Training for today

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend who is in leadership in his local seminary.  While some seminaries are theologically focus, this one is a pastor factory whose primary mission is to produce pastors.  Years ago if you remember, I talked about a Personal MDiv and I was asked for some feedback.  I didn’t have that much to add to the conversation but I offered this up.

  • An understanding of how communities work:  The church can be a prophetic voice in a neighborhood or city but unless it is a big box mega church outside of town, it is often a neighbor and therefore has an impact on how that neighborhood interacts with it and each other.   Some churches are amazing neighbors while others can be jerks.   Each neighborhood has a different vibe and feel to it.  I walk the 15 blocks to work quite a bit and just by walking through Mayfair, Caswell Hill, and Riversdale and I can feel the differences.  Jane Jacobs may be the best pick to start with if you are talking about an urban context but there needs to be a framework for understanding the ebb and flow of a local neighborhood and community.  I am not sure how we missed this but I imagine that for long the church was the centre of the neighborhood that we haven’t adjusted to being ignored or looked down on by the neighborhood.  As Darryl Dash wrote in Christian Week, at one time being near a church meant a higher property value.  That isn’t the case today.
  • How to start something: After reading Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, you realize that many of the missional examples are not churches but are businesses, NGO’s, or non-profits.  Believe me, nothing I learned in school taught me how to deal with funders, investors, or banks.  How to write a decent business plan, bootstrap, when to go for angel investment or a loan, when to hire.  Those are skills that need to be learned somewhere.  I can imagine AKMA disagreeing that this should be a part of any seminary’s curriculum and he may be right.  If it isn’t a part of a formal education, make it readily available to those that do need those skills.  Guy Kawasaki and Garage used to do a Bootcamp for Startups.  Perhaps something like that offered occasionally from a denominational perspective would be helpful.
  • Ethics: A lot of church leaders I know of have odd ethics.  Maybe it is just me that finds it odd but hiding money from the taxman, lying to avoid conflict or accountability, a love of money, or just going through the motions is considered okay.  When I worked at Lakeview Church, we posted the full script transcripts of sermons there.  Friday the site was busy but on Saturday it was even busier.  Most of the traffic was from outside Saskatoon and it was all browsing and downloading sermons.  A friend of mine used to joke that if you wanted him to preach better sermons, Max Lucado had to preach better sermons.  It isn’t just out of the way pulpits where this happens.  I listened to one speaker who has written on leadership and integrity steal a litany from Len Sweet without credit.  Although to his defense, he probably never wrote the talk himself or his books.  My point is that ethics seems to have been lost along the way.  Either that or we are doing a horrible job of vetting clergy.
  • Cost: At what point do we have to find a new way of training clergy or accept the fact that only the wealthy or the heavily indebted will be able to enter pastoral ministry.  Tom Sine has talked about this for years and he is right.   The impact will be that only affluent congregations will be able to hire seminary educated clergy and smaller rural, inner city, missionary organizations will be priced out of the market.
  • Common Sense: A friend of mine wanted to plant an inner city church yet decided to move into a middle upper class neighborhood.  Does this strike anyone else as idiotic.  He wanted to be their pastor but not live around them.  (yeah, I just realize that I offended some of you)   I hesitate to add this because

I am oversimplifying the issues quite a bit and these were real simple off the top of my head answers but I thought some of you may find them interesting.

I am sure you have your own opinions.  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Training for today”

  1. > How to start something:

    One way would be to team up with a business person and have them do the nuts and bolts of organizing your operation. Should seminary teach this? Maybe? Should seminary teach you to find people who can do this? Absolutely. There’s a whole bunch of boomers who are “semi-retiring” and would love to get involved.

    > Ethics:

    I’m an old radio fan; I worked as a broadcast engineer to pay for college, and would broadcast the tapes and records on Sunday night, as required by the FCC. I bought my first walkman before it was made by Sony (a NordMende) and I would listen to local church services on Sunday mornings. Once, I picked up an excellent broadcast from a small church in east Texas. Back in those days, a station got one of the national tapes by mail, and mailed it to the next station on Monday morning. And, in 1979, today’s shows were just starting, Swindoll and Dobson were some of the few shows available.

    Well, lo and behold, Swindoll preached the exact sermon I heard a few weeks earlier. The preacher had copied it verbatim. A guy I worked with was bivocational, and told me his sermon. It was lifted from Dobson’s original Focus on the Family videotapes, which I saw a few months later.

    > Cost: At what point do we have to find a new way of training clergy

    I get a lot of questions about colleges. I have a basic (probably oversimplified) starting point. I say, if you are going into a field that makes money – engineering, accounting, nursing, etc., get into the best college you can, borrow the money and get out as quick as you can. But, if you major in the humanities, look for a cheaper, less selective school that will give you a lot of scholarships because they want bright kids with your SAT’s. You will be the “star” in your classes and the teachers will gladly work with a brighter student.

    I don’t know how this “shakes and bakes” for seminary, since I don’t know how much seminaries “fight” for top students with scholarship money.

    At the church level, sometimes it is possible to get the church to pay off your debt, in addition to your salary.

    Common Sense:

  2. I can imagine AKMA disagreeing that this should be a part of any seminary’s curriculum

    Let’s agree on this: people preparing to be pastors ought to have the opportunity to learn about these aspects of running a small not-for-profit.
    Both of us agree that the premises of education for and in the church need a whole lot of change. I’m greatly concerned about church leaders knowing what they’re talking about — knowing about the Bible, about God, about the church. If congregations and pastors put more gumption into catechesis and adult education (in the real “education” sense of that word, not solely “slide shows of our mission trip” or “one quickie session on what the pastor remembers from his or her seminary introductory class about something in the Bible”), seminaries or their substitute would be in a stronger position to expand their offerings. But a btter answer, I suspect, would involve Big Central Church Institutions devoting serious resources to online not-for-credit open education. When they start that up, I’ll be ready.

  3. RE: “Believe me, nothing I learned in school taught me how to deal with funders, investors, or banks. How to write a decent business plan, bootstrap, when to go for angel investment or a loan, when to hire. Those are skills that need to be learned somewhere. ”

    Tell me about it!

    Many of these skills can’t be learned before they’re required. That’s why people need a support network and/or to try as hard as they can to read blogs like this and others to at least get a background of understanding.

  4. AKMA, I struggle a bit with this. Over the summer I took Hans Kung’s autobiography with me to the lake and as I always enjoy the parts referring to the rigors of his theological education. On the other extreme are some schools that offer four theological classes and perhaps 8 or 9 classes on the Bible before pastors are shown the door.

  5. Mike O: “At the church level, sometimes it is possible to get the church to pay off your debt, in addition to your salary.”

    I know of one church where the church looks at student loan debt when looking at compensation in addition to some final planning help. I know the senior pastor who has no debt, no mortgage, and lives a pretty simple life. He gets a lower salary because he simply does not need more money. He is compensated well but as he said, “Why pay me to pay off a mortgage when I don’t have one?”

  6. Coming from the business world I have long found it incredulous that pastors are very unfamiliar and poorly trained with the doings and trappings of life outside of theology, doctrine, and church structure. I have had to take liberal arts courses as well as business courses. I have had leaders and mentors that show me the ropes not only of the business, but of all aspects of the job.

    On the flip side, I think we tread on very dangerous ground. We do not want the church to be a business. That is understood by all those looking to make a change in the way that church is done today.

    However, we need to find a balance of not making the church into a business, yet educating our pastors and leaders in the dealings of the business world. Maybe it should be taught in seminary. I know the church I used to attend (2500 members)had a full time business manager on staff. Maybe same of the church employed business leaders from bigger churches could look at providing free instruction, guidance, and mentorship to new pastors and smaller churches? Maybe that could be their ministry?

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