Thursday, June 5, 2014

Retooling Your Ministry: A Necessary Joy

Around this time of year, we celebrate graduations.  From kindergarten to grad school, family members gather round the graduate to affirm an achievement.  Whether it is the high school graduation or the hooding of a newly minted Ph.D or D.Min, the euphoria is certainly palpable for quite awhile leading up to the ceremony and for sometime thereafter.

After awhile, time passes.  We find ourselves looking back and calling up lessons learned and deciding how our years of study apply in the midst of real world situations.  Oft heard is the lament among pastors, "They didn't cover that in seminary!"  Taking a church administration course and getting an "A" is one thing.  Dealing with the deeply anxious treasurer who also signs your paycheck (on time, if you're so blessed) is quite another. 

Retooling is part of life.  You cannot escape the "shelf life" of the wisdom you've received in your studies and previous experiences.  You have to equip yourself anew with knowledge and skill sets so you can learn how to keep apace (or at least a few paces behind at the most) of change.

A recent article by church consultant Sarai Schnucker Rice brought these issues to mind.  Rice serves with the consultancy practice arising out of the now departed Alban Institute.  (To learn more about her work, visit  In her blog post "What Should a Minister Be Good At?", Rice explores a number of ministry competencies helpful to pastors to review and consider where your current skill sets in relationship to the health of your church and your own organizational skill. 

Her essay is available via:   (Don't worry.  I'll wait until you read it and come back.......There you are again!  Wasn't that an interesting article?)

Rice highlights five areas of organizational leadership skills clergy need.  Certainly, she is not saying it's all about "business" or running the church similar to a non-profit, yet we can improve our ministry as we call upon the skill sets and best practices from the for-profit and the "secular" non-profit (FYI: Churches and other religious organizations are 501c3 corporations in the eyes of the IRS).

Personally, when I read this article, I noted areas of competence where I have grown and developed a sense of affinity and skill.  In other areas, I found myself thinking about the gaps in my knowledge base and current skill levels.  Then in turn, I considered prioritizing which areas of growth are most important to my particular ministry work. Now it's time to start working on building up the areas of growth with strategic opportunities for self-learning as well as seeking out books, blogs and continuing education!

Given the "jack of all trades" of local church ministry, you learn on the fly, yet sometimes, the effect is diffusive, spreading ourselves so thin that we let go some opportunities to learn.  I urge and challenge my colleagues in ministry to consider how well we are scheduling any continuing education opportunities.  I realize not every church will grant "CEU time" as part of the mix, however, it's certainly a talking point to say that just as you receive vacation (I hope!), time away for professional development is just as important for a pastor as it is any other professional, especially in the practice of ministry.

I graduated from seminary twelve years ago.  This summer, I will be ordained ten years. I cannot imagine what those years would have been like if I assumed I had everything I needed up front.  Keeping up with change, living in a ministry context that is shaped more than we admit by the post-2008 recession and a country still figuring out what it means to be religious diverse and religiously disinclined, how could any M.Div or ministry course of study be sufficient without additional study, skill set development, clergy collegiality groups, retooling and other learning opportunities?

For ABCNYS pastors, the Lynette Martin Fund is available for continuing education opportunities.  To learn more, follow this link:  (NOTE: This grant program is only for those involved with ABCNYS ministries.)

For many American Baptist pastors, you can explore grant opportunities for further study via the American Baptist Home Mission Societies:  (NOTE:  ABHMS is responsible for the parameters of this program for ABCUSA pastors.)

A Lilly Foundation funded project on "Sustaining Pastoral Excellence" offers an interesting report on the benefits of efforts to improve clergy skills and vitality:

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