This week we asked our bloggers to share three things they would have liked to tell themselves before starting seminary. Here are their thoughts.
Going into congregational ministry, I felt very well prepared for the expectations and daily life that awaited me there. At the College of Wooster, I completed the substantial independent study research project required of all students. My research involved in-depth interviews with 12 female ministers who served in congregations, chaplaincy and college ministry. Through those conversations, I learned a lot about the ins and outs of working in the church and how to think through a number of the challenges. My seminary education helped me prepare with theological and biblical knowledge, as well as skills in preaching and pastoral care. Six years in, I have been both blessed and lucky, I think, to serve in three calls where I have felt the joy of serving God through the church.
Although well prepared, there are still a number of practical skills I wish I had learned before my first day in the office. Some I might have learned if I’d chosen other seminary classes. Others I would have needed to learn in alternative settings. Knowing all these things would have been valuable to me from day one in the congregation, particularly in solo pastor settings.
#1. Learn the basics of design.
Be it web design, print media or marketing material, these skills go a long way toward presenting the church in a professional light. Attractive stewardship brochures and new member pamphlets help folks take seriously the information inside. A stellar website raises the expectations for potential members of the spiritual guidance and opportunities available inside the church. Having a strong logo and even some “marketing” materials is not selling out to the culture; it is simply offering information to current and potential church-goers in the way they have come to interact with media. The quality of that media usually has something to say about the quality of the experience it promotes. Unless you are lucky enough to have a designer as a church member or enough funds to pay for good design, you are likely to be DIY-ing these materials on your office computer. Which is totally doable, but having skills and an eye trained for good design can make the process a lot smoother and more effective.
#2. Get up to snuff on your pastoral care skills to serve folks dealing with depression, suicide and dementia.
Because of clinical pastoral education, I learned how to be a non-anxious presence and am pretty good at the hospital bedside. I know when an issue is far outside my skill set and I need to offer a referral for counseling or medical help. But even the initial meetings with folks who are struggling with depression or suicide are key moments for healthy and effective pastoral care. I am working to hone my skills and knowledge in these areas. Learning these skills alongside theological training would have been incredibly valuable.
#3. Take a business class and learn the basics of accounting.
In small churches, pastors cannot assume that someone else is keeping track of the money and that it’s being done right. Pastors should not be keeping the books, obviously. But they should be attentive to the funds, going over monthly reports with a close eye and ensuring that proper financial practices are always being utilized. Money is not dirty. Money allows us to do ministry. Keeping track of it faithfully is part of our job, too. Do not miss an opportunity to learn some skills to help you with the financial aspects of ministry.
EMMA NICKEL serves as interim pastor at Beulah Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is passionate about congregational ministry, trying new recipes and keeping her baby’s naps on schedule. She lives in Louisville with her husband, Matt, and their young daughter.