Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What They Didn't Teach Me In Seminary

When I became a classroom teacher, it took me about three weeks to realize that I was not totally prepared for my first teaching job.  At the time, I foolishly thought I had not been adequately trained, and I spent years blaming my college.  What I failed to realize was that there is NO WAY to be adequately prepared to teach public school.  You can be trained.  You can be taught.  You can be given educational theory (giggle!).  You can be given opportunities to actually work with living, breathing children.  But none of it is enough.  You have to just jump in and give it a shot.  [I hope things have changed at our colleges of education since I graduated in 1980, but I suspect they have not.]

As I begin the third year of my first job as the pastor of a church, I find that the pattern has repeated itself.  I was not prepared to be the pastor of a church.  Again, I found myself seeking to blame both the seminaries I attended, but it didn't take long to realize that the training could never be good enough to really and truly prepare me for this job.  It took some really good people working with me.  It took some really stubborn faith by them and by me.  It took trying several things, setting pride aside when they didn't work, and trying something else - while not becoming discouraged.  Finally, it took an incredible amount of blessings and grace from the Lord.

But still...if I could just have a conversation with all deans of seminaries everywhere...what would I say?

I would begin in my best Southern drawl: "Y'all left some things out!  Listen up and I'll tell you a few little items that would have been very helpful."  And then I would give them my list:

1.  All seminarians who have plans to become parish ministers should be REQUIRED to take a basic course in accounting.  Perhaps they could "soften" it a bit and call it "Church Finance: Survive or Die" just to make it sound more appealing.  But I spent an inordinate amount of time my first two years working on our church budget, and I suspect that any pastor who ignores this does so at his/her own peril.  I might also require a course in writing grants, but now I'm dreaming.

2.  Go a little softer on the theory and go a little deeper on the practical experience.  I met living, breathing seminarians who went through three years of school, did two field education experiences, graduated with honors, and preached a grand total of 4 times!  That would be twice in preaching classes (and give me a break!  Those are in front of 6 of your fellow students!) and twice in field education jobs.  And these folks are now pastors of churches?  Is that a Christian thing to do?  I believe in trusting the Spirit - big time! - but I also believe in working on your craft.  Make the pastoral folks preach more!  When the PNC's go to meet a pastor, what's the "gold standard" of that meeting?  Do they want to see their candidate run a session meeting?  Do they want to read their candidate's blog?  No...they want to hear a sermon.  So let the pastoral folks learn to preach and then give them PRACTICE!

3.  Notice how hard it is to be a seminarian.  Oh sure...there are those who dress in designer clothing for class - both men and women!  There are those who clearly do not worry about money.  But the ones you really want in your churches, the ones who sweat and grind and claw their way through every year while living on food stamps and hand-me-down clothes and garage sale furniture, are the ones I want preaching the Word and serving the people.  Their home churches can't always give them a total financial package.  So seminaries!  Notice your students and love them a little more!

4.  Seminary deans and presbytery officials should be locked in unheated rooms at least once each year, and they should NOT be allowed to come out until they have aligned their requirements.  Seminary is hard.  Ordination is hard too.  But what is REALLY hard is trying to line up the two.  Would it kill both entities to work together?  Or is it fun to watch the duplication of effort?  I think the wisest seminarian I met was a guy who finished seminary and THEN he began the process for ordination.  When I asked him why he was doing it that way, he grinned and said he didn't need that much stress in his life.  It will take him a total of 6 years to accomplish his dream - to become an ordained pastor.  I admire him, but I couldn't do it that way.  Instead, I kept both parts going.  It was hard.

That's my list so far.  I will probably amend it at some point in the future.  But since I've begun working with a seminary intern, this has roared back into my mind.

It could be better.  It could always be better.

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