I have been out of seminary and in full-time ministry for a few years now. In those first few years, it seemed obvious how to implement the skills and information that I learned in classes and from books. But recently I have found myself struggling. It has become a challenge to figure out ways to minister that are unique and specific to my context. I really miss having professors to guide me, assigned reading to stretch my thinking, and class discussion to challenge me. Do you have any advice for me? How can I recapture some of that academic experience in the midst of such a busy life of ministry?
Really Missing My Seminary Days
Yours is a common experience for many in ministry! So know that you are not alone. Also know that while your seminary experiences were invaluable, if your theological education ends there, you will not last long in ministry.
Many professionals are required to participate in some form of continuing education to keep abreast of the latest developments in their field. For ministers, however, continuing education is not formally required but is most certainly necessary in order to grow personally and thrive professionally. Veteran ministers know that they must frequently evaluate their ministerial “toolboxes” so that they will be equipped to face the ever-changing challenges of ministry. So the questions are: What steps can you to take to continue your education as a minister? Where will you find the personal and professional enrichment necessary to gain a fresh perspective?
First, I urge you to make reading a priority. Develop a personal required reading list, and invite a colleague to hold you accountable. Better yet, invite another minister to read the same book you are reading so that you can reflect together on the content. If you need help developing your reading list, don’t hesitate to ask a mentor to give you suggestions. And don’t think that you have to limit yourself to “academic” books—sometimes the act of reading a well-written novel can stir your creativity in unexpected ways.
Second, take advantage of retreats, workshops, and conferences. Sometimes the most important things gleaned from such events don’t come from the official presentations but from casual conversations with other participants. While they may be serving in very different places or functioning in different roles, you may learn something from them that is transferrable to your context.
Third, intentionally nurture relationships with your ministerial peers. Is there a peer-learning group in your area that you can join? If not, consider who you would like to spend time with—either face-to-face or online—and launch your own peer group. Technology makes it possible for us to connect regularly with people from a distance. Talking with ministers who serve in similar capacities will be a boon to all of you, allowing you to draw from a deeper pool of theological education and practical experience.
A commitment to being a life-long learner will serve you well in ministry.
Blessings as you keep learning!