If you don't know what that means, here's a summary: after finishing a long written exam (or several) on theology, church history, church government, and Bible content, and an oral exam by a committee on the same, he will now stand before a whole presbytery (which is all of the ordained pastors in that region, plus representative Elders from all of the churches in that region) and face an oral exam from them, wherein they can ask them any question they want.
Sound brutal? It is-- and very intimidating. It's also, by the way, one of the best things we do: the ministry of Word and Sacrament are nothing to be taken lightly, and I applaud the way that the PCA takes it seriously. It ought to be hard.
Here are five pieces of advice I gave him about Presbytery floor exams in an e-mail this morning:
- Keep in mind that the floor exam is primarily about examining you about your fitness for ministry -- NOT your academic and intellectual development (The written and committee exams were for that). So they're looking for your ability to articulate that you have a "ministry sensibility" about you. This means that, often, the questions will be ones such as you aren't really able to prepare for, but simply must react to. That's okay. (I remember one of our classmates gettting asked what he would do to encourage and support the long-standing Pro-Life ministry of his new congregation, for example.)
- Keep your answers as short as possible-- at all times, but ESPECIALLY when it comes to "views" questions. Answer briefly, though not in a brusk or abrupt manner. Far better for them to ask you follow-up questions (to which you also give brief answers!) than to over-answer and take the discussion in a direction it wasn't going in the first place.
- Approach the entire process with humility. No one should come into this process with an air of entitlement or worthiness. We are all failures, and we are going to be failures in ministry, too. When you're asked a question, it won't hurt to thank him for the question, and then answer with confidence, but let your confidence be in the sure foundation of the Gospel and your knowledge of that, not in your own intelligence, academic achievement, or rhetorical ability.
- On a related note, floor exams are not an opportunity to make a point, instruct the brothers in an area where they are weak, or an opportunity to air out theological dirty laundry. Therefore, your answers need not be defensive or aggressive, but should always reflect a proper deference to the brothers and a teachable spirit. This is never more true than when you have a confessional exception or a variation of views. If you believe that the larger bodies are in error (and we certainly are, probably in many ways), there will be plenty of opportunity to study that and present it AFTER you are ordained. Don't let an over-confidence about how "you're right and everyone who questions you is wrong" stand in the way of your ordination.
- Finally, remember that everyone in the room with you loves Christ, and loves His Bride. All of them are approaching this process with a spirit of godliness, hope, and the desire for what is best for the Church and her members. They are for you and for your present and future ministry, and they want to see you succeed in both ordination and ministry. Their questions are not motivated out of fear, suspicion, or an unhealthy ambition, but are motivated out of a biblical view of what is good and right for an ordained minister to be and know. (Okay, the truth, very likely and quite sadly, is that for some of the people present, none of this will be true. Some people present at ordination examinations are, in fact, the antithesis of what I just described-- and it is possible that some of these will be at yours too. But here's another fact: all of the above OUGHT to be true of EVERY one of them. So you should go in expecting that of them, hoping that of them, believing that of them. Love them in that way, and you will start your ministry among them well.)