well! Even so, we would be hard pressed to say which of these traditional tasks can or should be eliminated.  Overwork—and perhaps over-functioning—are significant dilemmas for the Mainline Church.  Many denominations today have all the earmarks of overgrown, aged bull moose, lumbering along as best they can. Their racks are so awkward and heavy that they would break their necks if they had to change course or respond nimbly to a threat.  Meanwhile, agile, energetic, and young, postmodern congregations (“Church 3.0” gatherings, in UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer’s parlance) and Millennial ministers are like carefree field mice, scampering and zig-zagging beneath and in between the legs of the giant ossified creatures.

2.  I think that American Mainline Protestant denominations are rapidly decentralizing. We are living during a time of accelerated change—and the future is moving past unwieldy denominational structures and rigid rules, requirements, and traditions about ministerial authorization, church polity, and doctrinal faithfulness.  As that happens, the influence of seminaries and religious organizations is diminishing; meanwhile, individuals, small groups, and local congregations are being empowered.

Denominational leaders don’t quite know what to make of this decentralizing phenomenon. Thus, . . .

To read more of this post, go to the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog on the CARD website, at

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Chris Xenakis

Chris Xenakis is a pastor, an adjunct lecturer in political science, an old school black and white photographer, and a sometime amateur actor.