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Here I Am Lord, Now What? Transition and Survival in the First Parish

TAS2TE of Ministry Inc. $24.95

Reviewed by Edward A. White

 

The big problem is that theological seminaries do not and probably cannot fully prepare people for parish ministry. Seminaries can provide theology, Bible, church history and certain skills training in homiletics. They can give attention to the spiritual and emotional development of the person.

But there are some things that you can only learn about being a pastor when you are actually living and working in the role of the pastor in a congregation. Normally you become a pastor after you finish seminary.

Prior to the advent of theological seminaries, the chief model of preparation for pastoral ministry was the apprenticeship model. One who aspired to become a pastor would choose an experienced pastor to be a mentor and teacher. The parish rather than the academic institution was the context for learning to become a pastor. This is the model that was explored in the Intermet Theological Seminary experiment in Washington, D.C., some years ago. This is the current model that works for the new Christian movements that are growing so rapidly in the United States, such as the Calvary Chapels, the Hope Chapels and the Vineyard Churches. (Recommended reading: Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium by Donald Miller, University. of California Press, Los Angeles, 1997).

Here I Am Lord, Now What? is the curriculum for Phase I of TAS2TE of Ministry, a post-seminary program that offers a first workshop during the summer after seminary as candidates are going to their first parishes. The event helps the candidate and spouse anticipate what entry into the parish will be like and prepares them to address a number of practical issues. They then go to their congregation for a year and return for Phase II of TAS2TE of Ministry to reflect on their first year’s experience in the parish.

As one who taught Phase II of the program for several years, I am convinced that TAS2TE of Ministry helped a number of new ministers and their spouses to negotiate the culture shock of transition from the seminary to the parish. The expectations of a congregation are different from the expectations of a seminary faculty.

The Phase I curriculum explores pastoral authority and pastoral role. It explores power and authority. Articulate lay people are brought in to give the “view from the pew.” Instruments such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator are used to increase self-awareness. Participants explore the matter of authenticity in ministry. How does one manage the stress of the role and avoid burnout? How does one deal with difficult people in the parish? How does one learn both to lead and to manage the congregation? Issues of ethics, including responsible sexual behavior, are explored.

I observed that many participants in Phase I were not certain why this was necessary after three years of seminary. When they returned for Phase II, they were very clear why this was necessary. They had experienced enough pain in the first year to make them ready to learn.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has developed a denomination-wide strategy to work with seminary graduates for the first three years through a combination of workshops similar to “TAS2TE” and a mentoring program involving experienced pastors.

These initiatives are sorely needed. Three years of seminary education is not sufficient preparation for effective parish ministry. The church must be with its new ministers during the formative years of the first pastorate.

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