Monday, September 23, 2013

Continuing Education for Pastors

Me, loaded down with a study Bible and lots of textbooks, back when I was in seminary getting my initial theological education and there was no such thing as an e-book or online learning.
To some extent, the church has professionalized the role of Pastor. This isn't strictly true, across the board. There are many folks out there who feel called to start preaching the gospel one day and get right to it the next day. Some of these folks are enormously successful, in terms of sheer numbers of people who want to hear them preach and teach in Christ's name. And some of them do an impressive amount of good in the world. I think it is fair to say that some of them do more harm than good, but then, that is true of some Pastors who have impressive academic qualifications as well.

The bottom line in seeking a call to Pastor an established congregation is that in most cases (maybe even in all cases), education in the art of ministry is a plus. Different churches have different preferences in the education that they want their Pastors to have. Some churches don't care about the Pastor's education level, as long as the sermons are inspiring and the Pastor is an able administrator. Some churches want a warm and caring Pastor and some don't care as long as the sermons inspire. Other churches don't mind lukewarm sermons as long as the Pastor loves and cares for them and keeps the engine of the church running smoothly. Obviously the best approach in getting a Pastoral job is to pay attention to both educational qualifications as well as administrative and people skills.

There are many degree and certificate programs that profess to aid a person in becoming a Pastor. Perhaps there is one that provides all the skills that a Pastor will need, but I don't know of it. Ministry is a job that is widely regarded as something that requires on the job, practical training. As a general rule, Master of Divinity programs are great at teaching the latest in scholarship about the Bible and church history, but traditionally these programs been a bit too light on teaching important skills such as evangelism. Some non-degree and unaccredited programs emphasize evangelism, but neglect teaching students things such as church history and learning about the Bible in the context in which it was written.  I believe that this is changing in a direction that provides for a more well-rounded education for Pastors regardless of the educational path they chose, but people preparing for ministry or seeking a new position in ministry need to carefully examine their own skills and knowledge and actively seek to overcome any deficiencies and also to "beef up" their positive qualifications.

Ministry education can cost a significant amount of money, but it doesn't have to cost a lot. Many seeking Pastoral education will discover that they have access to theological libraries locally. Sometimes the libraries charge a fee for checking out books, but not all do. Most will allow you to study in the library for free. Sometimes local denominational offices have a resource library open to all seekers. In addition, often Roman Catholic institutions have resources available of interest to all Christians.

In addition, there are a number of low or no cost online educational resources for ministry education. The Center for Progressive Renewal offers coaching, seminars, online and regional classes and certificate programs. The Text this Week offers links to resources to help in preparing sermons and worship experiences. The Louisville Institute provides grants for Pastor's sabbaticals, with an emphasis on study. The Christian Theological Seminary currently has a similar program.
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