What New Ministers Need

by George Anderson

“I went to Law School to learn Law.  I learned how to practice Law after I joined a law practice.”  Robert Ballou, a lawyer in the church I serve, said this to show that he understood when I said the same thing about ministry.  While I can’t imagine anyone enjoying and appreciating seminary more than I did, I learned the practice of ministry serving in the church under the guidance of other ministers and laypeople who shared wisdom from their disciplines.  Because certain aspects of a vocational practice are best learned while immersed in the practice itself, the focus of continuing education right out of seminary should shift from identity to practice, from theory to skills.

For me, much of that practical learning was “on the job” and not at continuing education events because I was blessed with gifted ministers and laypeople who offered me nurture and support.   However, many new ministers do not have, and do not know where to find, such a network of support.  A shocking number leave the ministry before the fifth anniversary of their ordination.

Bothered by the rough start many have in ministry, I began to notice that most continuing education events for newly ordained ministers carry on the seminary project of focusing on pastoral identity over pastoral practice and do not use parish pastors and laypeople as leaders.  The lack of practical education becomes a problem when a congregation expects the ministers they call to already know how to deal with staffing issues, read a budget, raise funds, develop leaders, guide a church in long range planning, and manage competing interests.

Thanks to a fund for theological education, Second Presbyterian Church and Union Presbyterian Seminary have been able to offer one model for how practical skills can be shared in a continuing education setting.  The sixth Kittye Susan Trent Symposium for Newly Ordained Ministers was held at Second Presbyterian Church this past March.  The symposium is five and a half days that begin with worship and lead to seminars that focus on practice.  To enhance peer mentoring, the group is limited to eight participants each year.  The schedule includes times for rest and play.   Ken McFayden, a Union Presbyterian Seminary professor, and two experienced pastors, Ed McLeod of Raleigh’s First Presbyterian Church and I, guide the symposium and lead some of the seminars.  The rest of the seminars are offered by other experienced pastors or laypeople.

Imagine a day focused on finances where Ed McLeod talks about effective stewardship; Nancy Gray, president of Hollins University, talks about fund raising; Joe Miller, head of his own construction company and our church treasurer, talks about financial interpretation; Phil Boggs, Church Administrator, talks about budgeting and tracking funds; and, Steven Waskey a financial planner, talks about the minister’s personal finances.  Such is one day of the symposium.

“I don’t think a day goes by where I do not reference in some way to something I picked up at the symposium,” says Dean Pogue, a first year participant who calls on various seminar leaders regularly.  “The symposium provided some things I didn’t know I needed.  Now I know what to look for,” said Caroline Jinkins who participated this year.   All the feedback received has been similarly positive and grateful.  At the recent NEXT Conference in Charlotte, I ran into many former participants who told me again how much the symposium has meant for their ministries.  Because the nurture of new pastors has become a passion of my ministry, hearing these reports makes me deeply thankful for the symposium.   My favorite quote was spoken tongue-in-cheek by Rachel Achtemeier Rhodes who last year said to Ed and me, “Thank you for teaching us what we need to know to someday take your jobs.”  We laughed, but that is precisely why Ed and I have been doing this.  I have heard it said that the church needs my generation to “get out of the way” in order to find what’s next.   That’s true, as it is with every generation, but, first, we have some great stuff to pass on.

I am not suggesting that what is done at Second Presbyterian can be exactly replicated.  I do suggest that the components which make the symposium such a helpful experience for new ministers can be sought out elsewhere.  A sabbatical devoted to studying programs for newly ordained ministers led me to believe that in addition to spiritual disciplines of worship, reflection and prayer, these are the components most needed by new ministers: mentors to emulate, coaches to instruct, trusted peers with whom to share and learn, laypeople who are willing to teach what they know, exposure to “best practices,” and teaching congregations (either where one serves or where one can visit).  Not all governing bodies can provide these components, and fewer can provide them well.   Also, intangibles such as right leadership, chemistry among participants, quality materials, and accountability need to be in place, or even the best constructed program will bomb.  However, ministers on their own or as groups can seek out some or all of these components, and keep after it till what nurtures and sustains is found.

To illustrate how it can be so, the Associate Pastor at  the church I serve, Elizabeth Howell, organizes three overnight retreats a year  for new pastors within our presbytery where the first day is devoted to the kind  of seminars offered by the symposium and the second day is devoted to the  participants mentoring each other.  Under the direction of one of the participants, Andrew Taylor-Troutman,  the group is now meeting additionally for lectionary study and sermon  preparation.  This is the kind of  local and organic connecting that is encouraged by the NEXT Church  movement. 

What can be done for new ministers where you serve?

levelREVDr. George Anderson is a graduate of St. Andrews University (’81) and Union Presbyterian Seminary (’85).  He served in Kingsport, TN and Jackson, MS before becoming in 1998 the Head of Staff at Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, VA.  He is married to Millie and they have three grown daugthers; Paige, Rachel and Virginia.  The symposium discussed in this blog was made possible by a fund established by John Trent, a widower, in memory of his only child, Kittye Susan Trent, who died from complications from a lifetime medical issue.  He left his estate to Second Presbyterian Church for the purpose of promoting theological education.  The first Kittye Susan Trent Symposium for Newly Ordained Ministers was held in 2008.  The names of past participants can be found at: http://spres.org/#/important-info/trent-symposium-history
4 replies
  1. Tom Bryson
    Tom Bryson says:

    Wonderful program. I participated several years ago and can tell you first hand that George, Ed, and Ken are providing something I desperately needed as a young pastor. I hope more congregations and church leaders will follow in their footsteps.

  2. John Craft
    John Craft says:

    I am so happy to hear that not only has someone identified this void, but are doing something about it. I’ve heard so many stories of devoted folks who feel overwhelmed with ministry and walk away because they just can’t keep their heads above water while trying to juggle their job, their family, and the new reality of ministry.

    I’m also selfishly happy that you all are in Virginia where I live, and you can be sure I’ll be looking you up in a short while when I graduate from Seminary. As a second career person, I feel like I bring some unique skills to ministry, but I also need to learn so much more. Having a connected group of peers to grow in ministry with through the years sounds like the best way to stay grounded, develop new skills, and support each other with Christ’s love.

    Thanks for doing this, and for sharing it with others.

  3. Sarah Erickson
    Sarah Erickson says:

    George, does your design have distance learning components to extend/reinforce the practices/learning? I am working on a model or models for something something similar, mostly likely with a hybrid distance and residential mix

  4. George Anderson
    George Anderson says:

    Sarah, I am glad you’re working on something similar to help new pastors in your context. Unfortunately, as pointed out in several of the evaluations by participants, we have remained in the large-binder-full-of-resources mode. Participants, especially those who fly, would love to be given a thumb drive instead of a thick notebook. We haven’t made use of the cloud or dropbox. We probably should do this. But, speaking for myself and not for Ken, I haven’t thought through all the issues yet like understanding and honoring the different levels of propriatary expectations of the different seminar leaders.

    What I can do (and enjoy doing) is talk logistics and share what we’ve learned to anyone who is interested. Ken McFayden (Union Presbyterian Seminary) and Ed McLeod (First Presbyterian, Raleigh) are available as well. I can respond to specific questions. I can also put you in contact with specific seminar leaders in relation to their specific areas. My office number is 540-343-3659 and my email is pastor@spres.org.

Comments are closed.