Having recently graduated from seminary with an M.A. in Theology (2008) and a MDiv. (2010), I have been praying and searching for full-time pastoral ministry opportunities. The internet has been an asset in this search because I have been able to locate a few good websites. I have also noticed that while some things have changed since I graduated from college in 1992, some things have not. There is still a great demand for men to fill positions with either a proficiency in music or youth or in some cases a combination of the two in one position. Trying to find a senior pastorate is almost impossible. The reason I say that is because most churches want someone who has prior pastoral experience.
That is why I ask the question in the title of this post, “Is experience sometimes overemphasized in ministry?” I am not downgrading experience, but I am wondering why there is so much emphasis placed on it. In my particular situation, I am in a quandary of sorts. I have done many different things within the context of local church ministry. I currently teach in an ABF class, I serve as an usher, I serve as a deacon (recently elected). I have served in the nursery, assisted in the observance of the Lord’s table. I have preached (currently doing pulpit supply). I have served in the bus ministry. I have even been a pastoral intern for a year. I have even been ordained to the gospel ministry (1992 – after college). The quandary, is that, even though I have had a lot of experience in various areas of church ministry since 1987, because I did not draw a paycheck or have a fancy title, the experiences are “meaningless” to most churches.
I have been trying to figure this out for some time. I could be sarcastic and cite that C.H. Spurgeon had not prior pastoral experience, but I will avoid that temptation. In looking at most opportunities on the web, most churches fall into one of several categories: 1) High attendance – want someone with extensive experience (at least 5 years or more) 2) Medium attendance – big on education, experience is still necessary but not as important. 3) Low attendance – education or experience are not that important. The third category I am avoiding because if a church does not care about one’s education or experience, then that will lead to other things (apathy, lack of decent compensation, etc). I remember when shortly after I was saved in 1987, the big emphasis was education and Bible college and that basically you were nothing without a Bible college degree. This was not said verbatim, but it was implied heavily. After college, then the big thing was being married and having experience. If you were single, you were considered a risk, no one would even talk with you about a pastoral opportunity. It was the paranoia of the 1990’s. Now after completing seminary, the big thing is experience. Well, if I just spent the last eight years of my life preparing for ministry and I did not have the opportunity like some of my seminary colleagues to serve as a pastor or an assistant pastor while in seminary, why count that against me?
Experience is a good thing. It is valuable in many respects. Have we exalted it to a point, where titles and paychecks are more important than service and faithfulness? If we are serving faithfully in a local church, not necessarily worrying about glory or credit, but trying to serve Christ wholeheartedly, then how do we explain to a pulpit committee that we do not have 5 years of pastoral experience, even though we have done almost everything a pastor does, except have the title and get paid for it?
(There were three of us who graduated with the MDiv and at the time of writing this…. all three of us are still looking for ministry opportunities)
Your comments and thoughts are welcomed and appreciated…