Is experience sometimes overemphasized in ministry?

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…

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3 responses to “Is experience sometimes overemphasized in ministry?

  1. I note your frustration which is understandable; after trying to locate a ministry upon graduation. Can’t make ‘real’ decisions because of many uncertainties. Prob feeling like your feet is firmly planted in mid-air. While I empathize with you generally. I do have a concern about your view regarding option # 3 – low attendance. While adequate compensation is a legitimate concern, plus fear of the church’s apathy towards spiritual things, etc. I’m wondering if you should give it due consideration.
    The reason being – the role of a pastor is to shepherd the flock – one of the challenge and responsibility is to bring it to another level. Yes a church with low attendance may have those tendencies. It’d be sad to assume all are like that. Some are having low attendance because hirelings took the ministry and went elsewhere when opportunities came knocking. Those left behind had to fend for themselves. Who will feed and shepherd them and show them genuine love and stickability than the ones who have only demonstrated “till greener pastures do we part” commitment?
    You can meet with motley crew of leaders in such churches, tell them the conviction and position you have. That if you pastor that church, you be given the liberty to do such and such a thing in the min within Christian sensibilities. That is, both church and you manage expectations. I believe it is workable.
    I am pastoring a church of low attendance. It took a few years for the folks to appreciate bible preaching (vs pounding of pulpit), understanding true spiritual matters from dead traditionalism. I believe in biblical preaching – more than that – the Word can transform those genuinely saved – OVER A PERIOD OF TIME. Only God can create the world in nano-seconds if He chooses to; the rest of us needs to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Discipleship is a long obedience in the same direction, one preacher used to say.
    Experience is great and asset; nothing beats down-to-earth – incarnational living and preaching by staking your lives into ministry of low attendance. BTW, I’ve had all those experiences you’ve had; I’ve also been full-time staff for few years before college + seminary. You know what, those educational years are wonderful assets – they enhanced my skills; reveal my errors of pre-school days, but no replacement for being in a place and show the people of low attendance that you really believe the Bible can challenge their lives and help them be what God intends for them to be – never mind it’ll be a small church in 10 yrs time. Success in the ministry is faithfulness to God’s call to be a SHEPHERD – if that’s what you are called to be. Most preachers – realistically – will be pastoring small churches.
    Yes, some churches aren’t interested in spiritual things because there aren’t regenerate souls in it (perhaps). There are others that just need a man who loves the Lord more than the ministry to shepherd them. A man who will take whichever ministry the Lord lays before him, doing it because the Master says so. I left a bigger and better-off church to take on smaller church because after spending some time assessing, I see potential for growth not according to church experts but different levels of keenness in spiritual things. It’s nothing glamorous to talk with your friends about in terms great stuff. It’s a joy to note the baby-steps of faith that folks are taking towards godliness. Today, we’re still a small church, sometimes prayer mtg has to be canceled cos folks can’t make it. We grow from performance based Christianity to authentic living – from home to church. Last yr, we manage to commission one of our own to the mission field of West Papua. The church takes on 25% support for the family. It was a massive step. I still don’t have adequate compensation; my wife is working too (call me faithless). Early this year, we have 2 adult male enrolled online with 2 good seminaries because they have been burdened about the inadequacies of their knowledge and need to buckle up and grow. I have always believe in higher education, believe thou me, and still am. The people are beginning to see the sufficiency and importance of Scripture because I believe in it enough to preach to small number of people as intensely as I do before a crowd. Same hrs of exegesis and exposition. This is early days yet, there will be low times but there are other wonderful highlights as well. My point is – despise not the days of small things. Yours is a time of waiting and allowing the Lord to remove idealism and suffuse realism; in the interim be careful not to allow the devil to put into you cynicism. It colors the way you look at people and ministry. Forgive me if I seem to be rebuking you because that’s not my intention. I don’t write well enough to be succinct. I’m concerned about your expectations that – which, to me – is not realistic. Christian ministry is not the same as job seeking. BTW, another type of ministry you can consider going into – plant a new church work from scratch. Nobody will question your experience (or perceived lack thereof). No fear of apathy ; teach folks to provide adequately for you (in due season); preach your conviction and establish the work you believe is the right kind of biblical ministry. You have an opportunity to start with a clean slate. As for compensation, trust the Lord to repay. Learn what it means to be bi-vocational perhaps with a view that it will stop when the church has come to the point of stepping up by faith to support you fully. This is a real food for thought. You can always talk with the man who has more than adequate education; right affection and philosophy – did his PhD and start a new work at the same time – Dr Kevin Bauder. Again, my apologies in advance if it seems offensive. I chimed because you asked for response. Sincerely

  2. I want to add on to my earlier post – I don’t have all the answers to pastoral ministry. In fact, I don’t do it perfectly either. Often I find myself asking God for forgiveness because I don’t love my folks as much as I ought to; I don’t preach as well as I ought to. Yet pastoring in a church such as these, grows me personally. If it’ll never reach 100 people in 10 yrs, it’s alright by me. I’ve been enriched in many ways.

  3. Increasingly, the pastors and men I admire most are those with as little formal training as possible…success isn’t everything, but if you look at the impact people like Spurgeon, Chandler, and Driscoll have had, it says a lot.

    Seminary educated men won’t die out, but it will probably increasingly become the rare and not the norm…

    There ya go. Take your considerable knowledge and start crafting a condensed theological lesson book for younger pastors or college age students.

    Or…we can podcast.

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