Continuing Education for Pastors

continuing-education-for-pastorsBy Chaplain John

It is what it is.  Have you ever heard someone use that oft-repeated phrase?  Typically, this expression is used to convey acceptance of a situation that can’t be changed.  But have you ever heard someone employ it in an attempt to deflect criticism?  Rather than responding to valid concerns over something that’s been said or done, a dismissive “It is what it is” can put a rather convenient end to an uncomfortable conversation.

As Christian ministers, when we are approached with suggestions regarding how we might better address particular issues, it can be tempting to brush aside those concerns.  Indeed, it’s easy to feel there’s nothing more for us to learn.  Personally, the longer I’m involved in ministry, the greater my realization that I’m often ill-prepared for the difficult questions and very real challenges that come my way.  If we are to respond effectively and meaningfully to those we’ve been called to serve, we must be humble enough to acknowledge our shortcomings and commit to be lifelong students of the Word.

Many of us have a Bible college or seminary education.  Have those degrees, however, fully equipped us for every aspect of contemporary ministry?  As valuable as our theology training was, there can be significant gaps or blind spots in the education we’ve received.  What’s more, I’m finding that increasing numbers of churches are hiring and appointing people to serve in positions of leadership who have no theological schooling.  Without condemning that practice out of hand, I would submit that individuals without any theological training may not be ideally qualified to offer advice on the daily struggles and problems they will be asked to address.  In these roles, spiritual giftedness and a charismatic personality just aren’t enough.

Indeed, schooling through Bible colleges and seminaries can be invaluable in helping us interpret and preach the Scriptures – but if you have served in church ministry for any length of time, you’ve discovered that there is more to your vocation than simply preparing a Sunday sermon.  How well, for instance, did your education prepare you for the day-to-day work of shepherding a diverse group of people?  People who are struggling to apply God’s Word to their lives even as they come to terms with dysfunctional pasts, major financial reversals, life-threatening illnesses, marriages in distress, mental illness, and a whole host of other real-life circumstances.  Are you offering wise pastoral support in these cases?

If you can’t answer that question with a confident “Yes!”, I urge you to consider applying yourself to some form of ongoing education.  An ever-increasing number of today’s pastors have come to acknowledge the important role continuing education can play in fostering effective pastoral outreach.  For all those involved in church ministry, it’s impossible to overstate the value of enrolling in seminars and courses geared toward pastoral care and counseling.  As this excellent article from Christianity Today explains, such training will better equip you to confidently speak into a broad range of very difficult scenarios.

I would also encourage you to commit to being a student of our culture, understanding the trends that are impacting those within your congregation.  Rather than expending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to stay on top of the endless stream of online news, I recommend regularly reading a well-reputed city newspaper.  Not only will this keep you adequately informed on current events and trends, but it’s also a safer approach for those pastors who may struggle with the myriad temptations that exist on the Internet.  It’s certainly true that our parishioners are being inundated with all types of media messages in cyberspace – however, we need to guard ourselves from immersing ourselves too deeply in this content while remaining generally aware of it.

And with regard to more formal continuing education, together let’s commit to investigating options such as online courses or classes offered by local colleges or seminaries.  If this presents a financial hardship, you may consider more inexpensive avenues of learning such as book studies or discussion groups with colleagues.

However we choose to sharpen our skills and broaden our understanding, it’s with the goal of never being content to say, “It is what it is!”

John Barner has been involved in pastoral care and counseling at FotF for more than 10 years. John has been married for more than 30 years, and is the proud father of three daughters and two grand-daughters. He has been pastor of several churches and been chaplain at several other ministries. John and his wife live in Colorado Springs, though they both grew up in the Northeast.

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