“Of all my current development needs, the one thing at the top of the list would be to understand the language of finance.” So states an accomplished pastor, well known for her pastoral leadership and outstanding preaching. She is not wanting simply to balance her checkbook or explain the church’s budget. In fact, she took a semester of accounting, as required in her seminary. Rather, she wants to acquire a working knowledge of finance to help her congregation maintain its position of influence in the development of the neighborhood. Many a weary, harried pastor finds herself ill prepared to carry out the work of “ministry.” If only I knew more about project management or group psychology or community organizing or educational program development or fund-raising, or … The list goes on.
As governing bodies search for ways to address the large and growing attrition rate among pastors in the first decade of their ministry, an understanding of the development needs of pastors plays a critical role. What we know is that pastors find significant role incongruence as they take up their first calls. Successful pastors looking back on their careers identify significant skill sets they consider crucial to their effective ministry that they have developed, usually on their own.
In order to unpack this issue, we have launched a three-year research inquiry into the role of the pastor with a specific focus on how the seminary might serve these men and women during the critical first ten years of their ministry. This is a report on results of this study to date presented to launch a broader discussion in the religious community. The work so far has entailed the interviewing of dozens of head-of-staff pastors and leading academicians and administrators, and PTS graduates. Our research thus far suggests that the demands on today’s pastors extend beyond the traditional role as spiritual leader and encompasses three additional roles that need to be addressed early in the pastoral call.
The recently published Carnegie study on Educating Clergy identifies the role of the seminary in preparing students for clergy practice as follows:
- developing in students the facility for interpreting texts, situations and relationships;
- nurturing dispositions and habits integral to the spiritual and vocational formation of clergy;
- heightening student consciousness of the content and agency of historical and contemporary contexts; and
- cultivating student performance in clergy roles and ways of thinking.
This is broadly in line with the expectations of incoming students. However, and crucial to the subject we are addressing, the Carnegie study also reported that “discussions on the pedagogical possibilities in practical theology — and of congregational studies more specifically — in shaping the future of seminary education are still relatively new.”
One pastor summarized our research when he reported that the turning point in his ministry came when he realized that instead of being a distraction from his spiritual leadership, mastery of a number of additional areas allowed him to be more effective in advancing his call as “Prophet, Pastor, and Teacher.” Twenty years ago Barbara Wheeler of Auburn Theological Seminary conducted a study of “talented ministers.” She and her colleagues found that the ablest ministers have broad interests, often in areas that link theology with other intellectual and practical fields of endeavor.
Many of the pastors in our interviews believe that their public presence in the local community reinforces the message from the pulpit. Furthermore, Katarina Schuth of the University of St. Thomas has spent more than two decades documenting that the greatest gap (and, hence greatest source of anxiety and of potential failure) in the knowledge and abilities of the first decade priest is in administrative areas. Our recent survey of PTS graduates indicates that the two most pressing needs of their current call or position are congregational and personal leadership development.
One pastor suggests that the incongruence experienced by new pastors stems from their drawing wrong assumptions concerning the expectations and needs of their congregations. Therefore, the seminaries need to help their students clarify the multidimensional nature of the pastoral role and to assist in the development of the pastor during the first decade of call.
The essence of our hypothesis is that the role of the pastor may be understood in terms of four identities:
Servant of God inspired and empowered by the Spirit. This identity includes all of the classic “Prophet, Pastor, and Teacher” activities. The minister is, first and foremost, the teaching elder and pastor, the preacher and the pastoral care giver. Passion for the Bible and deep love for people are critical attributes for this identity.
Steward of human and physical resources. Young clergy often find that their first calls are to parishes struggling to keep their doors open. Their success will depend on knowing how to work with church staff; how to identify, develop, and work with unpaid but hardworking church members; forming and leading teams (as contrasted to work groups); commissioning and assisting committees; and effectively moderating meetings.
Public individual in an ecumenical context. The work of the pastor cannot be limited to the four walls of the home congregation. Our communities desperately need a public, ethical voice. The public minister partners and allies with disparate groups.
Member of a profession and lifelong learner and disciple. All true professions require moral integrity. They also require ongoing skill development. Some of the most successful pastors we interviewed count their ability to accurately assess the “state of the congregation,” not just at the time of call but over the course of their ministry, as a hard learned and essential discipline. The ability to identify and cope with worldviews distinct from their own seems to be another trait of successful pastors. Certainly the effective pastor engages in a lifetime of personal development including ever-deepening biblical competence, evolving self-awareness, and a living model of discipleship.
Jonathan Edwards warned us about the unconverted minister — the minister who discharges an adequate role but is not changed in his or her heart. Our work to date indicates that equally problematic is a minister who is not prepared to embrace the breadth of identities just articulated. The self restriction to a narrow band of activity is a major contributor to the role incongruence mentioned earlier.
The next stage of our research program will employ a series of surveys to broaden and deepen the insight obtained to date by extensive one–on-one interviews and the articulation of a program of development during the first decade after seminary that addresses the four identities.
Charles F. Kalmbach is advisor to the Continuing Education Department of the Princeton Theological Seminary (and former chief administrative officer at Princeton University). Iain R. Torrance is the president of the Princeton Theological Seminary.