An Example of How Not to Train Up Pastors

Earlier this week, see I resurrected a post I had done two years ago on the benefits of going away to seminary. It was a pretty big hit, stuff so I thought I would resurrect a couple of other posts from that series on Training Up Pastors.

I went to Bible college specifically to learn how to be a pastor. I took classes in Bible, theology, homiletics, counseling, Christian education, etc. The quintessential class that was to prepare us for ministry was Pastoral Theology.

It failed.

First, the textbook. Well, we didn’t have a textbook. Instead, the professor photocopied a bunch of articles out of pastoral magazines (like Leadership). That was our material.

Second, the professor was a local pastor who was heavily invested in the Seeker Sensitive movement. So much so that he actually told us to not have people read Scripture from the pulpit that had long or foreign sounding words, because the congregation won’t understand it. [of course when we suggested having the big/foreign words explained, he said that Sunday morning was not the time for that.]

Third, he didn’t really know what to do with women in the class. Included in our “textbook” were articles about “being a pastor’s wife.” And when a friend of mine asked if there were any articles about the experiences of women pastors, or about “being a pastor’s husband”, the professor’s response was “well, in all likelihood you will end up being a pastor’s wife rather than a pastor yourself.”

At the end of the first semester, the class was frustrated. We really hadn’t learned anything, and because it was a two semester course, we still had another 13 weeks to go. So, we got together and drafted a very nice letter to the professor (and cc’d to the dean) which outlined what we felt we needed to learn in order to jump into pastoral ministry.

The list included things like:
1. What are our legal obligations to report abuse or illegal activity? How far does pastor privilege go?
2. What are the tax implications or benefits for clergy? [for example how do we claim living expenses, or what do we do if we live in church-provided housing?]
3. What are the tax implications for a church? [no property taxes, but how does GST work?]
4. If a couple wants to be married through the reading of Banns rather than with a marriage license, how do we apply for the Banns paperwork from the government?
5. Are there resources in Canada for pastors to network, to get support if needed?
6. What is required when doing a funeral/wedding? [now, in homiletics we did learn how to write a sermon for a funeral, as well as a homily for a wedding ceremony]
7. How do we train and equip a healthy church board?

The list was full of practical, hands-on advice that would equip us in ministry. He took the list, thanked us, and then the following semester didn’t teach us about any of the things on the list. Instead it was another semester of reading magazine articles.

Two semesters of a class that was vitally important became an utter waste of time. [I will admit, my attitude in the second semester soured, and I refused to give 100% in the coursework, which for me is unheard of].

All the things on the list we ended up having to learn on the job. It was a frustrating experience.

What did you wish you had learned in the classroom that would have prepared you for ministry?

5 thoughts on “An Example of How Not to Train Up Pastors

  1. I am working on a “non-academic” (no Hebrew or Greek) seminary degree and have no plans to be a pastor. However, from a parishioners viewpoint, I have come in contact with too many pastors over the years who lack, well…PASTORING skills. By pastoring skills,I mean being a shepherd, caring for others, and in general having “people skills”. Maybe they were great Bible teachers or preachers or could organizationally run a church or communicate effectively to a crowd…but pastoring skills or one-on-one skills were very lacking. It seems a basic book like Dale Carnegie’s old classic “How to Win Friends and Influence people” could be very helpful in preparing pastors for ministry!! Just my two cents. Perhaps a class could blend Dale Carnegie’s book with a focus on how Jesus interacted with people in the Gospels.

    1. Interesting.
      I’ve known pastors who treated Dale Carnegie as the “be all and end all” and were too much about “people skills” to the point that they might as well have been life coaches instead of pastors. In those cases the gospel, preaching, teaching etc were non-existent.

      1. Wow – my experience, for the most part, has been the opposite. Could you send some of those Dale Carnegie types my way? : ) I’ve known one pastor who was a good shepherd/pastor but only one. And now that I think of it – his preaching/teaching was very mediocre. Seems perhaps balance is hard to find – being good at both preaching/teaching and shepherding.

        Something I am observing more and more is that Pastors seem to be distancing themselves from the congregation (seeing themselves as primarily the preacher and overseer) and relying on the “small groups” for all the shepherding care to go on. The small group leader is to “shepherd the flock” of people in their group. And Pastor only steps in when there are big issues or life events. This is not working well from my observation…as too much responsibility or expectation is placed on a small group lay leader.

        I’m in the southern USA so perhaps this is just my particular experience down here.

  2. That’s funny. Our Pastoral Theology class was also an epic fail. We did end up having a pastor-turned-teacher in our last semester of Bible College, and he remembered what it was like stepping out of four years of college and into a church where I believe he had 7 funerals in one year. Seven. And he had NO IDEA how to go about leading one. He was determined that our experience would not be the same. So he warned us what it would be like (having family members look to you for total leadership), what to say and not to say (if you are not ABSOLUTELY sure that the deceased was a Christian, don’t put them in heaven or hell, just share the gospel!). I think all the married and dating couples in our class got “married” by someone else in the class. We discussed usable forms of church leadership (elder boards, etc.). You know what? I remember that class. Because it was useful. Pastoral Theology? … … … Not so much…

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