Lifelong Learning and Ministry

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George Brown


Following Sunday worship, Pastor Bob sank into the chair in his study and heaved a huge sigh. He had poured so much effort into the sermon, and yet the congregation seemed inattentive, indifferent, and even restless while he was preaching. The congregation annually provided him with a week's study leave and five hundred dollars to help pay for a continuing education experience. It was a provision which he appreciated and used intentionally to upgrade his pastoral skills. The next morning, Bob sorted through a file of continuing education brochures he had saved. The announcement of a preacher's workshop at an East Coast seminary caught his eye. He noted that participants needed to submit a sermon manuscript for critique in advance of the workshop and would have individual as well as group time with the workshop leader. He especially liked the individual attention that participants would receive. The workshop leader, a nationally-known preacher, was someone about whom he had heard good reports. Determined to do something about his growing frustration with preaching, Bob filled out the registration form for a preaching workshop and mailed it with his registration fee.

It had been brewing for some time. Samuel Martinez had been the minister of an urban congregation long enough to understand the overwhelming needs of an inner city neighborhood and to begin to see how the congregation might respond to some of those needs. Samuel was not sure how to mobilize the congregation to meet effectively the challenge of urban ministry. Books from the library offered some help. Conferences gave additional assistance. But Samuel sensed he needed a more systematic and structured approach. After reviewing the Doctor of Ministry degree programs offered by several different seminaries, he decided that one school's program met his particular learning needs better than the others. An appointment with the program director confirmed his choice and after arranging with his church board for study time and applying for financial aid, Samuel enrolled in the degree program. His faculty advisor helped him plan a course of study to answer his questions and to equip him to minister more effectively in his urban setting. A peer group composed of other doctor of ministry candidates serving urban congregations provided Samuel support during the course of his studies.

Mary had been the pastor at Old South Church less than a year when she became puzzled by the gap between the ajfiuence of the congregation and the continuing struggle to pay the church's monthly operating expenses. She asked the church treasurer for information about congregational giving. She learned several things by studying the treasurer's report. First, Mary discovered that ten percent of the congregation contributed nearly eighty percent of the total budget. Second, she found that more than half the congregation gave less than five dollars a week. Third, Mary noticed that almost a third of the congregation had decreased their giving in the past six months. Not satisfied with statistics, Mary sought to understand what the numbers in the report meant. She discussed her findings with the board of deacons and asked what they thought. One deacon complained that the members simply lacked commitment. Another suggested that some members were protesting Mary 's emphasis on social witness by decreasing their giving. Mary carefully tested the validity of these insights with a representative sampling of the congregation. Then she helped the deacons develop a stewardship plan for the congregation based on what she had learned about members' attitudes toward wealth and ministry.

The first Monday of every month for the more than six years he had served as the senior minister of First Church, Harold met with five other ministers as part of a case study group. Each month, one of the ministers distributed a onepage written description and analysis of a critical incident in the ministry. This "case" became the focus of their two-hour meeting. The minister whose case was being presented would spend a few minutes answering questions for clarification, and then another minister would serve as time-keeper and discussion moderator. More of a time for ego-bursting than ego-boosting, the discussion was rigorous, with colleagues critiquing the minister's approach, analyzing behavior, and questioning motives. Only at the end, was the presenter allowed time to respond to the comments by colleagues. Each minister contributed ten dollars a month to pay a pastoral counselor who served as a consultant to the case study process. For Harold, the time, money, and effort were a worthwhile investment in professional development.

As these scenarios suggest, lifelong learning for ministry takes different forms, both formal and informal, short-term and long-term, singular and shared. Lifelong learning in ministry is one thing all the scenarios have in common. Sometimes, like Pastor Bob, the lifelong learner participates in a continuing education event sponsored by a theological school. Other times, lifelong learning takes the shape of a personal research project, like Mary's analysis of congregational stewardship. Lifelong learning in ministry can be as formal as studying for a Doctor of Ministry degree or attending a continuing education conference. It can also be as informal as reading a book, discussing a critical incident with a minister colleague, or watching a film.

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How to Cite
Brown, G. (1997). Lifelong Learning and Ministry. Reformed Review, 50(3), 157-166. Retrieved from
Clergy -- Post-ordination training; Theology -- Study and teaching (Continuing education); Religious education; Church work; Pastoral theology; Learning and scholarship