Reflecting on the basis of a call to ministry (or a lack thereof)
Dr. Milton writes:
[Martin] Bucer teaches us that the warrant, the calling and the work of the pastor, must be grounded in the Word of God and in the theological commitments of the Reformation and must be embraced personally by the pastor. In other words, the pastoral ministry is not just a Biblical idea, though it must be that, it is also a Spirit-shaped reality in the soul of the one called to be a pastor.
He also recounts a conversation before his own seminary training, in which a seasoned minister challenged him:
You only have your call from God! When they give you a Christmas raise and then run you out on a rumor, when the devil stirs up opposition against you for the sake of Jesus, and when you are hurt like our Lord was hurt, you will only have one thing to help you pick up your things and move on to the next field of service. Do you know what that is?” I decided not to answer. “You know what it is? It is your calling from God.” We both stood there looking at each other without talking. This eternity lasted for about a minute. Then he laid down the hammer for the final time. “Son, are you called by God to be a pastor according to the Word of God?” I whispered that I thought I should go home and pray about that. Brothers, that is just what I did.
(Read Dr. Milton's whole letter here.)
Dr. Milton's words, quoted above and in the rest of his letter, are both profound and wise. When someone is called to the ministry, it is not on the basis of the approval of their congregation, the outward affirmation that they receive (or that they don't receive), or any other external measure that should be what "keeps them going" so to speak. It should be their unequivocal sense that shepherding the flock of God in his church is all that they can do—the only thing that they can do.
This is why Charles Spurgeon frequently admonished his students that, if there was any other profession in which they felt they could be satisfied and content, they should run as fast as they could from pastoral ministry and do that! (See Spurgeon's Lectures To My Students.) It wasn't that Spurgeon didn't want more pastors coming into the church, but that he recognized that (in his day) the ministry was seen as a cushy and undemanding job, and maybe one in which someone who didn't want to work all that hard might find their ease.
Still today, pastoral ministry is a job where a lazy man can find a decent paycheck without too much work. Now, let me be clear: it is not that it should be this way, but for some it is. I've known lazy pastors, who present a façade of busyness and activity while hiding in their studies or wandering around, whereabouts unknown. Their sermons were ill-prepared and poorly presented, their visitation (what little of it existed) was infrequent and filled with empty clichés, and they didn't know their sheep from the wolves among them. These men were more susceptible than most to failed marriages and to the temptations of pornography, plagiarism, and other scandals that eventually wreaked havoc in their congregations; while they usually didn't stay more than a year or two in any one congregation, they did great damage during their brief visit. Thankfully, most of the men I'm thinking of are no longer in the ministry.
I think Dr. Milton's admonitions are invaluable today. I believe our day is more like Spurgeon's, in terms of many men attending seminary and dabbling at the possibility of a career in ministry, than most of us would like to admit.
As I commented on in my recent post reflecting on the decrease in placement, I believe we can see the fruit of the problem I've listed above (among other problems) in how many qualified candidates there are who are called as Dr. Milton described, yet who have not found placement into a ministry position. I don't think we can chalk that up entirely to the decline of the church, but also to the fact that, for years, there was a shortage (or an apparent one, at any rate) of called, qualified pastors and pastoral candidates, and therefore we threw open the doors of our seminaries and our presbyteries and welcomed in all who would come. Now we are seeing one of the consequences.
I think a second factor that has led to this (and to the decrease in placement issue as well) is that some—perhaps many—of those entering seminary do so because it was either implied to them or outright said that, if they were really serious about maturity in their Christian faith, they would go to seminary and pursue a career in vocational ministry. This is dead wrong! Not least because, as Dr. Milton reflects, this is no basis for a true, biblical ministry of the Word. There are many professions (most of them by far, in fact) in which a godly young man or woman can serve God faithfully.
If you are a seminary student—or if you are a seminary graduate who is pursuing a call to be a pastor—I would urge you to read Dr. Milton's words and take them to heart. There is no shame in determining that you are not, in fact, called to be a pastor! But if you are so called, be encouraged, as Dr. Milton (and I) long for you to be, by the true and biblical basis of your call to ministry.
At long last
That book, now seven years in the making, is finally out! From M.Div. to Rev.: making an effective transition from seminary into pastoral ministry, is finally available. It can be had in print and digital editions.
Because the book is published by Doulos Resources, naturally I would prefer that you buy it directly through the Doulos Resources eStore.
However, it is also available through the Covenant Seminary Bookstore, as well as through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble (if not immediately, then soon). Hopefully, more resellers (especially seminary bookstores) will be carrying it soon, as well.
Thanks to those of you who have supported the concept of this book. The wait is over! (Of course, now most of you are well-placed in ministry and your interest is merely theoretical...)
How to be a member of the clergy
Lecturing on Pastoral Transition
Dr. Rod Culbertson, who is Associate Professor of Practical Theology and the Dean of Student Development for RTS, graciously invited me to lecture to a new class he is teaching on "preparing for pastoral ministry". The class meets at 2pm, and I would guess that neither Dr. Culbertson nor the other students would mind if anyone happened to drop by.
Incidentally, I'll also be giving a lunchtime lecture at RTS tomorrow, on the topic of "The Solo Pastor."
If you don't happen to be in Charlotte and available for my lectures (more likely), please pray that there would be some value and benefit to these students in something that I have to say.
Churchill on writing books
Winston Churchill once said that writing a book goes through five phases. In phase one, it is a novelty or a toy. But by phase five, it becomes a tyrant ruling your life. And just when you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling it into the public.
~Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p.ix.
I resonate with that quote so strongly, especially because, at this point in the brief history of my life, I am at phase five with one book and close to it (probably phase 4.9) with another.
Most of my 10s of readers (are you still there?) know that I've long been working on a book on the process of transition from seminary to ministry. Lord willing, this November that book will be released by Doulos Resources; From M.Div. to Rev.: making an effective transition from seminary into pastoral ministry is about 90% complete, and I'm earnestly hopeful that I might finish the manuscript in the next month.
You may also be aware that, a few years ago, I realized that I needed to carve a section out of that manuscript and use it to form a separate book on surviving and thriving in seminary. It wasn't very long after that point that I came in contact with Mark Warnock, who writes a blog entitled Seminary Survival Guide. We quickly figured out that we should combine our efforts to fight the powers of evil, and we began to hammer out a hybrid of our collective work into what is now taking shape as a book. We're still working on a title, but we're considering Mastering Divinity (and Other Myths): a seminary survival guide.
Soon I will fling the beasts out into the public! Get ready...
Update on books (mine)
To begin with, Doulos Resources released a book I wrote about six weeks ago: For All the Saints... Praying for the Church is a short book that I wrote for congregation-level reading, offering a guide to what specific ways people might pray for the church, the biblical basis behind each, and some suggested sub-topics for prayer under each. It's available in the Doulos Resources e-Store, as well as through Amazon, Monergism Books, the PCA's CE&P Bookstore, and the Covenant Seminary Bookstore.
Second, my friend and fellow pastor Mark Warnock joined me here in west Tennessee for a few days last week, and we made substantial progress on a book on surviving and thriving in seminary. Mark is one of the pastors of First Baptist Church of Columbia, IL and who writes and edits the blog Seminary Survival Guide. We're encouraged about the work we got done, and I hope that this book will be available by the end of this summer-- in time for incoming seminary classes everywhere to benefit from it.
Finally, I've also been making some progress (slow though it is) on my longtime-coming book on making an effective transition from seminary into ministry. If all goes according to (MY) plan, it will also be ready for a late summer/fall release. I'll keep you posted.
Questions before starting a D.Min.
- Do I have time?
- Will my church support me?
- Can I commit 4-7 years to the process?
- Do I want an accredited degree or just the title?
- What criteria will I use to select a D.Min. program?
Be sure to read Chuck's particular explanation and reflections about each question. Visit Chuck's blog (Confessions of a Small Church Pastor) to read more.
Responding to claims of seminary's irrelevance
I call "bull" on all of them. Really-- he has substantial flaws in every argument. Let me address them each:
1. Seminaries remove people from ministry contexts.
What Belder is driving at here is that, for those already engaged in ministry, packing up and moving to seminary will take them out of that ministry. But he pre-supposes that moving to another city is a requisite for seminary training, and/or that it must be done immediately. This simply isn't the case: I know a number of guys who are involved in ministry (several as Interns) while pursuing seminary study at the same time. Distance learning, mentoring models, and well-planned internships can cover a substantial amount of seminary training without requiring a move at all. I've heard or read about at least a dozen different programs for overcoming this problem.
2. The process of seminary is no longer effective in preparing for ministry.
Belder says, "When the dominant church model was oral proclamation, reasoned argument, and apologetics, perhaps sitting in classrooms studying the minutiae of supralapsarianism, practicing speaking skills, and honing rhetoric was helpful. Today, however, we are moving past such a model..."
When was that? I can't remember an era in my church history classes (or in my classes on historic philosophy in undergrad, either) where this description fit the church in the way that Belder paints it.
That said, I will say this: if what Belder is saying is that studying theology, learning how to preach effectively, and dealing with matters of defending the faith is no longer effective, then it sounds to me like he is giving up the ship-- or at least, he is abandoning any biblical notion of what the church is.
3. Denominations are becoming a thing of the past.
This is surprising, because of the rise of denominational (and denomination-like) affiliation that I see today. Some of the biggest things happening in church ministry today are at least quasi-denominational in their organization: the Acts 29 Network, Sovereign Grace Ministries, the Gospel Coalition... all very much like denominations, if not overtly so. The Presbyterian Church in America, the Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and many smaller denominations are all seeing regular and, in some cases, substantial growth.
While the mainline denominations are in decline (even, surprisingly, the Southern Baptist Church), denominations are alive and well. So what is Belder's rationale? "Most of today’s younger generation could care less about denominations." Maybe that's true-- until they actually begin to engage in the life and ministry of the church and, sometime after they are the "younger generation," recognize that the church is something much bigger than themselves.
4. The future of ecclesiology is in the priesthood of all believers.
Newsflash: the past of ecclesiology was in the priesthood of all believers, as well. Oh, wait a minute-- Belder doesn't actually mean that in the way that Luther, Calvin, and others in church history did.
What Belder means is that the PASTORS won't be paid for their ministries anymore. "Many future church leaders will be bi-vocational, making a dedicated graduate degree impossible. Dedicating full-time graduate level study to something that doesn’t pay the bills is not a practical option." Where does he get this? And since when has this been true?
Thousands of pastors are bi-vocational TODAY. Hundreds of thousands have been throughout history. Most of them, by far, received advanced theological training to prepare them for ministry.
5. Seminaries are about credentialing as much as training.
There is absolutely a lot of truth in this. And that actually makes it a reason FOR seminary, not AGAINST it.
There MUST be some standard for training. Many congregations (and not a few denominations) take this far too lightly, and they do so at their own peril. When we (existing pastors, members of the church, etc.) see that a pastoral candidate has a Master of Divinity from a recognized seminary, we've just saved ourselves dozens of hours of examination and questioning, because we can (rightly) make some assumptions about how educated for ministry the guy is. This isn't a problem-- this is actually helpful, and good.
I'll give you a counterexample: I'm meeting with a guy who is NOT seminary-trained, who wants to plant a church (with a denomination that allows this). He's desperate for help getting up to speed on what he missed in seminary, because he KNOWS his credibility will instantly be in question once those who might consider his church learn that he hasn't been to seminary.
6. The cost is too high.
I'll grant that seminary is expensive. So is any other graduate education. But simply counting the cost by putting a dollar figure on it is irresponsible. Let's go the other direction: what happens if we do away with seminary as we know it today, and everyone is basically self-taught. The local church becomes the classroom, and real live saints become the guinea pigs for pastoral learning-- less pastoral care and of lesser quality, coupled with greater division among believers (largely due to poor leadership), fewer conversions because of lower quality teaching and preaching, and a general atrophy of the church. How's that for costly?
On the other hand, how about run in the other direction: let's pour MORE money into seminary, and make them even better. What if the quality of leadership being turned out by seminaries was so high that we actually saw an increase in conversions and an advancement in discipleship-- which resulted in higher giving as a consequence?
7. Resources are becoming available for little to no cost.
I can't believe he put this one back to back with #6. Who are those resources being made available by? SEMINARIES!
There are a few other groups doing some modest work here, but by far the vast preponderance of free and low-cost theological materials being made available are offered by seminaries, which alone proves their relevance and their ability to keep up with technological trends, while at the same time making their very relevant training available more locally and organically.
8. Technology has made brick-and-mortar institutions less important.
I think this one betrays an equivocation of seminary training with plain "book learnin'."
The very reason it is called "seminary" (instead of simply graduate school or, in some cases, "divinity" school) is because of the seminar aspect, i.e., the face-to-face interaction with others. You cannot replicate that via technology-- not now, at least. Consider this a serious threat to the seminary as we now know it when Facebook, chat rooms, and conference calls are replaced with holographic conferencing that allows dozens of people to interact in the same "space" while physically remaining remote from one another. Until then, the face-to-face and in-person quality of seminary is too valuable to write off as irrelevant simply because I can listen to a professor's lecture via podcast.
9. You learn too much too quickly.
Belder's alternative: "A more sustainable model would be to take one or two classes at a time, take steps to implement those classes, and then move to the next topic." Talk about costly! For the 104 credit hours that I completed for my seminary degree, this approach would take about eleven and a half years of year-round study, assuming I took no breaks and was able to get three classes learned and "implemented" during that time.
But again, Belder is missing the point of seminary. NO ONE looks back on seminary and believes that they learned everything they needed to know; frankly, only the most naïve students enter seminary thinking that they will learn even most of what they will need to know for ministry. Neither, by the way, did the doctor that you go to for medical care learn everything he needed to know while in Med school; yet, surprisingly, most of us still see the relevance of Medical school training!
I've said before, maybe 50% of seminary is bibliographic: you're not learning all of the data you'll need, you're gathering the resources you'll need so that you know where to go for information when you need it. Add that to the widespread presence of field education requirements, internships, and other ways to integrate learning while in seminary, and #9 is a non-factor.
10. Seminaries usurp the role of the church.
Belder goes even further: "The fact that training has been outsourced to the seminaries is a sign of a failure of the church." Wait a minute, though-- did he just say (in #3) that, "many seminaries are bastions of denominational conformity and preservation"?
The seminary I attended was the seminary of my denomination-- as such, we view it as an extension of the local church, and consider its leaders as a part of our church. Even when a seminary is not denominationally-affiliated (which many aren't), it is incredibly short-sighted to state outright that the seminary is at odds with the church in this way. I think that Belder does not display a view of "church" that goes much beyond the local congregational level.
Nevertheless, he complains that seminary-level training ought to be the role of the local church, not an outsourced institution. Fair enough; how will the leaders of that church be trained? Probably by other leaders, right? And what happens when those who are newly-trained for ministry are released, and they themselves begin to train others-- will they be equipped to do so? Probably not, at least not at that level, and not immediately. It may be, therefore, that they look to the "mother church" that sent them to help with training. In fact, it may be the case that one larger, established and more central church equips several church planters, who then send leaders back up to the mother church for training initially, and so on. Is this not effectively a denominational seminary, writ smaller?
All in all, what bothers me the most about Belder's claims is that he is still in seminary while writing them-- thus, lacking the benefit of actually being a pastor to evaluate whether the training he is now receiving will be relevant for him or not. Ironically, he admits that he is in a program at Luther (shhh-- it's a seminary!) that has demonstrated to him how seminaries can adapt to cultural changes and remain irrelevant. Which is it?
Maintaining and growing your network, part 2
By technological approach, I mean technology tools that will help you maintain and grow your friendships and relationships. (Frankly, many of these can help you build and re-build friendships, as well.)
First, though, an important disclaimer: these are tools, not the relationships themselves. And they are intended to be connection facilitators, not the connections themselves. Don't be fooling into mistaking one for the other.
There are several tools that I use, and that I think every ministry candidate ought to begin to use, before and during their candidacy process:
- Plaxo started off as a tool to help you keep your contact information current. It still does that, but they have more recently added a social networking component that they would like to become a competitor to the other big ones. More than the social networking aspect, though, Plaxo's original purpose is the real benefit of the service. You'll sync your computer's address book with Plaxo, and then you can contact those in your address book who have e-mail addresses (selectively or the whole book) and request that they verify the accuracy of their contact information. You'll probably find that a number of your friends are members of the service, too-- which means that their information will always automatically be updated. If you've ever struggled to keep accurate phone numbers for your friends, this is the service for you. Furthermore, Plaxo will (at your request) e-mail you reminders of birthdays, and even provide a service for sending customized eCards via e-mail to them. I've found that an eCard sent to most of my contacts is a great way to maintain a regular connection with those who I don't otherwise have frequent contact with.
- If you're not already a member of Facebook, I'm surprised. Whether you are or not, you should begin to turn your attention to this social networking service. While MySpace put the social network on everyone's map, Facebook has emerged as the service to be a part of. Why should you be on Facebook? Because you'll find that you are able to re-connect to people you know, but have lost touch with. Whether it be classmates from seminary, college, and even high school, former co-workers, or a fellow member of a church that you were a member of 10 years ago, chances are good that you'll find dozens, if not hundreds, of people you haven't seen or talked to in years. It's also a fun way to keep up with those who you have seen-- watching for changes in status, seeing recent pictures, reading "notes," and writing on their "walls." In fact, it's so fun that it can become an addiction-- so be careful that you don't get too sucked in! Facebook has reconnected me with literally hundreds of people that I had lost contact with-- some of those re-connection stories are pretty cool.
- While your social networking appetite will find full satisfaction with Facebook, I have to also recommend that you join LinkedIn, which is also a social network. This one, though, is focused on networking for professionals. Here's what I really like about LinkedIn: they have built into the system a way for introductions to be made between two others who may not know each other. So, if I find someone I'd like to connect to, but I don't know them directly, I may request an introduction from someone we know in common. Also, because it is focused on "professional" networking, the interface feels more like a resume or CV than a personal website or blog (like Facebook can feel like).
Think of it this way: Plaxo will help you keep your address book current; Facebook will aid you in reconnecting with your friends old and new; and LinkedIn will give you access to new relationships through introductions from the people you already know.
One more thing: the Manager Tools guys have some good advice and cautions to offer about using social networking tools; check out their podcasts on it here and here.
Maintaining and growing your network, part 1
There are two angles, or approaches, I want to cover about that: I'll call them the organic and the technological approaches. In this post, I'll cover the organic approach, and I'll discuss the technological approach in another post.
There are entire books written about how to build friendships, how to develop relationships, how to grow your "network" in an organic way. Frankly, some of them are awful: they are the reason why some in the church have the negative opinion of "networking" that they do.
But many of them are incredibly useful, and it would be a mistake to try to re-create here the great work of others. (I'll make some recommendations below.)
That said, I'll list a few principles that are crucial in relationship development. (It is much more helpful to think in terms of principles instead of methods.)
- Be genuine. You're setting out to build real relationships with real people; by definition, a relationship is a commitment. If you're not truly interested in building the relationships you are pursuing, stop now. (For that matter, you might seriously reconsider your calling to the ministry.)
- Be available. When opportunities present themselves for connecting with friends-- new and old-- then you need to be flexible enough to accept them, at least with regular frequency. You don't have to forsake your family life or passing your classes to do it, but you ought to be willing to turn aside from writing the perfect paper or polishing your sermon to acknowledge and relate to a friend or family member.
- Be a listener. Sure, you want them to get to know you-- how else will they really be a friend to you, or have any sense of stake in your life and ministry? But to build a real relationship you must listen. This doesn't mean solving their problems, offering great advice, or giving an ideal book recommendation. (Well, sometimes it might mean one of those.) It means knowing who they are, the details of their life, and what their struggles and delights are.
- Be pro-active. Sometimes you need to seek them out and be their friend. Whether its a phone call, a note or card in the mail, an e-mail, or lunch or a cup of coffee together, some of the relationship needs to come from you. Don't be one of those friends who never initiates.
- Be attentive. Remember their birthdays. Include them on your Christmas card list. Be aware enough of major life changes to note them. And if you know about something significant-- like that their dog died, their mother is sick, they are looking for a new job, or there is a problem in their church community-- then check in with them about it occasionally.
All of this is exactly what you'll be doing with the people you'll minister to in your pastoral ministry. This is the life you will live as a pastor. If you learn the skill of relationships that these principles speak to, you will be far better prepared for ministry.
And really: isn't this simply "making friends 101"? You've done this before! Don't treat it like it is something you don't have any idea how to do, like evangelism or something.
Here are some suggestions for getting a better grip on building relationships:
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a classic on this subject, and despite the corny title is really a good tool.
The Relationship Cure by John Gottman deals with strengthening relationships of all sorts, and is a fantastic resource for this subject, as well as for the counseling you will do in ministry.
The Manager Tools podcast and website is a resource I have mentioned before; they have some good podcasts on developing your "professional" network. I especially appreciated their thoughts on "Building a Network" and "Secrets of a Great Handshake."
Building your network, part 2
To answer the last question first: you may not need to build it bigger. The Lord knows exactly how many of His people you need to know in order to be led to the place He has for you!
But you also need to be a good steward of the opportunities for new relationships God puts before you. After all, when we're talking about "building your network" then what we really mean is adding new relationships to your life. And these relationships will either be as brothers and sisters in Christ, or people who do not believe but who nevertheless may enrich your life (and who certainly need the Gospel!). One way or another, can anyone say they have "too many friends" or that they know too many people?
So really, building your network is about taking advantage of the social opportunities that are naturally a part of your life, and seizing those that are offered to you.
What might this look like? Here are a few examples:
- New classmates. It is unlikely that you will know every classmate in your classes at seminary. If you make it a point to sit beside someone new in one class every semester and befriend them (or even just get acquainted with them), you'll gain 6-10 new friends every semester.
- Leaders at your "seminary" church. As you live an active life as a member of the church, and get involved in leadership and service there, you will inevitably get to know a few of the leaders in your congregation.
- Members of your "home" church. If you go to seminary in a city different from your hometown, your home church (in your hometown) will be interested in your progress at seminary. They may even ask you to give a report on what you have been doing and learning when you return home. Take note of the people in your home congregation that take especial interest in your seminary training-- these will be the ones who see themselves as stakeholders in your current and future ministry. And here is a great opportunity to build some new friendships with people who care about you.
- Co-laborers in ministry. If you're involved in ministry during seminary (and if you're not, then I question whether you're really being well-trained for ministry), then your co-laborers in that ministry are a part of your network-- they have seen your gifts and abilities for ministry at work, and can testify to your fitness for ministry. They'll understand as well as anyone what sorts of ministry opportunities you are best suited for.
Again, this list isn't exhaustive-- there will be other opportunities for you to build your network. But you should have an idea from these what ways you have to grow the number of relationships you have with other members of the Body of Christ. Next time, I'll talk about growing and maintaining these relationships.
Who's in your network?
So, who is in your network? Here's a list of starting points:
- Family members
- Seminary classmates
- Seminary professors
- College friends
- Other friends
- People from your home church(es)
- Former campus pastor(s) or ministry worker(s)
- People from presbytery, synod, or region association
- Visiting pastors and/or speakers whom you have gotten to know while in seminary
- Present and former co-workers
As you can see, that list alone could generate dozens of names-- depending on your life circumstances, perhaps even hundreds. And that is just a beginning; your circumstances will dictate how many more people you can add to the list.
So to get started "building" your network, make a list of everyone who fits into as many of these as you can. Do you have addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses for them? If not, who would you call to get them? Collect all of these together-- in your computer address book, in a notebook or planner, or however will be the most effective way to collect your names and contact information.
Don't look now, but you've got a network!
*I say "need" because I'm firmly convinced that it will be through your network that you will most likely find effective placement. As the results of my survey showed, by far most of the graduates found their placement through their network; more than that, the effective placements among them were almost all through a network. For my own experience, every ministry job I have ever had-- including my ministry jobs in seminary-- came through my network.
A great deal on software (Mac only, sorry)
Today and for a limited, they are offering a MacUpdate Promo. This is a bundle of programs for the Mac that are normally over $300, but you can buy them in bundle for $49.99.
Why am I mentioning this here? Three of the seven programs included in the bundle: DevonAgent, Mellel, and Bookends. I used all three of these throughout seminary.
DevonAgent is a great research tool for searching the internet.
Mellel is a word processor specifically designed for research and academic writing (including Hebrew support).
Bookends is an academic reference manager that makes it easy to put citations in your documents in the proper format.
It's worth $49.99 just for these three, but you'll get other great programs too. This is a steal for students and pastors alike.
The measure of a seminary
On being more than just a seminarian
JMH: And lastly, how can seminary students be healthy church members?
TMA: Seminarians should think of themselves primarily as church members, not “seminarians.” I think a lot of men see themselves as ‘tweeners levitating somewhere between their previous church and the church or mission field they’re headed towards. They’re in a kind of suspended animation. And often a seminarian can suffer spiritually as they float out their in academic space somewhere. The church suffers too without their gifting and service.
It will be tempting to think of their studies as a special status that obviates their relationship to and responsibilities in the local church. But they are primarily Christians, and as such should be active in a local church body as members not seminarians. We don’t excuse other college students from the expectation that they should be active in a local fellowship; and we shouldn’t do it with seminarians either. So, they should join a local church and plant roots. They may be leaving in a few years but learning to love a church quickly will help them learn to love new members quickly when they’re pastors or when serving in highly transient areas.
And like seminary professors, students should be humble and patient, avoid judging others and asserting unimportant preferences. They should see the church as the main classroom of Christ, and the classroom as an auxiliary. Given that, they should seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. And by God’s grace, they will as they humbly receive the word (Jam. 1:21), receive grace through the various administrations of God’s gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11), and are equipped for service until they reach maturity in Christ, the Head (Eph. 4:11-16).
Two recommended blogs
- Seminary Survival Guide: plenty of helpful advice on seminary from a guy not unlike me-- a pastor who has a peculiar burden for seminarians.
- Going to Seminary: This guy is "live-blogging" his seminary experience and offering help from the lessons he learns along the way.
Good stuff, both. Having sensed the need for helpful information myself, I appreciate the resources that these two blogs offer.
Congratulations, and fresh starts
Many seminaries have held graduation ceremonies in the past week; others will be doing so in the coming week or so. I don't know how many of my tens of readers are still in seminary, but to all of you who have recently graduated: you have my deep and heartfelt congratulations. You have completed an accomplishment of no small substance, and I commend you on your work and diligence to see it through.
Along those lines: I assume that many (if not most) graduates will be transitioning into ministry over the coming weeks and months. I intend to continue my re-visitation of my original Eight Principles for Starting Effective Ministries Well over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, here's a great (probably better than mine) set of reflections:
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Professor Scot McKnight has been hosting a wonderful series on his blog, where he asks seasoned pastors (most of them seem to have more than a couple of decades of ministry experience) to reflect on the question: if you could start all over again, knowing what you know now, what would you focus on? John Ortberg, John Frye, and Bob Smallman all make great contributions.
What's clear to them (and to me, already) is that it is easy to make assumptions about pastoral ministry that may or may not be fully accurate once you are immersed in the work itself. Draw on the wisdom of these pastors and learn from them what you can.
Approaching the final year, part 5: Tag Your Mentors
The last thing you must do to prepare well for the transition while in seminary is to make a list: who will your mentors be in ministry?
You will inevitably face circumstances that you won't know how to handle, or will need some basic orientation for. Your first wedding or funeral; the first time you do a hospital visitation; the first Session meeting you moderate or Board meeting you oversee. You may not know how to lead worship effectively, or how to lead another through basic discipleship. There will be a thousand blind spots, things you didn't know that you didn't know-- until you were in the midst of needing to know!
You will have questions. How do you start to counsel one of your parishioners? How do you stop counseling without leaving them feeling abandoned? Are you spending too much time (or too little) preparing your sermon or lessons, or too little time (or too much) meeting with your congregants? Which issues are worth fighting for? How do you repent well when you've sinned against one of your members? What do you do about the strange situation that you never saw coming? Are you pushing for change too fast?
Where will you turn for answers to your questions? Where will you go for advice about your blind spots? You will serve yourself well if you've thought through who you will call or meet with in these times of need.
There will inevitably be some that you can't list at this point. Perhaps you will work under a seasoned Senior Pastor, or there will be experienced Elders and/or Deacons in your congregation who can guide you in the moment. There will certainly be other pastors around-- perhaps in your presbytery, or other like gathering-- and some of these will present themselves as available for such advice. Maybe, as it was in my case, there will be willingness in the man who put you in contact with your new congregation, and he will offer his wisdom and experience when you need it.
But even these present gaps that need to be filled elsewhere. In the midst of a funeral, your Elders and Deacons won't be as available for guidance; they will assume that you know what to do-- not just preaching the sermon, but ordering the service, guiding the family through their grief, leading the church in serving the bereaved. When you have conflict with your Senior Pastor, you will probably want to avoid talking to anyone close to the situation. There will be times when you need your mentors to know you, not just ministry in general.
Seek out, therefore, a few trusted mentors-- men who know you, whose experience and wisdom in ministry is trustworthy, in whom you know you can safely place your confidence-- and approach them. Simply ask them if they would mind if you called them from time to time when you need advice on pastoral ministry. I would be astonished if they refused.
It will be a lot easier knowing now than waiting until the first incident presents itself. Go ahead: get out a sheet of paper and make a list (maybe five names?) and begin asking these friends for their willingness. When you call them on the way to the hospital or as you wait for your first counseling appointment, you'll be so glad you did this now.
Approaching the final year, part 4: Keep it humble
So you're getting a seminary degree... what does that mean to you?
For many (most?) of us, it was an accomplishment that we were/are pretty proud of. It means a lot of hard work: difficult study, learning new languages, writing papers, reading mountains of books. It also means building new friendships, getting to know some amazing professors and others, getting to study the Bible and other wonderful fields of study with intensity.
For some of us it also means working full-time or nearly so to support ourselves and our families as we accomplish all of the above.
Your seminary degree is a great achievement, and something you ought to take great pride in. But it is also something that you need to keep a healthy (read: humble) perspective about.
Frankly, many people in your future congregation won't care so much about your achievements in seminary-- or if they do, it will be because they are intimidated by what you know that they don't. They won't have a clear understanding of how hard you worked, or how difficult it was for you to learn all that you have. At best, they will appreciate the fact that you know the answers to tough questions, and that you have gathered the tools you will need to minister the Word of God effectively.
You need to begin to cultivate now the attitude that will allow you to minister to them in the future.
When you complete your degree, you'll be awarded a "Master of Divinity" (or perhaps a "Master of Arts etc.") degree-- which is to say, you may feel compelled to consider yourself a master of these materials! But be careful: as you have probably become all too aware, you haven't mastered very much through the seminary process. If anything, seminary may (and probably should) have served to reveal to you how little you have mastered, and how much you have yet to learn.
A case in point: I didn't know of anyone in my preaching classes who earned an "A" on their sermons. I certainly didn't-- and shouldn't have. Think of what such a message would communicate to a seminary student? For many of us (including me), these were among the first sermons we had ever preached. Yet preaching is an art-form that takes years of practice to master, and often hundreds of sermons to become adept at. One pastor I know suggested that it took a pastor his first 100 sermons or so just to find his own style and voice in preaching. Should a seminarian be given any inclination of mastery after having preached his third of fourth?
Another factor to consider is that, despite your best efforts, you will likely have very little real-world experience applying the many things you have learned. You know lots of facts, and you know many good methods. But you don't yet know people-- especially the people you will be called to serve and shepherd in the context of your first pastoral call.
Who will those people be? Some of them will be better-educated than you, academically. Others won't have anything approaching a graduate degree, yet they will have many years of life experience and knowledge in fields you may never have heard of. All (or nearly all) of them have some things you don't: they know who they are, who the people in their congregation are, what the dynamics of that congregation are, and what the community and culture that they live in are like.
A few years ago, the TV show Ed centered around the lives of a few old classmates in their home town. One of these, Mike, had completed medical school and returned home to work with the old, well-established Dr. Jerome, who had served that community as the only doctor for decades. Dr. Jerome was a real curmudgeon, and showed Mike almost no respect as a doctor-- frustrating Mike almost to the point of quitting-- until finally Mike learns that Dr. Jerome has been waiting for Mike to begin to respect and care about the people he cares for as much as he cares about the medicine itself. At that point (not until the third season, by the way) Dr. Jerome finally begins to treat Mike with the respect and authority that Mike deserves.
Ministry is very much like that: until we respect the people we serve (or will serve) in ministry as much as we respect the knowledge and office of ministry itself, we won't have their ear and our efforts will be like spinning our wheels in the snow-- no traction.
You've done good work in your seminary degree; don't undervalue it. But don't assume that because you've earned a "Master of Divinity" that you're fully prepared for the humbling work of ministry.
A more reasonable title would be, not Master of Divinity, but Apprentice of Divinity. You've (almost) completed a huge step along the way toward gaining the knowledge and tools you will need for good ministry. Now it's time to begin shaping the heart of a pastor by seeking an appropriate level of humility.
Bits and tidbits
A few articles, posts, and other such have come to my attention recently that those in transition (or considering it) may find interesting.
- How a Presbyterian Minister Should Resign. Good thoughts here on the way that a resignation is approached-- not in a strictly businesslike manner, but with care and consideration for one's responsibilities as a Pastor and Presbyter.
- PCA Ministerial Glut. Back in January, the "Warfield List" had a brief discussion (now fizzled out, alas) on how there are "too many" candidates for ministry and what to do about it. FWIW, I don't agree with most of the conclusions drawn, but my 3 or 4 readers will recognize a couple of themes that are burdens of my heart. (HT: Heidelblog)
- Finding a new job, when you're on the road. A good (brief) article from the NY Times "Shifting Careers" column. There are meta-themes here that working Pastors (and even seminary students) will be able to apply.
- The Unclutterer blog has been doing a good series on moving lately-- good advice. Catch their posts here, here, and here.
- The secret to success in ministry. A good little reflection from PastorHacks on why devotional life is important for Pastors (also has good application in seminary, BTW).
- Speed mentoring. Interesting concept-- wouldn't this be fascinating to see done at a General Assembly? (HT: 43Folders)
- The Business. Rands in Repose does it again-- this time discussing salary negotiations. As with all of his posts, this one is focused on the process in the context of the world of IT-- but there's a lot of application to be gleaned for the pastoral candidate. (I especially appreciate his advice on gauging your worth.)
Approaching the final year, part 2: Gather the tools
The second thing you can do to prepare for an effective season of candidacy is to assess the tools you'll need for ministry.
You're already gathering some of these tools as a part of seminary education: the know-how to do many of the tasks that will be before you is key, of course, but even more important is having a catalog and library of information to go to when you need answers. The truth is, most seminary graduates don't so much remember a lot of what they were taught as they remember which class they learned a specific idea in, and we go to the materials from that class to get the particulars for the moment. Thus, taking good notes and becoming familiar with the textbooks for the classes you're taking is important-- not just for now while you're earning the grades, but for later when you'll need to reference that material again.
Furthermore, there are other resources you'll encounter during your time in seminary. One of my classmates quipped that, "Seminary is 50% bibliography," and he was pretty right about that. The book recommendations that your professors make in an aside in class, the titles written by guest lecturers and chapel speakers, the articles you reference for exegetical papers-- all are invaluable to your future ministry. A member of my congregation recently visited my office, and he commented about the number of books I have. This particular member works in a fairly mechanical service industry, so it only took him a moment to make a connection: "These are your tools, aren't they? You've got about as many tools in your toolbox as I do."
On a more mundane level, as yourself: what other "things" will I need for ministry? Depending on factors such as what demographic you anticipate ministering to, what role you will have, etc., you may identify any of the following (or other similar things):
- Musical equipment. Do you play guitar or another instrument as a part of your ministry? If so, do you have the equipment you would need if you were to begin work in that area of ministry today? Maybe you need to upgrade your instrument, or fortify your equipment list with amplification, microphones, a more capable mixing board or effects panel, etc.
- Computer hardware and software. Most of us use a computer to some degree (obviously if you're reading this off my blog then you use one for that!). Do you have a computer that will serve your needs in ministry? Does it have the software installed that you will need to serve your people? Many classmates of mine assumed that their churches would buy them a new computer when they accepted a position-- and some will, for sure, but others can't afford one right away. Consider whether you need to upgrade your hardware or software in preparation for your new ministry.
- Clothing. I think this is one of the most overlooked areas for seminarians. Take a look in your closet; now, picture your pastor or the kind of ministry worker you sense a call to become, and think of the circumstances that they might find themselves in. Could you dress for all of those occasions with what you already have? Could you lead worship on Sunday morning, or teach a Wednesday evening study, or attend a Session meeting in the context you'll minister? Would you be appropriately dressed for the funerals you will attend, the visitation you'll perform, or the day-to-day events and activities? I'm convinced that any American pastor needs to have a suit, a sportcoat or blazer, a few ties and dress shirts, and pants and shoes to match-- not matter how casual you anticipate your circumstances will be.
- Special Pastor stuff. Does your ecclesiastical tradition use vestments such as a pulpit robe or alb, stoles, or clerical collars? Are there other accoutrements that your pastor regularly utilizes? You may not even be aware of these-- or if you are, you might not realize just how many things you will need. Begin to ask questions of the pastors and/or ministry leaders in your church about what sorts of vestments and other tools you might be gathering. You may want your own pulpit Bible, a nice copy of your denomination's hymnal, or a bound copy of your denomination's book of order. You won't know what these are until you ask.
Okay-- so the take-away here is that you probably need to spend a lot of money to get all of these tools together! But if you're like most seminarians, this is one of the most financially-strapped seasons of your life. How can you possibly get all of the things you need?
I have a few suggestions here. There are other creative ways to do it, but these have worked for me and my friends:
- Books: look for used book sales at libraries and at your seminary; often you'll find titles for free or very inexpensively. You might also utilize used book services online or second-hand bookstores locally.
- Clothes: I don't know what it's like in your family, but my mother still loves to give me clothes for Christmas or my birthday. If you have a family member who gives clothes, ask them if you might make specific requests (you might tell them that it will serve your future ministry-- they may like knowing they are helping you gather your tools). There are good second-hand clothing stores in many towns and cities, too-- or check with your seminary to see if they have a clothing exchange.
- Equipment (computer and other): 90% of the musical gear that I've owned has been second-hand, and a number of computers have been, too. There are many sources for used and refurbished equipment, both online and locally. For musical equipment, you might also check with some of the larger retailers (again, both "brick-and-mortar" and online) for "scratch-and-dent sales". Many computer manufacturers offer refurbished, open-box specials, and clearance items (Apple does this, and so does Dell). These make great Christmas and birthday gifts, too-- especially if you have a similarly-minded relative who you exchange gifts with.
- Pastor stuff: short of finding a retiring pastor who will give or sell you his stuff, finding real "bargains" on these won't be easy. I know a couple of guys with hand-me-down robes, which is a big money-saver; but finding someone who is BOTH your size and willing to part with his robe is difficult. Shopping online may turn up bargains (as compared to buying from a local retailer) on stuff like stoles and other ready-made vestments. (UPDATE: I've just found that Murphy Robes offers a "factory outlet" section on their website.)
- All of the above: hey-- you've got a big milestone coming up, right? You'll be graduating from seminary! Some of your family or close friends may want to give you a nice graduation gift that will serve you in your ministry. (Many will do the same for your ordination, by the way.) If you get nothing else from this, then I've given you something to think about when they ask what you might want for graduation/ordination presents.
One more thing; some of this will be tax-deductible, especially if you buy it in the same year that you begin your ministry. Save your receipts and ask a tax professional which expenses will serve you an extra duty on April 15.
Approaching the final year, part 3: Know the hurdles
What stands between you and your first pastorate or ministry? If you think it is only graduation and candidacy, you may be in for a big surprise.
If you're affiliated with a denomination or other ecclesiastical affiliation-- or if you intend to serve in ministry in one-- there are probably additional requirements beyond the simple academic exercises. Most denominations have some sort of formalized process for ordination wherein a pastoral candidate is examined and tested in his readiness for ministry. Some denominations do a better job of shepherding ministerial candidates through the preparation for this than others. There may also be requirements that your seminary has beyond classroom study, such as field education.
My advice: make sure you understand the process before you, and know what your part in all of it is.
For example: in my denomination (the Presbyterian Church in America), ministerial candidates must go through a series of steps in order to be "ordainable"-- and in most cases the available ministry positions require (or at least prefer) ordainable candidates. Here's a summary of the steps between first sensing a call to ministry and final ordination in the PCA:
- Becoming a "candidate for gospel ministry" under the care of your presbytery: to do this, you must have met with the Session at your church and discussed your testimony of faith and sense of calling to the ministry. They must then write a letter to your presbytery (which is the regional affiliation of the churches and pastors in that geographic region) on your behalf, asking that you be placed "under care" of the presbytery as a "candidate for gospel ministry". The presbytery will also examine you (usually through a committee first) and hear your testimony of faith and of your call to ministry. Once you have been approved at this stage, you are officially under the care of a presbytery (which, in some presbyteries means almost nothing, unfortunately-- but others do a very good job with it). According to the PCA's Book of Church Order (BCO), you must have been a member of your PCA church for at least six months before you may come under care of a presbytery, you must apply to come under care at least one month before the next meeting of presbytery, and you must be under care to become an Intern of presbytery.
- Becoming an "intern of presbytery": the difference between a candidate and an intern is that, while a candidate is "under care" in the sense that the presbytery has assumed some level of responsibility for the development of the candidate for ministry, the intern is supervised in fulfilling specific tasks to gain experience for ministry. Every presbytery has a slightly different set of tasks and expectations, but all of them have the same goal: to give interns a comprehensive set of experiences that will expose them to all aspects of pastoral ministry. According to the PCA's BCO, an internship must be at least one year long; most interns will find that it will be difficult to fulfill every requirement within a year, and would prefer more time. Your internship will be done in conjunction with your local church; your pastor (or possibly a Ruling Elder) will oversee and supervise this stage of your training. (For more about this, see my former post here.)
- Candidacy. Typically (and minimally-- if you're looking for the least number of steps), the next step after completing your internship is to find a pastoral call. In the PCA, you cannot be ordained unless there is a specific local church who has called you to be a pastor. Thus, the next step is to find placement (and that's what this blog is all about!).
- Ordination Trials: After you have a call, the presbytery where the church that calls you is a member will begin the process of examining you for ordination. These will begin at a committee level, where you'll likely taken both written and oral exams on areas of knowledge including theology, Bible content, church history, PCA history, and the Book of Church Order. You'll also be required to preach before presbytery, and there will be oral exams before the entire presbytery as well. I won't spend a lot of time on these, though there's much to tell-- I've blogged about them before. (And here, and here.)
- The ordination service. After you're approved by your trials, the ordination service is the final step. A "commission" from presbytery (like a committee, but with acting authority) will fulfill this function, administering your vows, giving a charge to you and to the congregation, and laying hands on you to complete this momentous event. This event has a similar significance to a marriage, and will be a great time of celebration and worship.
So what? Why am I telling you all of this? Because it's important to know the hurdles.
A classmate of mine bumped up against this very problem about 4 months before graduation. I knew he was entering his last semester, and I asked him how his search was going. To my surprise, he reported that he had quit searching for now! It turns out that no one had ever told him about the required internship, and he knew that he was stuck until he completed that crucial step-- yet he had not even become a candidate under care of his presbytery! He was forced to take an additional year AFTER seminary to work through the lingering steps to be ready for ordination.
Don't let this happen to you. Make sure that you know the required steps to obtain the credentials and approval you will need to fulfill your calling in ministry.
Approaching the final year, part 1: Get the experience
What can you do now, more than a year from graduation, to ensure that the stage is set for an effective candidacy? The first thing you can do is get the experience.
By now, you've probably figured out that you're not going to learn everything you need to know for ministry in the classroom; there are plenty of essential ministry skills that can only be gained in the doing. You've heard this before-- but what are these elusive skills and experiences?
- Preaching experience. Unless you think you'll be fine (you won't) with just a handful of sermons under your belt-- the ones you preached in class-- you should find some opportunities to preach before you start candidacy.
- Teaching time. Many of you will spend more time in your first ministry teaching than you will preaching; logging time here can be easier to come by, but shouldn't be taken for granted.
- Familiarity with leadership. It's highly possible that you have never been singularly in charge of an event, an ongoing activity, or a group of people. Yet these circumstances will occur all the time in ministry, and you need to be ready.
- Comfort with counseling. Unless you specialize in this, you won't necessarily spend a lot of time in formal, structured counseling; nevertheless, you WILL see a lot of time where your people ask you sincere, important questions over the fellowship hall table, or stop you after the Bible study to tell you something intimate and vulnerable.
- An initiation to visitation. It's almost impossible to overstate how much visitation most pastors do-- and how foreign and awkward it can be until you've gotten the hang of it.
There are others that will also be prominent: small group leadership, organizing and leading meetings, developing reports and budgets, leading in worship. How do you gain these vital experiences?
- Look at what you already do. Maybe there are opportunities for some of these in the job(s) you already have; some, more than others, of course. Ask to be given more leadership, and you might find a number of necessary experiences coming your way.
- Look (and ask) around your seminary. Most seminaries have plenty of leadership opportunities that current students could fulfill, and they know of a lot more. Helping to lead a community Bible study, giving prospective students a tour of campus or hosting them in a class, or leading worship for chapel may be readily available to you. Your seminary will certainly know of nearby preaching opportunities, too.
- Talk to your pastor(s). Finding out what needs there are in your local congregation may be the easiest way to find all of these experiences. Teaching Sunday School is not the only path of service in the local church-- but it is a good one! Ask to sit in on meetings, come along to visit a home-bound member, or lead worship. Be willing to serve.
- Find local ministries to serve. There are many church-affiliated and parachurch ministries that need volunteers, and some may also be hiring interns or part-time staff. Here you may get experience with administrative leadership that might elude you elsewhere-- and you'll likely have ample opportunities for teaching and counseling, as well.
- Serve as a student Pastor. For the ultimate orientation to pastoral ministry, there may be a church nearby that needs a part-time or interim Pastor. Here you'll see it all-- but you will likely find them quite forgiving of your inexperience, as well.
Five things to do as you approach the final year of seminary
In working on the manuscript for my book, I decided I needed to completely re-work one chapter-- the one on seminary life. The work I've already done on that topic may eventually form the backbone for another book; I'm not sure one chapter trying to summarize that much information will be effective. It's a good time in the school year to revisit this, as well.
If you're approaching your final year of seminary, what should you be doing to prepare for the time between now and graduation? Five things:
- Get the experience.
- Gather the tools.
- Know the hurdles.
- Keep it humble.
- Tag your mentors.
I'll start posting the development of each of these over the next few days.
More on wardrobe
A good while back I blogged about the importance of building a pastoral wardrobe while in seminary (though, of course, it's not too late to do so after seminary, especially for those of you whose realization that it actually DOES matter what you wear came late-- as in, after you accepted a call to ministry and still believed your Doc Martins would be the only dress shoe you needed.... c'mon, you know who you are!). Back then, I recommended Men's Wearhouse as a great source for good-quality clothes-- which I still recommend.
(By the way, I'm talking with the corporate folks at Men's Wearhouse to try to get them to put a discount coupon in the back of the book on transition I'm working on-- wouldn't that be cool?)
Anyway, I stand by all of that advice, in spite of the push-back I got from one commenter on that post. Naturally, other cultures are different from the western/American culture that I minister within, and I'm certainly not trying to impose western ideals on other cultures. The big point (clearly missed by some) was that, in every culture, there is a certain propriety to dress that Pastors are expected to adhere to, and there are very few ways to get around this without creating additional (and unnecessary) hurdles for ourselves in the process. (There are a couple of ways-- look for more on this in a future post.)
Continuing that long-dormant theme of wardrobe, then, may I point you to The Tie Bar-- an amazing source of high-quality ties of all sorts (yes, including bow ties) for astonishingly low prices.
While I'm at it, I'll mention the website that I found The Tie Bar from: Beauty Tips for Ministers. Yes, this is actually a serious blog, with a very large number of posts and some fascinating discussion. I recommend this blog with a huge grain of salt (think ice-cream rock salt), since it's written by a female Unitarian-Universalist Minister, and therefore focuses primarily on advice for women Ministers (which most-- if not all-- of my readers will not be). Nevertheless, she does have good (and funny) wisdom, and she has written a fair amount of tips for men.
Anyway-- good stuff, if you're trying to figure out what dressing appropriately for different pastoral contexts really means.
One more thing they don't teach...
Moretz says, "I'm doing more print jobs than sermons. Hmmm..." and from the looks of it, I can believe it. He goes on to suggest that perhaps one of his classes in Church History could have been replaced with a class on Microsoft Publisher.
While I think that goes a bit too far, I'll agree that marketing skills are useful for ministry-- and could fit into the category of things that a seminarian should seek out and learn. As that goes, I've mentioned before that Church Marketing Sucks is a good resource to check out regularly; I'll go ahead and take this opportunity to echo that recommendation.
(By the way, CMS is where I got the link to Moretz's YouTube videos.)
If I were starting seminary all over again...
- An Apple Macintosh laptop. I know, this sounds cultish-- and frankly, I'm an unabashed Apple supporter and evangelist-- but you can't beat the quality of the hardware, and it doesn't hurt that I don't have to worry about viruses or other malware anymore. Plus, the next key tool is platform-dependent, and is only for Apple's Mac OS X 10.3 or higher.
- Devon Technologies' DevonThink Pro Office. DevonThink is an amazing "free-form database" which means that it isn't confined to the structured data collection that other databases have. Instead, you can import a hoard of file types into DevonThink, and they are indexed and stored according to your organizational method. The search technology within it is based on a sort of artificial intelligence, so it "learns" by association what words and phrases are related to what. Thus, it becomes a powerful tool for research and writing, as it can house lots of documents and cross-reference them on the fly. There are three versions of DevonThink: Personal, Pro, and Pro Office. You should get Pro Office, because you will also want...
- The Fujitsu ScanSnap S500m document scanner. This is the Mac version of Fujitsu's great scanner. This scanner can hold up to 50 pages at once, and it sheet-feeds them through a document scanner that can handle duplex (two-sided) scanning. It is bundled with a lot of great software, including Adobe Acrobat, and therefore can scan lots of pages then convert them immediately into searchable PDFs or RTFs. This is important, because you can use DevonThink Pro Office to import these directly into the database, where they are indexed and added to your archives.
The end result of this would have been a research database that was incrementally constructed (so it wouldn't consume days to put together, as it is doing now!), but that would have returned more accurate results for relevant sources, and made extracting those results into papers more approachable. And I would have had a tool that would last my whole ministry, only improving with age.
If you haven't guessed, I have all of these now. We began switching back to Macs (my first computer was a Mac, so it was a switch back) in early 2004, and I got my first iBook that fall; I now have a MacBook that I love. I've been using DevonThink for almost two years, and it is one of those things that stays open on my computer 90% of the time. And my ScanSnap came via FedEx today-- I'm reviewing it for a magazine-- and it has already scanned about 600 pages of documents. I'm hopeful to eliminate an entire filing cabinet before we move.
If you are serious about writing good research papers during seminary-- and continuing with good research after-- then these tools will pay for themselves 10 times over in the hours they will save you.
Gaining organizational leadership experience
If seminary falls on the side of “how well are they equipped for ministry” with regard to theological and biblical knowledge, where does the other half— the “readiness for ministry” part— come from? Field Education and Internships. After that, guys, you’re on your own. How will you get the readiness you need?
Here are a few suggestions for ways to find such experience:
- Volunteer at your church to help with administrative tasks. Offer to help prepare minutes, organize budget reports, or agenda meetings. Ask if you could lead a team of people, rather than working on your own. Seek out duties that force you to develop skills in areas where you are weak. The leadership of your church will probably be slow to delegate many of these things to you, but over time you can earn their trust as you build your abilities.
- Find a job that will boost your leadership abilities. You may even be able to find one at your seminary. This may be a desk job or administrative work, or it may be working with the media or A/V department or the physical plant. You will inevitably work with others, sometimes on a team and sometimes with you or someone else in authority— and that’s the point. Learning to work with people is the heart of management, administration, and leadership. If you need a job anyway, why not find one that will teach you as you work?
- Ask the Deacons at your church to teach you what they do. In many churches, the Deacons are charged with overseeing the administrative organization of the church, which means they organize the budget, make sure the staff is competent and well-managed, and deal with the many facets of keeping an organization running. Too often, they are also over-worked. If you approach them graciously about helping you learn, they will likely embrace the opportunity to have someone to share in the burden. Meanwhile, you gain familiarity and skills in areas where you will need them.
- Dig into the many available resources. There are a lot of great books written about organizational leadership— some are geared toward a broad spectrum of organizations, while others are focused on non-profits, ministries, and churches. Peter Drucker, for example, was a highly-regarded thinker, teacher, and writer in the business world, and after he retired he began focusing his efforts on non-profits. There is also a growing number of resources that are not strictly books or reading material. In another post I'll list my "top ten" recommended resources for building organizational leadership skills.
Dealing with "competition"
A friend and I were talking yesterday about how you should handle situations where you and friend are both candidates for the same position. As American men, perhaps our sense of competition rises to the surface too often. (I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer fell off the gambling wagon by betting on, of all things, which flights would arrive next at the airport.)
But in reality there shouldn't be a very strong sense of competition in candidacy. When you are one of several (or more) candidates for a single position, you are-- at most-- competing for the time and attention of the search committee.
Beyond that, I think you must view candidacy from a perspective larger than yourself. This process is not all about you. Though you need to make wise decisions (and you need to ask the questions and get the information needed to be discerning), in the end you must put the needs of the congregation above yours. It is God's church, and He has chosen precisely the man for the position you are being considered for. And that might not be you.
(As my friend said yesterday, "God still has plans for you, even if you aren't the one for that particular position.")
Whether the "competition" is a close friend from seminary or nobody you know, don't be overly disappointed when someone else gets the call. You need to be emotionally invested in the process, but guard against taking it "personally" when you aren't chosen. It isn't rejection-- it is a victory for that congregation to have the man God has called. And if that man isn't you, you don't want to be there, anyway.
My attitude on this has been shaped by the wisdom of a 15 year-old. She was on the search committee that brought me to one of the Youth Ministry jobs I held. Her words stand out to me, not so much as an affirmation of me, but as a testimony of her faith. After I had begun serving in that position, her father told me about what she said. It seems that she came home from the interview and told him, "If this isn't the guy that God is bringing here, I'm really excited about who it must be!"
I translate this into candidacy when I face the struggles of feeling rejected: no matter how great a particular opportunity seems, if that isn't the church God has for me, I should be very excited about the one He does have.
Technorati Tags: Seminary
Take yourself more seriously
What was interesting about this group was how the presenters presented themselves. One guy had on baggy jeans, an untucked shirt and a well-worn baseball cap. The next guy wore sweatpants and a hockey jersey. The third guy was wearing an oxford shirt-- but it was untucked and unbuttoned, revealing his printed t-shirt underneath.
This was in stark contrast to the instructor, who wore a coat and tie every day, and most of the other presenters who at least wore ties or sweaters. In other words, most in the class were neatly, respectfully, and appropriately dressed.
I realize that there are a lot of different cultures who would not approach such a situation with such "formality"-- it wouldn't be necessary to dress as nicely as a tie or jacket to be respectful. (I received some strong comments proclaiming exactly this in response to a previous post.) Still, I would think even in the most casual culture, there is a sense of propriety that would require at least a certain level of neatness.
Candidacy-- and ministry-- require respect and propriety, even with regard to dress. If you are visiting a church for a candidating interview, you must dress appropriately! No one will take you seriously if you don't take yourself seriously. This means learning to dress appropriately for every occasion-- including presentations in a seminary class.
Why starting early is so important
This particular church began developing the position (a new Assistant Pastor role) in late spring 2006. This development essentially consisted of the Elders approving a position in principle, Senior Pastor drafting a position description, and the Elders approving it. While this was a relatively quick procedure (it probably was completed in less than two months), this is exceptional. When a position description is subject to the work of self-studies, committee discussion, and congregational approval, the process obviously would take a lot longer.
Once that was completed, they began listing the position as open (mid-summer) and they formed a search team. By early fall, they had begun gathering a number of candidates, and the search team started the lengthy process of screening and evaluating these candidates. (One of the advantages-- to pastors, at least-- of the unbalanced system is that there isn't as much work to be done on the screening/evaluation.)
I contacted them mid-fall; my package of information went into the pile with the others. I don't know how many there were that I was competing with, but if I had to guess it would be over 50 candidates.
[Elapsed time: six months.]
Remember, these committees are made up of volunteers, meeting as often as they can and doing "homework" (reading documents, listening to sermons, calling references) on their own time. My guess is that they met monthly at least; perhaps they were able to meet as often as twice a month, and even on occasion more often than that. Even if they met weekly, the search team had a lot of work to do. They likely eliminated some more quickly than others, but when the time came to make a major cut they probably still had 15 or more to choose from. From there, they cut down to a handful.
[Elapsed time: eight months.]
This handful would next face telephone interviews. Again, if they scheduled them one at a time, each would take 2-3 hours; at least one hour for the interview itself, plus another hour or more for discussion. If they met weekly to conduct these, they have a month's worth of work to do. More than likely it would take two months.
[Elapsed time: 10 months.]
By this point they will narrow the candidate pool to one or two candidates. Having done this, they will schedule a visit for the top candidate. In this case, this is simply a matter of bringing the candidate (and his wife, if he's married) to them; however, in other situations (such as when the candidate is a senior or solo pastor, and they must visit him), it may be more complicated. Still, even my case study church will need a few weeks to get this organized. It's reasonable to think that it may take a month before the interview weekend actually occurs.
Assuming they still prefer their top candidate, they may begin the process of extending him a call in the week following the interview weekend. (If they vote against him, it may take another few weeks before another interview weekend with a different candidate.) It may take a few days, or even a week, for negotiation of the terms of call (that is, if he also believes that this is the call God has for him). Once the negotiations are done, it is likely that the candidate will need a month or six weeks before he is available.
If all of this goes as smoothly as possible, they may have their new Assistant Pastor one year after they began the process of looking for him. (However, there may another couple of months of work with presbytery for ordination.) There are any number of things that might complicate it:
• Developing the position description requires broader input than just staff and Elders
• Phone interviews are slowed by schedules and take two or three months
• The first "pick" is not the right guy-- or he doesn't accept the call-- and they have to go another round (or two, three, four...)
• After accepting the call, he needs two or more months before he can make the transition
• Snags with presbytery slow down the ordination process (this is particularly a concern for a solo or senior pastor)
In most cases, a church should expect the process to take 12-18 months. If a candidate gets in at just the right moment, he may get in on the last 2-3 months of it. In all likelihood, it will be four or five months in many candidates' experience. And that's assuming that the first opportunity he contacts is the one he ends up with.
Why is starting early so important? If you want to place by graduation, you have to give it the time it takes-- and that means six months or more.
On getting an early start
Looking at the research a bit more deeply, this effect is surprisingly stark. Here are some statistics:
- 11% of my survey's respondents did not begin their candidacy until AFTER graduation!
- 9% began their search less than 3 months before graduation
- For those who started at graduation, 60% of them required more than 3 months to place, and 80% of these took more than 6 months to place
- 50% of those who began 3 months or less before graduating were placed by their graduation
- Even those who began 4-6 months before graduation struggled: 40% of these were still without a call by the time of graduation
This would have been a good change:
- Of those who began their search 7 or more months prior to graduation, only 11% were not placed by the time they graduated
- Less than 3% of these were still without a call within 3 months of graduation.
Article on pulpit supply
The writer, Joan Huyser-Honig, graciously quoted me a fair amount, and also linked to several of my posts on the subject. (Thanks Joan!) There are also a number of other links embedded in the article, with a wealth of helpful information for both hosting church and visiting preacher. This article is a great resource.
My thanks to Joan, and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, for the honor of being asked to participate in the development of this article.
Interview part three
Maybe the best summary is in the three ideas of attitude, readiness, and appreciation.
Visiting preachers need to have an attitude of ministry-mindedness; you're not there primarily for your benefit, so the ideas of preaching experience, theological agenda, or money should not be your focus. Instead, focus on meeting the needs (felt and otherwise) of your temporary congregation: if there is a particular event or struggle that needs to be addressed, cover it if you can.
Visiting preachers should be ready-- on time to preach, ready to pray (the leadership should want to pray with you before you preach), ready to lead (more than just preaching, but leading songs and other parts of worship too), and ready to be challenged-- whether through a congregant whose toes got stepped on in the sermon or through a companion who will offer some honest critique.
And visiting preachers should show appreciation. Whether it feels that way or not, what they have the opportunity to do is an honor and a privilege. They need to appreciate the chance for ministry and for the hospitality shown to them-- and in so doing they will be all the more appreciated.
Interview questions part two
2. What tips can you offer so a congregation can make a visiting preacher feel welcome? This could include hospitable gestures in the days before, during, or after the worship service.
The big picture answer is to be considerate of the visiting preacher. Following up on the story about Marcie not receiving a Mother's Day plant: if they had thought about the fact that they might have the wife of their guest preacher present, they may have thought to bring a plant for her, as well.
In the days before, this may mean being considerate with good directions, suggestions about attire or topic (if necessary), or an advance invitation for a meal. The last idea is particularly relevant if the visiting preacher will be coming more than half an hour from his home. If he (and, perhaps, his family) has to travel for more than 30-45 minutes after worship, he will probably need to stop for lunch or bring something with him. An advance invitation will assuage his concerns about what to do for lunch.
Immediately before worship, a church can be hospitable by treating the visiting preacher as they would another visitor-- and, of course, having good visitor protocol in place. Point them toward the nursery or Sunday School space for their children, if they have them. Suggest a quiet room for gathering final thoughts, praying, or looking over notes. The best case would also include someone to greet them, then immediately orient them to the timeline for the rest of the time there-- i.e., 10 minutes before worship then the Elders will pray with you, Elder Smith will introduce you at the beginning of worship, Elder Jones will lead the prayer of intercession, etc.
During worship, the most hospitable thing that I can think of, besides attentive and actively-worshipping congregants, is the knowledge that my children are either a)welcome in worship, even if they are noisy (and that a "cry-room" is available for my wife if she wants it), or b)that good, well-organized nursery services are offered.
After worship, the congregation can be sensitive to the visiting preachers' "newness"-- introducing themselves to him, inviting him to the post-worship fellowship, etc. If a congregation regularly does coffee and doughnuts after worship, make sure that he knows that he and his family are welcome. If there is a pot-luck dinner, even more-so. If no such fellowship activity exists, it is nice-- but not necessary-- to invite him to lunch. I've also had individuals in the congregation give me a few dollars "to cover gas" at several churches I've visited; what a nice gesture!
Interview questions, part one
Can you give any examples of how a church (probably inadvertently) has made a visiting preacher feel unwelcome? No names needed of course, though it would be nice to know whether this happened to you or to someone else who went out to preach.
I can think of a few examples. At one church where I preached, the Elder who arranged my visit sat on the front row with a recorder in hand, recording the audio of my sermon. Nothing had been mentioned of this beforehand, and nothing was said afterward until I received a CD in the mail of my sermon. On the CD was a website address, and upon visiting the website I found my sermon available for download! In addition to violating all sorts of copyright laws, this move certainly did not make me feel welcomed or appreciated; it made me feel like an appliance.
Another "appliance" moment came when a leader from a church was speaking with me by phone, arranging my visit. The church was over an hour away, adding substantially to the time involved in going there to preach. After I accepted his invitation to preach, he mentioned that they would pay me $100-- "the easiest $100 you've ever made" he commented. His disregard for the value of my time and ideas, as well as a low view of preaching in general, left me feeling cheap and used.
Also, I visited one church with my wife on Mother's Day. One of the ladies in the church had purchased small potted plants for the other ladies and brought them to give out that Sunday. There weren't enough for my wife to receive one, however, and as the church member passed them around to everyone EXCEPT my wife, neither of us felt very welcome.
Finally, I once went to preach on a Sunday when Marcie (my wife) was sick, and both children went with me. When I arrived at the church, I had to wander around through two buildings, passing church families along the way, as I looked for some sort of nursery facility for my two-year-old. When I finally found the right place, everyone there acted as if I should know what to do to check her in! No one there was being attentive to the fact that I was a visitor-- let alone their visiting preacher. (Note: that same church called me a few months later and asked if I would submit my name to their search committee. I turned them down.)
Interview on Pulpit Supply
The interview will be an e-mail and/or phone interview and will happen over the next week. As I work through the questions and respond, I'll post my answers here as well. Here are the questions I've been asked:
- Can you give any examples of how a church (probably inadvertently) has made a visiting preacher feel unwelcome?
- What tips can you offer so a congregation can make a visiting preacher feel welcome? This could include hospitable gestures in the days before, during, or after the worship service.
- What advice do you have for visiting preachers, especially seminarians, on how to be good guests in another church's pulpit? What are the best ways to prepare for a visiting preaching assignment?
Being ready to be a pastor
I preached yesterday at a small church that I am fairly familiar with; this particular church holds their corporate worship service at 9:30am, and Sunday School following. We didn't stay for Sunday School, so we arrived home earlier than we usually do-- and, it is safe to say, earlier than most church-going Christians on Sunday morning.
As we pulled up to our house (around 11:45am), I noticed that there were more cars in front of our next-door neighbor's house than usual. Then I saw her daughter out on the front lawn.
My next-door neighbor, Gladys, is 93 years old. She has severe dementia, and she's been in the hospital and nursing care facilities for most of the summer because of hip replacement and other troubles. So it's never a surprise to see a member of her family at her house. But she was brought home on Friday, and we were told that she was enrolled in a hospice program.
As we unloaded our family from the car, Marcie went over to the daughter and spoke with her. When I got closer, I could see that the daughter was crying-- and had been for a while. Marcie was discreet, but let me know that Gladys had died that morning. We went on into the house, and Marcie and I tried to explain death to our four-year-old.
As we were going inside, I wondered if I should keep my suit on. Should I go next door and sit with the family? Who is their pastor-- and how long will it take for him to free up from church responsibilities (after all, he may still be preaching!)? Should I try to stand in as ad-hoc pastor until then?
I saw someone else-- a grandson, himself an Elder at a local church-- in the yard outside. So I went out to talk with him. He, too, was crying, and also on the phone, so I kept my distance for a minute. He came over and we greeted each other. We had never met before, but I knew who he was.
I told him I was so sorry for his loss. He thanked me, then said he had been praying that she would go quickly-- he knew she wouldn't want to go on for long like this. I agreed-- "she was way too feisty for that." He laughed a little, and his tears lessened as he told me the story of how she had been walking around the nursing home two days after her hip replacement surgery. Sometimes just listening and remembering together is the best ministry in this sort of situation.
I asked if there was anything I could do? He assured me there wasn't. I invited him to feel welcome to knock and ask if there was.
Going back inside, I thought I might call the one person I knew from his church-- also an Elder-- and make sure that folks knew about his loss. After talking with that friend, I was confident that my neighbors would not go unattended.
We didn't really know Gladys that well. We met a couple of her children in passing, but never got to know them either-- or their children. I don't know why I felt compelled to act that way, other than to say my pastoral calling urged me to do it. Maybe I'm pre-disposed by that calling to be burdened for other souls.
What do you think?
Questions to ask when invited to preach
- How did you get my name? [Probably through the seminary, but it's good to ask.]
- What time does worship begin? When does it usually end?
- What style of worship does the church employ? For example, is the music all hymns, all praise choruses, a mix of both? What sort of instrumentation accompanies the music?
- Who will be writing the order of worship? [If not me] May I request or recommend certain hymns, praise songs, scripture selections, creeds? Will someone e-mail me a copy of it before that Sunday?
- Who will lead worship? [If not me] will they introduce me, or will I simply begin preaching?
- What Elder or other leader will be present that Sunday? Will you arrange for them to meet me before the worship service? [I like to know someone that I can refer to within the congregation.]
- Is there a nursery provided for small children?
- May I have the street address of the church? And will someone e-mail me directions to the church?
- Tell me about the denomination [if it is one I'm unfamiliar with]. What are the major characteristics if it?
- Tell me about the church. Who is the pastor? How long has he been there? How long has the church been around? What have been some recent items of rejoicing in the church? What have been some recent struggles?
Lessons learned, part two
- Be prepared to lead worship. Think about it-- the churches that are likely to call you for pulpit supply are not the ones likely to have another pastor on staff to lead worship. Sometimes there will be an Elder who does it, and occasionally a music director that takes a strong part. Most of the time, it will be up to you. It's a good idea to be ready for it: have some scripture ready for a call to worship, assurance of pardon, and other readings that are appropriate for your sermon topic (or at least appropriate for those functions); maybe even have some hymns picked out that you could suggest if they're needed (be sure to pick hymns that are familiar to most people AND that you know, since you'll probably be leading them). If you've never done this before, pay attention to the way your pastor does it at your church. Note the way that he has something to say between the elements of worship, how he gives a brief explanation of some parts, etc.
- Let one of their Elders/leaders pray for the congregation. I rarely will lead the congregational prayers, because they need to be very personal and familiar prayers-- and I can't offer those for a congregation I don't know very well. In fact, there is only one church that I've preached at where I'm comfortable leading these prayers, and that's partly because I've been there more than 10 times. You may end up leading them anyway, but ask their leadership to take them if they will; most will quickly understand why this is a good idea.
- Show your gratitude to the musician(s). If you've ever led worship without accompaniment, you'll understand why this is so important. But it goes beyond that; if you are open in your appreciation of how they share their gifts, you are acknowledging that it's not all about you. You can be sure that the musician(s) will not be the only ones who notice this, and it underscores the value of your ministry to them tremendously.
- Be ready to stay for lunch. Or at least be ready to stay for a while. You shouldn't just take off right after the service; if you want to minister to them, you'll talk with them for a few minutes after worship. Often there will be some sort of fellowship time, with coffee and doughnuts or other food. Sometimes there will be a potluck dinner afterward. Now and then someone will invite you out. Don't deny them their opportunity for hospitality; if you do, you're communicating that you don't really care about them, but only about the preaching opportunity. At very least, have a good reason why you can't stay; "I'm tired" won't do, but "I have to pick up my family at our regular church" will. I would say that "we have to get the kids home for their naps" is iffy.
- Thank them on the way out. Be sure to seek out one or more of the leaders and tell them how much you appreciate the invitation to preach. You should feel honored and privileged that you were given that blessing, and you should also feel obligated to communicate to them that you feel that way. I thank everyone I speak to after the worship service for having me there, but I make sure to give a particular word of appreciation to the leaders.
- Don't make a big deal about the money. Most churches will hand you a check at some point while you're there. By all means, don't make this exchange any more awkward by drawing attention to it. If they give you a check, smile, quietly thank them, then tuck it in your Bible or your pocket. Definitely do not open it up and check how much it was for. If they don't have the check ready, there will probably be someone who is very uncomfortable and apologetic about it; assure them that it is no big deal, and they can send it in the mail later. Again, if you're there just for the money, you shouldn't be there. I always approach pulpit supply as something I am willing to do for free; I've never refused an honorarium, but if a church couldn't pay me I would still go when they asked me to peach.
Lessons learned about pulpit supply
[An aside: I always appreciate the invitation back-- it means that I didn't totally stink the last time I was there!]
Along the way, I've learned a few things about having a fruitful ministry through pulpit supply. Here are some of the lessons learned:
- Approach it as a ministry. If you're doing this just for the experience-- or worse, just for the money-- then you shouldn't be doing it. I've tried to see myself as the minister of the flock that I'm preaching to for that day. Attend to their needs, pray for them and with them, and generally make yourself available, heart and soul, for their spiritual needs for that time.
- Be willing to preach. How much notice will you require to accept a preaching invitation? Here's my policy: if they call me, even last-minute, because of some sort of emergency, I'll go unless I'm preaching elsewhere. This policy has meant that, on a handful of occasions, I've had to preach with only a day or two of notice. But it has also meant the world to those congregations-- and I promise you, it didn't matter to them if my sermons were a little rough.
- Be considerate of the church you're preaching in. If you're a Presbyterian and you're preaching in a non-denominational church, it's probably not the time to pull out your sermon on predestination. Sure, it's what you believe the Bible teaches, but there's no need to ram it down their throats. Tone down your language if you're talking about a topic of difference; if you have to discuss predestination, use "election" instead. You're there to love them, not tell them everything they're doing wrong or that you disagree with. If you want to have a lasting, long-term ministry to them of any sort, be considerate.
- Be considerate of the context of your sermon. Here I mean historical context. If something huge has happened, be sensitive to that in your sermon. I spent all of Saturday, Sept. 3rd, 2005 writing a new sermon, even though I had plenty of sermons I could preach. Why? Because Hurricane Katrina had hit Louisiana and Mississippi the week before, and the people I was preaching to needed to hear God's word speak to them about tragedy and disaster. I've also written a sermon for a church whose pastor's wife had a heart-attack the Wednesday before-- they called me on Thursday to preach.
- Show up 10-15 minutes earlier than they told you. Chances are, they won't tell you what time to arrive-- just what time the service starts. But the chances are also good that the Elders or other leadership will want to pray with you before worship. If nothing else, being there early will give you a chance to look over the order of worship and note any changes you should be aware of. Or, if you have trouble with the directions it will allow you a few minutes to find your way without being late.
- Take a partner. Whenever I can, I like to take someone with me when I go to preach. Often this is Marcie, and she is a great partner to me. But a number of times she hasn't gone with me for one reason or another, and I almost always try to take someone else. Why? For starters, it's easier if you're not alone; if you have a companion, then you know that you have one supporter. (But don't believe the lies of your own heart here: everyone else there is for you, too.) It's also good to have someone to help you evaluate the sermon-- what worked, where you could improve, how well you did on that one part you weren't sure of. I know it's easy to hate the evaluations in the cold, sterile Homiletics class environment, but you long for some kind of honest feedback when it's live and in front of regular people.
The Sunday School Lackey
There are those who go through seminary with the wrong attitude toward field education and internship requirements, seeing them as simply items to check off on a list instead of opportunities for growth, experience, learning, and ministering to others. These same students inevitably are little motivated or proactive about getting to know their pastor(s) and other church leaders, nor about finding their place in the ministries of their church.
And because they aren't known by the leadership, the leaders have no desire or confidence about putting these students into ministry roles of much circumstance or substance. So they become the "Sunday School Lackey".
Stuck in a Sunday School class, they are, the leaders decide, where they will do no damage. Instead they will fill the volunteer positions that are often difficult to find many takers for.
These Sunday School Lackeys would do well to take these opportunities as they come to them-- they won't be getting much else to fulfill their requirements if they don't. Better still, they should refresh their attitudes. What are they in seminary for, if they don't see the field education and internship as the opportunities they are?
One more thing: church leaders need to realize that there is plenty of damage to be done through Sunday School-- it is not simply a "safe place to stick the loose-cannon intern". According to the incredibly compelling research by Thom Rainer (see High Expectations), churches that want to keep their members will do so only when they begin to take Sunday School seriously. The plight of the "Sunday School Lackey" is as much an indictment of the Church's (or at least the PCA's) low view of Sunday School as it is the bad attitude of some seminarians.
Singleness AND carelessness?
It turns out that these five or six-- all single guys-- were unconcerned about placement until graduation was nearly upon them.
Many of the single people I know/knew in seminary were, shall we say, more care-free than the rest of us. Some that I knew would routinely show up for class with the appearance of those who had rolled out of bed 2 minutes earlier. They did peculiar things with facial hair. One guy I knew wore sweatpants every day-- even Sunday, apparently-- for the whole time he was in seminary.
I'll admit, there is something to being single that brings with it a freedom from many cares I now have as a married parent. I remember discussing this back in the day with a fellow single (at the time) who had just gotten a dog. "One step closer to being a responsible man," he quipped.
Not every single person is irresponsible-- nor do all exercise their freedom to an unhealthy (or unwise) extent. But the "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" quality that embodies many (especially younger) singles' lives can become a major detriment when it comes to placement.
Let's face it: if a significant portion of the church is single, a substantially smaller portion of those who make decisions are single. While there may be huge injustice in this-- I'm confident that, at times, there is-- a smart single guy, emerging from seminary, should realize this and adjust his thinking accordingly.
What does that look like? Probably getting the candidacy process started before his last semester. Presenting himself in a "respectable" way. And taking on more responsibility while he's still in seminary, so that he is ready for the responsibility of ministry when he finishes seminary.
There are many obstacles that face singles already in seeking a ministry position (which I'll try to blog about soon). If you're single and preparing for ministry, don't make it harder on yourself than it will already be by adopting poor practices in your candidacy.
If you are, or have been, in seminary, you may have heard a classmate say this. Perhaps you have said it yourself.
Now, there is nothing wrong with "recycling" a sermon. I don't happen to be among those who advocate pastors throwing out their sermons after they finish a series (though some are, and I understand their arguments). God can, and does, use sermons preached multiple times in various contexts, and if a sermon has been well-prepared (and sometimes even if not) then it should have a message that is timeless and applicable to all of His people anywhere.
But seminary students should be careful not to over-use the "recycling" opportunity as they pursue pulpit supply experience. Not because their sermons aren't that good (though I'll admit that, for good reason, I don't reach back to my "elementary homiletics" material when I get a preaching invitation) but because they need to pursue as much real experience as they can while in seminary.
And let's face it: when you've preached a sermon before, it isn't half the learning experience that a fresh sermon is.
I've mentioned before how important I think it is to pursue preaching opportunities while in seminary. How many sermons should a seminary student write while in seminary?
I've preached in pulpit supply opportunities a lot-- far more than the average seminarian (or recent graduate). Since beginning seminary, I've preached over 80 times in area churches, many of them multiple times. Of those, I've probably prepared nearly 50 sermons (yes, the rest have been "recycled").
On the other hand, some seminary students emerge from graduation with six sermons in their file cabinets. How do you go from 6 to 50?
Start with your exegetical papers. (You are electing to do exegetical papers some of the time, right? You're not taking the alternative assignment every time, are you?)
In theory, at least, once the exegetical paper is done, the sermon is half-finished. This is because a well-taught homiletician will be instructed to do good exegesis first. (In actuality, the sermon is probably more than half-finished because the assignment inevitably included some instruction regarding application.)
So starting with your exegetical papers means that you may already have a handful of sermons half-written. During my seminary career, I wrote exegetical papers every chance I got-- resulting in no less than 10 papers.
From there, start working on developing sermons out of a sense of preparation. Maybe outline a book or a topical series that you want to preach early in your first ministry call, and then start preparing those sermons. Here's why: your first six months of ministry after seminary will be months of transition, and you will not likely have the time to put to sermons as you will want. Having a stock of sermons to be ahead with will fill the gap during this time.
Here's why else: as John R. W. Stott mentions in Between Two Worlds, the more sermons we prepare, the more familiar we are with the Word. Over time, our preparation time grows to be less and less because of this. Thus, if you spend more time preparing sermons while in seminary, you'll be closer to that point than if you don't.
Two more reasons why: one preacher suggested that it took about 100 sermons to "find your preaching voice". He didn't mean 100 times preaching, but 100 sermons prepared. So the more sermons you prepare, the more you will know yourself as a preacher (and the more likely the church that calls you will know you as a preacher).
Finally, to answer the most frequent rebuttal I've received when suggesting this to others: it's true that there's hardly time during seminary to be writing sermons you haven't been assigned. But in reality, there won't be a lot of time available for most pastors, either. Unfortunately, there will always be other things that are legitimate, good ministry that can, and will, demand your time if you will give it. So if you don't learn to carve out time for sermon preparation now, when do you plan to learn it?
The only thing left is to walk in the ceremony in May.
Between now and then, I'll be receiving my graduation present: a very nice Geneva gown (in black, not white like the one in the picture) from my mother. Thanks mom! And hopefully I'll get a Covenant Theological Seminary graduate hood; these are beautiful, with the Covenant tartan (that's plaid for you non-Scots) imported from Scotland and nicely integrated.
There it is-- I finally can say that I'm finished.
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("Waited" might imply choice; I needed that much time to study enough to pass!)
But now it's over. I just completed my Psalms and Wisdom Literature exam in a little over an hour. Fittingly, I thought, I chose the Braveheart soundtrack to listen to on my iPod while taking it.
(That was actually kind of surreal-- not unlike what I've heard about listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz...)
Now I'm done. Field Education forms submitted, last project turned in, last final taken.
If only I knew what was next...
End of an era
Today, I went to the semester-end chapel with my family. This was my last chapel as a student. Dr. Bryan Chapell, seminary president, delivered a fine sermon. There was a recognition of December graduates, and prayer for us. It was a nice time.
This is, of course, assuming that I pass both of my classes this fall! Hopefully, that's not too much to assume...
The plight of the “December Graduate”
Now, placement is not easy for any seminary grad, but I think finishing in December is a lot tougher than in May for most graduates. To introduce my reasons, I'll recap some of what my research in this area has shown:
- 40% of those who started the candidacy process LESS THAN 6 months before graduation were not placed by their graduation date (regardless of when they graduated)
- On the other hand, of those who started candidacy MORE THAN 6 months before graduation, only 11% were not placed by their graduation
- Further, of those who started earlier than 6 months out, less than 3% were not placed within a few months of graduating
- And generally speaking, the earlier the graduates began their search, the more likely they were to be placed by graduation
Let me explain: the candidacy process, like so many processes, depends on momentum to some degree. While the Christmas break can slow this momentum down somewhat, the length of the summer break will, in most cases, bring it to a halt. Even if the candidate remains diligent during these breaks, there is no guarantee that the churches they are pursuing will keep the momentum up; on the contrary, most search committees I've talked to find summer and the advent season to be the most difficult times to maintain momentum.
This means that things will slow down for both, but May graduates have the entire spring semester to regain momentum. December grads, on the other hand, find that the end of their last semester brings another time for slowing down-- because after mid-November, churches lose focus on the search process and get tied up with holiday activities, as a congregation and as individual members and member-families.
Even the diligent December grads who follow the advice of the statistics and begin their search more than six months before graduation face this problem, but in my conversations I have found that few December grads actually begin looking before the summer break. For most December graduates, the timeframe for candidacy begins with a sudden realization that they have only four or five months before they finish, and they hurriedly begin their search in August. Those who wait until their last semester is underway face an even tougher challenge, the statistics say: 50% of graduates who began their search three months or less from graduation were not placed when they graduated.
So is the lesson that December graduates should begin their search in the spring before their last fall semester? Maybe-- but this doesn't help them tremendously, because at that point they are “competing” with those May graduates who are just a few weeks from graduation (and therefore available for a position also in a matter of weeks), while they themselves are unavailable for eight months or more.
I think the real lesson to be learned here is that, if possible, plan to graduate in May.
A seminarian's library
So said one of my (former) classmates to me as we looked over a table covered in used books for sale. I think he hit the nail on the head-- “penny-wise and pound-foolish” describes too many seminarians when it comes to books.
I'll be the first to admit that, like many seminary students, I am a shameless bibliophile. You may, therefore, feel free to read what follows with the proverbial “grain of salt.” But I am convinced that the opportunity in seminary to gather the resources needed for ministry includes books-- and it is often a missed opportunity.
Why should you, seminary students, invest in books while in school? To begin with, you are immersed in books; nearly everything about seminary studies involves reading and research. Thus, you become familiar with the books you'll want and need for ministry, and might find using your own copy saves time and energy. At very least, it is easier to gather these as-needed than to try to buy them all at once after graduation (plus, you will have to keep a very long and careful list of what books to buy!).
Similarly, you'll never get as many great book recommendations as you do while in seminary. The margins of my notes are filled with titles and authors. You can't buy all of them, but you'll know which ones you should go ahead and pick up.
Another reason is that you need to get familiar with your library. Unless you happen to take a call in a seminary town, you won't have the vast resources ready-at-hand that you now have. Using your own books for sermon preparation and other research means that you'll know what you have and what you lack-- so that you can fill in the gaps! It will also save you a lot of time (since you can get the books you want at any time), frustration (don't you know that everyone else in your class will need that book too?), and occasional library fines.
But perhaps the best reason-- and the reason articulated above by my book-perusal companion-- is that you will never have so many affordable books available for purchase. Consider all of the following:
- Seminary bookstores give substantial discounts (often 15%) off of all books, and even more (20%, plus-- in Missouri, at least-- a lower tax rate) for text books required for classes. Many seminary bookstores also offer a good collection of used books at very reasonable prices.
- Seminary libraries often will have books for sale at very low prices. Academic libraries must (for accreditation) have a certain number of new books added to the shelves, and these sometimes push older books out. They are also the frequent recipients of estate library donations. At my seminary's library, for example, these two factors result in an almost perpetual book sale. Sometimes the books are even free!
- Beyond this, there is usually a venue for students to sell their own books. If the bookstore doesn't handle this, there will be a few shelves in the student center, a table in the mail room, or a bulletin board for posting lists. Used books are almost always a good deal.
I usually buy based on the classes I am currently taking, in light of the assignments I'll be required to complete. If I'm taking a New Testament class, for example, and I'll be doing a paper on a particular passage, I'll buy the commentaries I'll want to have in my library on that biblical book. If I'm going to write a theological paper, I'll determine my thesis and buy accordingly.
There are good books on what books to buy: D.A. Carson has a great bibliography called New Testament Commentary Survey. Tremper Longman has written the counterpart, Old Testament Commentary Survey. There are others, but many of them-- including Longman-- are somewhat dated. A great guide that I use regularly is John F. Evans's Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works for students and pastors; it has just been updated (2005!) and is available through Covenant Seminary's online bookstore.
Here are a few more tips for stretching the seminary book budget:
- Buy used books online whenever possible. I usually get a list of the books required for the semester, buy as many as I can find used, then get the rest new. There are a number of good sources for used books online: Bookfinder, Advanced Book Exchange, and Fetchbook are all aggregates of many used booksellers. The Internet will inevitably be the best source of the lowest prices; it can also be a way to get out-of-print works that are harder to find.
- Buy carefully. While I'm advocating regular and frequent book-buying for the seminarian, be judicious about which books to buy. Maybe you won't really need (or even want) the books required for that elective class. It could be that you already have enough good books covering a particular subject, regardless of the quality of the recommendations. Some guys I know will not buy for most of their classes until they've checked the book out of the library first to see how much they will want it. Just be careful that this doesn't lead to complacency when the time comes to actually buy (“I already read that book when I checked it out of the library; why buy it now?”)
- Find other used book sources. I know of two annual book fairs that take place here in St. Louis. Both of them are huge, with thousands of books each. Just today I bought 8 books for $7.50 from one of them. These types of opportunities exist in most places; you just have to find them.
- If you can't find it used, go Amazon! I love small, independent bookstores, but I hate the prices they charge. Even the big chains are more expensive in-store than online: I priced a large reference work online with Borders for $32, but would have paid over $50 to buy it at the brick-and-mortar Borders. Amazon sells books for low prices, and they often have used copies, as well.
Preaching while in seminary
Depending on the seminary, the answer may start at only two or three; sadly, some schools offer only a couple of classes in preaching. Even at the seminary I attend, which is somewhat known for its strong emphasis on preaching, we are required to take only four classes in homiletics (the study of preaching); of those, we preach in only three of them (although we do some initiatory presentation in the first class as well). So by the end of my seminary career, I will have preached all of six times to fulfill the requirements of my degree-- a pastoral ministry-oriented degree.
As I have mentioned before, these six times are insufficient to be ordained (thankfully-- can you imagine a pastor who had preached only six times before beginning his ministry?); my presbytery requires me to preach not just six, but 12 times in order to complete my internship. And, since a preached sermon is part of the ordination exam itself, I guess technically the requirement is 13 times.
That strikes me as simply not being enough. Consider this: one pastor I know remarked that it takes a preacher about 100 sermons to find his “voice” in preaching. That is, assuming he preaches once a week, the 13-sermon ordinand will need more than a year and a half before he is comfortable with his own style of preaching. (Of course, this number is approximate, and some guys will be comfortable long before that, but the point remains.)
Some classmates have responded to my critique in this way: “that's true if you're going straight into a solo pastorate, but I'm going to be an Associate Pastor, so I'll get plenty of time to find my voice.” When, I ask, do they expect to get that time? The very nature of the Associate or Assistant Pastor position implies that they are not the Head Pastor, and therefore not the main preacher. (For some Head Pastors, this means that the only time the Associate will preach is when the Head Pastor is on vacation!) Even if you assume that you'll get one or two preaching opportunities per month, that means it will be more like 3-5 years before you're truly comfortable preaching.
What is the alternative? Seminaries could always offer more preaching classes, but that would mean that elective hours would be devoted to them (not necessarily a bad idea), or that the already-bloated Master of Divinity degree-- usually between 100 and 112 credit hours-- would become longer still. No, the time-tested and traditionally standard method for garnering preaching experience is the so-called “Pulpit Supply” option.
Pulpit supply is just what it sounds like: some church needs a preacher to be in their pulpit, and seminaries supply one. Most of the pastors I know who were seminary-trained a generation ago tell great tales of their pulpit supply experiences, including which churches were always cold, which ones were sure-fire Sunday dinner opportunities, and so on. This great tradition lives on for, by my estimation, about 15% or less of today's seminarians.
I've known a few guys who are out filling pulpits almost every Sunday; they actually get to their “home church” only once or twice per semester! But most of those who go for the pulpit supply opportunities get a few-- say, 3-6-- chances to preach each semester. Some guys preach the same two or three sermons every time (which doesn't help their training in sermon preparation, but it does help their actual preaching experience), but most of us write a few new sermons each semester.
Pulpit supply can be a good way to earn some extra money, as most churches pay between $75 and $100 each time you preach. This, by the way, represents a big shift away from convention-- instead of paying big bucks for your education, you actually get paid for it. Preaching is hard, and sermon preparation is harder still, so even $100 is no easy money, but it can be a great way to earn and learn at the same time.
The dividends might pay off in more than a few ways. By pursuing pulpit supply opportunities, not only do I get good experience and progress toward “finding my voice” (I've preached over 50 times since starting seminary!), and not only do I earn some good money doing so, but I've also been developing a sermon series while in the process. I've been working through Ephesians, and I anticipate preaching that series at my first call after graduation. Although I'll rework the sermons to fit the context and revisit the important considerations of explanation and application, I'll already have a foundational framework in place.
A seminarian's wardrobe
My friend was wearing blue-jeans, an old, well-worn golf shirt, and athletic shoes (also, by the way, well-worn). I was wearing a pressed and starched oxford shirt with a tie, khaki pants, and brown casual-dress shoes. The contrast was, by all rights, quite stark.
Now, my teaching job basically forces me wear a somewhat dressier style of clothing than most of my classmates-- for the longest time, I would regularly get asked, “Are you preaching today?” because the only time most seminarians wear a tie or sport-coat is when they must for homiletics classes. But my fellow student brings up a good point that is worth considering, at least for the seminary student preparing for the transition.
Some churches have fairly low expectations in this regard; there are PCA churches in St. Louis where, if you were to wear blue jeans to worship, you would be right at home. The daily dress of the pastor is insignificant, or at least a low priority.
On the other hand, most churches-- especially PCA churches-- still expect their pastor to dress to a certain standard. The PCA is, to be sure, a mostly white-collar, middle-class institution, and its members are often employed in the business sector. They generally believe their pastor should wear daily something close to what they wear to work. And when it comes to preaching on Sundays, the standard (in the PCA) is a conservative two-piece suit; even the more casual churches usually expect a tie and jacket.
But seminarians, as a population, don't seem to be the kind of guys whose closets are filled with starched shirts, dress slacks, blazers, and suits. Unless they are second-career folks-- and it seems like few of my classmates are-- they will not have had any reason to come to seminary with this sort of clothes collection on hand. And they are not usually in the financial position to develop that sort of wardrobe out of their regular budgets. But that doesn't change the fact that they will, as my classmate astutely recognized, be expected to have, and wear, clothes appropriate to the context of their church.
This can present a peculiar challenge to students. How might an individual (let alone a family) on a seminary budget (read: extremely tight) begin to gather this kind of material resource for their future ministry?
I have three suggestions for this. First, be aware that good clothes don't have to be custom-tailored or cut from the finest Italian cloth. While this sort of quality can be very comfortable and even satisfying to wear, it also costs as much as my monthly rent to get even one item (such as a sport coat). Look to places like Men's Wearhouse for a good balance of high-quality and low-cost; they even offer extended service on their garments long after you've bought them. (Don't miss their great “Guy'd Lines” section on how to dress for different circumstances.)
Another idea is to find the funding for it in non-standard ways. Maybe you (and your wife) could decide to devote all of the income from honorariums-- the pay churches offer if you supply preaching for their pulpit-- to developing your future work wardrobe. (What? You mean you haven't been seeking preaching opportunities through a “pulpit supply” ministry the seminary offers? More on this later...)
Finally-- and I've never heard of this being done before, but-- why not ask for some help with this as you're negotiating your terms of call? Usually (and hopefully), churches are willing to devote some funds toward a “book budget” or something like that to provide academic resources for your ministry. Why shouldn't an appropriate level of dress be considered an important “resource” for ministry-- especially if there will be expectations, real or perceived, for how you will dress? Ask them for some seed-money to get your wardrobe jump-started. You might even agree to take this in lieu of a full book budget for the first year or two, since you will have collected a healthy library during seminary. (What? You mean you haven't been building your library while in seminary? More on this later, also!)
Candidate early, candidate often
I inevitably encounter this in an informal way: a friend, graduating in the coming months, and I will be talking and I'll ask, “how is your search going?” “Okay, but I don't have a lot of things in the works,” their response might go. “Tell me,” I prod, “what has your search process been like? How have you been pursuing opportunities?” “Oh! Well, I've been checking the Hot List*!” Then comes an awkward pause while I try to find a tactful and loving way to say, “That's it?!? That's all??!!??”
I don't think these guys are intentionally lazy or neglectful of their placement process, but I do think they are approaching placement with a poor work-ethic. Perhaps they believe that if they can simply get the divinity degree, things will simply fall into place for them. Some of them over-spiritualize the process, applying Jesus' admonition not to “worry about tomorrow” to their placement. Some are simply working off of assumptions that it really isn't that difficult to find a pastoral call.
My experience tells me that none of these are right. It is hard work to find a pastoral call-- in fact, it should be considered another part of the hard work of seminary, just as ordination should be. And God is sovereign over the process, but that doesn't remove our responsibility to be faithful, diligent, and obedient in our participation and work toward finding placement.
My survey confirms my experience. Many of the respondents who were placed quickly listed a wide variety of ways they had been working at finding placement. Those who fit the description of “successful” placements also demonstrated a strong work-ethic. And a major theme that arose in response to the question, “what would you do differently?” was that of working harder-- starting earlier, making more efforts, contacting more people (a la networking), exploring more directions.
Clearly, the work-ethic is a big factor in successful placement. I like to think of the adaptation of an old mantra: Candidate early, candidate often. Words to live by.
*The “Hot List” is a list of opportunities that Covenant Seminary publishes in-house for its students and graduates.
A little more on issues...
Since my denomination-- the Presbyterian Church in America-- holds to a fairly high confessional standard, I never would have guessed that theological discernment would be a major concern in the candidacy process. I always knew there would be issues of practical/logistical matters which would require careful discernment, such as ministry emphasis, worship style, approaches to evangelism, etc. (Please don't misread this sentence as a suggestion that I don't view the more abstract theological issues as practical-- I do.) But I didn't think I would be faced with a need for caution in the theological realm.
I guess I was wrong on that one...
On discernment, caution, and "issues"
However, a lot of what they said-- especially in the "distinctives" section-- was interesting in its ambiguity. Some of their descriptions were such that, taken at face value, they were simply informative about the true distinctions of the church; at the same time, much of what they put forth could easily be construed (or misconstrued) as "code" for, shall we say, some of the "minority" positions in our denomination. That is, if they hold to a peculiar theological position that is currently in debate as to its orthodoxy, they may have, in these distinctives, put forth a veiled plea for sympathizers to their views.
This puts me in a difficult position. At face value, I agree with all of their distinctives, and could easily minister in that context. In that case I would be quite interested in pursuing the position. On the other hand, if they venture further afield than their language suggests-- if it is an understatement, intentional or not, of a more controversial viewpoint-- then I am fairly confident that I disagree with quite a bit of what makes them distinctive. If this is the case then it would be a waste of my time, and theirs, to pursue it further.
This one instance causes me to consider the place of theological controversy and hot issues in the candidacy and placement process. There are a lot of issues that arise in the PCA... the direction of the denomination, confessional subscription, creation chronology, sonship, theonomy, the "new perspective on Paul," "Auburn Avenue" theology, paedocommunion, to name a few. How do these come into play in the candidacy process?
Normally, I am not much of an "issues" guy. I'm convinced that any of these (or any other) issues can become an obstacle to the Gospel: as a (future) pastor, once I become an activist for any cause-- no matter how noble-- I demonstrate that something other than the Gospel takes a higher priority in my life. What is more, at this point I would rather work on getting right the basic tools of biblical exegesis and fundamental theology. My friend Jon (http://www.barlowfarms.com) recently blogged some wise and helpful advice to this end that I wish all of my seminary classmates would read (see the last large paragraph from his 9/27/2004 post).
That said, I think that a careful candidate-pastor must take these issues into consideration when he is considering a church. Of course a church will present herself in the most favorable light possible-- it would be naive to expect anything else. But if that presentation makes a suspect or questionable position appear incontrovertible, caution and discernment are in order.
A large part of the solution seems to be in the diagnosis. Often, we can only see the symptoms; we see events or practices which may, or may not, indicate the presence of a questionable theology. The true problem-doctrine will rarely be presented, especially by a search committee. It is important to recognize that those apparent symptoms may simply be face-value distinctives-- harmless and unthreatening values that set one church apart from another. Said another way, it is not quite so important what a church is doing that looks suspicious as it is why they are doing it. There is sometimes a very fine line between an acceptable practice motivated by orthodoxy and a questionable practice driven by heresy. If I can get to the "why" answers, I'm doing good work in my discernment.
Follow-up on 11/26/2004:
I withdrew my name from consideration from the church mentioned above. In their distinctives, they listed as "further reading" several authors who are more upfront with their views on the controversial topics, and it is reasonable to infer that this church does hold to one of the "hot-topic" viewpoints, even though they themselves said nothing in their descriptions that was conclusive.
One of my professors surmised that this may be because they are not confident enough in their understanding to attempt a re-phrasing of the issue into their own words. If they mention the people they did, he said, they are telling me what they believe indirectly.
This brings to mind another concern altogether: a lot of people I know (especially seminary students) are quick to dismiss the perspectives of these authors simply because they know they disagree with them on a point or two. I've read a fair amount of some of the authors mentioned, and I know that some of what they say about different topics-- a lot, in some cases-- is helpful, orthodox in its content, an advancement of the progress of the issue, and genuinely beneficial to the Kingdom. I don't think they are right about everything, and I don't think they are right about the topic they are being cited on by this church. But then, nobody is right about everything; I'm certain that there are parts of my theological framework that I am wrong about (although I can't identify them at this point!), and I hope I'll be corrected in due time. More so, however, I hope I will not be quickly dismissed altogether because I am wrong here or there.