The RCA provides an alternative route to seminary training for some ministry of Word and sacrament candidates. This alternative—known as the Approved Alternate Route (AAR)—is defined by the Book of Church Order (BCO) in Chapter 1, Part II, Article 12, Section 4. The General Synod of 2015 approved major changes to the BCO description.
The Ministerial Formation Certification Agency (MFCA) has appointed an AAR Certification Committee that will determine whether an applicant is eligible for the AAR process. The committee will evaluate and approve the AAR program proposal presented by the classis and assess the candidate's fitness for ministry. Based on this assessment, the committee will recommend granting or denying the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry. The AAR Certification Committee will include two General Synod Professors of Theology, two RCA ministers of Word and sacrament, and two RCA elders.
Once an applicant is received as a candidate in the AAR process and a program is approved, the MFCA will supervise the candidate's progress. The classis will conduct the regular assessment required by the BCO Chapter 1, Part II, Article 11, Sec. 6. When the candidate has satisfied the requirements of his or her program, the candidate will ordinarily attempt the final examination for the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry as administered by the MFCA. The examination stretches over a period of about five months. It includes a written portion, an oral portion, and an interview with the AAR Certification Committee.
2015 Book of Church Order
(Chap. 1, Part II, Art. 12, Sec. 4)
The Approved Alternate Route
A candidate for the ministry who has not received the degree of Master of Divinity or a degree that is its equivalent from a seminary that is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools or by a theological accrediting agency of comparable standards as determined by the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency may qualify for the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry provided the following conditions are met:
a. A consistory shall recommend an individual as a candidate and the classis shall assess the candidate's call, gifts, and experience in accordance with the standards requisite for the ministry of Word and sacrament.
b. The classis shall determine: (1) the candidate has at least five years' ministry experience and demonstrates leadership potential; (2) the candidate gives evidence of the call, gifts, and experience for the ministry of Word and sacrament; and (3) the candidate, for compelling practical reasons, cannot complete a master of divinity degree at an accredited seminary.
c. The classis shall petition for a Certificate of Fitness for Ministry on behalf of the candidate to the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency. If that agency rejects the petition, it shall clearly state its reasons. The classis may reapply.
d. Upon admission, the classis and the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency shall together develop a program that will allow the candidate to satisfy the requirements for the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry.
e. When the candidate has completed the program, the candidate shall be examined for the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry by the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency. The method of assessment shall be culturally and linguistically appropriate.
f. When the candidate passes the examination, the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency may award the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry.
A person who has demonstrated gifts for the office of minister of Word and sacrament, but who is unable to earn an M.Div. or its academic equivalent, may apply to the AAR.
Normally, applicants to the AAR process will have successfully completed an undergraduate degree. Transcripts of all post-high school academic work must be submitted as part of the application.
The AAR process itself is initiated by the classis. The candidate's home church and its consistory have the responsibility of bringing the candidate to the classis. The candidate must be a member in good standing of a local RCA congregation. In some circumstances, the classis may identify a person from outside the denomination who qualifies for the AAR process and for an RCA ministry opportunity. Such individuals will be asked to seek an RCA congregation who will sponsor them for this process.
The originating classis contacts the MFCA in written form through the clerk of classis. The classis is encouraged to work out a schedule with the MFCA to determine eligibility and, upon admittance, a program. The classis shall provide all applicable information on the candidate as part of the application—school transcripts, work resume, a positive criminal background check at the candidate's expense, and a statement giving the rationale for choosing the AAR. The classis shall verify that the following criteria are met as part of the application to the MFCA:
(1) the candidate has at least five years' ministry experience, which prepares the candidate for leadership as a minister of Word and sacrament; (2) the candidate gives evidence of the call, gifts, and experience for the ministry of Word and sacrament; and (3) the candidate, for compelling practical reasons, cannot complete a master of divinity degree at an accredited seminary (BCO Chap. 1, Part II, Art. 12, Sec. 4).
The italicized, underlined section is a modification added later by the 2015 General Synod, which will need to be ratified by the classes and given final approval at the 2016 General Synod. The implication of this modification is the inclusion of seminary studies and parachurch leadership in the required five years of experience.
The classis shall apply to the MFCA for a candidate's admission into the AAR. The AAR Certification Committee will receive the application (Form 5A and supporting documentation) and will report its decision to the MFCA Board of Trustees. The AAR Certification Committee may require a personal meeting with the candidate and classis representatives. If the committee rejects the application, it shall clearly state its reasons. The classis may then revise the application and reapply. Appeals usually go to the MFCA Board of Trustees after the AAR Certification Committee has made a second recommendation. Once the candidate has been admitted to the process, the candidate and classis are required to pay a fee of $1,000 to the MFCA. Payment of the fee is necessary for the program proposal to be finalized. Once the program proposal has been received, the candidate will also be responsible for other costs, such as the Personality – Vocational Assessment (2015 cost is $100 to the candidate; the MFCA subsidizes most of the assessment).
There is an underlying assumption that a candidate will have completed a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and that courses taken at the seminary level will be taken at a school accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). It is common for candidates to complete an application assignment in order to determine that they are capable of successfully completing graduate-level work.
DEVELOPING A PROGRAM PROPOSAL
The sponsoring classis and the MFCA Director will together propose a program for each candidate. The AAR Certification Committee will review the proposal and determine the actual program. In developing a program, the proposal should address the following concerns:
- The applicant's spiritual, moral, social, relational, psychological, emotional, and intellectual qualities
- The applicant's promise and potential for ministerial leadership
- The applicant's doctrinal views and theological understandings
- The applicant's familiarity with the RCA and commitment to its mission
- The applicant's capacity for growth and continuous learning
Each proposal must include the following elements:
- A written description of the knowledge, competencies, and values the applicant brings to the process, and of what the candidate will need to do in order meet the requirements for receiving a Certificate of Fitness for Ministry
- A spiritual autobiography by the candidate
- Provision for the candidate to be examined and interviewed by the AAR Certification Committee
- A credo written by the candidate
- Biblical language courses, at minimum the MFCA online biblical tools courses
- Provision for the applicant to complete core courses in RCA theology, history, liturgy, polity, and mission offered by the MFCA or one of the RCA seminaries, or to demonstrate a solid knowledge and understanding of these subjects. (Please note that a GPA of 3.0 ["B"] or better is required to pass each course; lower grades will require further review if they are to be considered for meeting RCA requirements.)
- Provision for the applicant to complete a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) or to submit the evaluation report of an already completed CPE unit; in certain circumstances, the Seminar for Pastoral Formation offered by the MFCA may substitute for a unit of CPE
- Provision to take seminary courses in areas where deficiencies have been identified; normally, all academic work proposed is to be taken at an ATS-accredited seminary
ACCEPTANCE OF A CANDIDATE AND PROPOSED PROGRAM
Each proposed program will be reviewed by the AAR Certification Committee and will be approved, modified, or denied. The AAR Certification Committee will report its action to the classis.
If the proposal is denied, the classis may revisit the program, modify it, and request that the committee reconsider its decision. If requested, the committee normally provides instructions as to what changes would be necessary for reconsideration.
Approval of a program commits both the classis and the candidate to the agreed-upon requirements.
"In-process" modifications to the program must be submitted by the classis to the AAR Certification for its approval.