The Learning Curve

There’s a lot written about how generations are different, but sometimes there are similarities. Take, for instance, the retired pastor from the Builder generation, who came through our interim pastor training. He said, “This training is like being back in seminary, and now you want us to read these books! I haven’t read a book since I graduated.” Graduation had been forty years earlier. I wasn’t impressed.

On the other hand, an interim pastor recently told me about the Millennial pastor who was called by the church he last served.  He said he asked the new pastor about the books he’d been reading. The new pastor said he didn’t read books and even joked, “if someone can be president without reading, why should I?”  The interim pastor asked the Millennial how he studied and learned and dissected Bible passages. The young pastor said, “I just listen to a lot of sermons.” The interim pastor wasn’t impressed.

So, let’s acknowledge that any age group can have lazy, ill-prepared pastors.  Right? Nevertheless, there does seem to be something new happening in the present age of ministry.  The requirement for education has plummeted in both prospective ministers’ minds and in the expectations of minister search committees.  I’ve seen no studies on this, but it’s my clear observation in working with Baptist churches, and I expect it’s true of other non-hierarchical, evangelical, and/or congregational-polity churches.  This might not be true in larger churches with significant numbers, bigger staffs, financial clout, or who are part of some mainline denominations—but it’s true of some of them, too! And it’s certainly true of the average size churches that predominate the landscape with less than 150 in attendance, and it’s true of a large portion of the ministers applying to those churches.

I think I kind of “get it.”  From a ministry student’s point-of-view, one hundred and twenty-six hours is a LOT of work, a lot of time, and often a lot of tuition.  Why not cut corners? And churches are finding the pool of ministry candidates is much smaller than in years gone by, plus the pool is full of questionable applicants (theology, experience, education, ethics, etc.), so there is a feeling that the search team has to settle for less-than-what-was-hoped-for.

Over the last few months, I’ve been hosting “Updates” for interim pastors around the state.  Those attending are trained, hold status in our interim membership roster, and are required to have at least ten hours of continuing education per year.  Ten hours isn’t a lot, but how many ministers do you know that are required to have ANY continuing education? Probably NONE. My dentist has to have it. My primary care physician has to have it.  The pilot flying the airliner I’m on has to have it. Educators I know have to have it. Ministers, on the other hand, used to be able to finish their education and never read another book, for the rest of their lives.  Today, some ministers are not even getting a basic education and are jumping into ministry with no formal preparation.  

This is NOT good for the future of the church!  It’s not good for your future, in ministry, either.  Serious, called, and committed ministers of yesteryear, and today understand the need to not fly solo into ministry.

If you’re reading this, hopefully, you are already into some type of theological education.  Hopefully, you’ve discovered that B. H. Carroll Theological Institute can provide on-going assistance to keep you on ministry’s cutting edge.  However, if you have never had a formal education, invest in a diploma program. But don’t stop. If you’ve earned a bonafide undergraduate, don’t stop.  Get a master’s degree (e.g., M.Div. or MA), but don’t stop.  A D.Min. might be a perfect step in growing towards expertise in some practical ministry.  A Ph.D. might call you to academic excellence. But even then, don’t let those be truly “terminal” degrees.  Don’t stop! Every minister needs to continue to learn for life. Once you stop learning, you start dying. I suspect one reason many pastors see their successful ministries begin to fall apart is because they stopped.  

Have you had a teacher, a mentor, a course, a book, or a blog help improve your ministry? Maybe you could share it here, by adding a comment to this blog, and encourage someone else in their spiritual formation.  Together, let’s not stop! Thank you.

Published: Jul 29, 2019


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