What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary

If you are a minister with a theological degree, you probably remember your days in seminary fondly. Even if you worked another job, had a family to support, and “burned the midnight oil” to get assignments completed, the days spent pursuing a seminary education seem like the best years of your life. Those were the “good old days” even if they were not so long ago!

Once you accepted your first call to a church or other ministry, however, you quickly learned how much you did not know. Seminary professors had shared their best knowledge with you and you had worked to assimilate everything that was placed before you, but you quickly encountered challenges for which you were not prepared.

For me, the greatest challenge was in counseling. I had taken several pastoral counseling courses in seminary, so I thought I could handle just about anything that might come up. Wrong! I soon found that the lives of those I served were complex, difficult, and much more complicated than I could imagine. Each individual had unique things with which they were dealing (or failing to deal with).

The second big challenge was in helping people learn how to work together. When you get a group of strong willed and opinionated people together to make a decision, all bets are off! I quickly learned that a church committee has a mind of its own. Never assume that you know what they will decide.

David Gortner, an Episcopal priest, psychologist, practical theologian, and director of the doctor of ministry program at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), did a 15 year study on the leap that seminarians make from student to pastor. One of the things he discovered was that the traditional seminary curriculum failed to address some primary needs.

One need was a capacity to build communities and organizations, a key role for any pastor. Specifically, Gortner found that the clergy in the study “consider themselves little prepared for the faithful work of objective-setting and program planning, lay leadership development, conflict engagement, organizational leadership, congregational development, and community connection.”

Many of us can identify with this disconnect between academia and reality. Although seminaries are taking steps to address these concerns for future ministers, what about those who are already on the field? Do seminaries issue a “recall” to “fix” the problem?

We know that is not going to happen, but those who are already in ministry can be proactive in expanding their own leadership, relational, and organizational skills. As they do so, they can find help from groups like Pinnacle Leadership Associates.

One of the unique features of Pinnacle is a commitment to the personal development of those in ministry. Clergy leadership cohorts, coaching workshops, emotional intelligence training, leadership coaching, and many other services are offered so that leaders may be “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17b, NRSV).

If you are “in over your head” as a minister, don’t give up. Preparation for ministry is a life-long project given the world in which we find ourselves. Ministers who accept this reality and invest in their skill and personal development will find their effectiveness increasing as they move forward in ministry. May we be found among their number.

Ircel Harrison
Pinnacle's Coaching Coordinator