Category Archives: Education

Doing what you trained for

The title may be grammatically incorrect, but I want to make a point with what I am writing.

I was thinking about something while I was walking home from the train station yesterday.  I was thinking about a friend who recently completed his first year of full-time teaching and recently signed a contract to teach next school year.  In reading his Twitter feed and Facebook posts, he really enjoys his job.  I went back and thought about what I knew about this individual and his path to his eventual teaching career.  He had a desire to teach (not sure how far back this goes) but he graduated high school and went off to college to train to be an elementary school teacher.  During his last year of school he had to put into practice what he learned in the classroom by student teaching.  This individual, as part of his student teaching taught my son in the 2nd grade.  My son enjoyed his lessons, especially the science ones.  We were just talking about some of them the other day and my son really enjoyed his lesson on the water cycle and that was well over a year ago, but he still remembers it very well.  What this showed was not only this individual was well-trained, he had a passion for what he was doing, but he also was doing what he believed God has called him to do and he was given an opportunity to do it!

Contrast this with those who train for pastoral ministry.  Same process.  There is the call of God on an individual’s life, they make that call public and then it is off to Bible college and then seminary.  Sometimes an individual will be required to complete an internship within the context of a local church which might be the equivalent of student teaching but not quite because most pastoral internships never really let the intern do everything, it is like the pastor is afraid that the intern will mess up and ruin his ministry.  Mark Dever once talked about letting the new pastor mess up and make mistakes, he related to his own experience at Capitol Hill Baptist Church when he first came that he indeed made a few mistakes and the people were patient with him.  Student teachers do not teach their first day or week, but they get one subject at a time, do a lot of observing and then towards the end of their time, they will teach for entire days with the supervising teacher observing and providing feedback along the way.

I was wondering how many people are out there that went to Bible college and seminary and invested large sums of money for their education some in excess of $50k and they are not in pastoral ministry?  There are some who have disqualified themselves due to moral issues, etc.  There are some who after completing their training may have decided that pastoral ministry is not for them.  What about those people who have a passion and a desire (1 Timothy 3:1) to serve the Lord only to find themselves working in a job or career that they had no intentions of working in except to pay the bills while they were training.  Their heart is not in it and their desires are elsewhere, but a cloak of silence has enveloped their life with regard to ministry.  No direction from a mentor or encouragement from a local church, just silence.  The secular job market really has no use for theological degrees.  Most jobs nowadays are requiring specialized training and specialized degrees. Experience alone will not get you a job now.  You wouldn’t want a airline pilot performing brain surgery on you?  Then why is it okay for pastors to work other areas that they are not necessarily trained for?

I remember reading several articles regarding people with Phd’s wanting to teach in their fields but there were not enough openings in the academic world so some of these PhD’s were janitors, waiters, etc.  and not able to ply their trades either.  That was a few years back and I trust that things have improved somewhat so those people could find work.

I would love to hear from you if you have a desire for pastoral ministry and have finished your college and seminary training but find yourself working in a field that you did not train for.  Please comment below and maybe this can be a catalyst to help and encourage others to be able to find a ministry opportunity since other venues have been notoriously silent.  Where are the people who will speak truth into the lives of others?

Is there anything wrong with doing what you trained for and invested your life in?

An article that needs to be read

Are you a pastor?  Then you need to read the article that I am linking to.

Are you called to preach?  Then you need to read this article also.

It is a severe indictment against our churches if an article like this has to be written.  I am thankful for Brian Croft writing this article. He has written what many people are probably thinking.   Hopefully some churches and pastors will put into practice what he has written about.

With those brief comments… here

After you have read, then please feel free to comment.

Are you in a church where other men outside of the pastor and staff are not given opportunities to preach and refine their preaching skills?  If so, I would like to hear your story.

I am going to do something I have never done before

… review a book partially before I finish reading it.  You may say that is foolish to review a book before finishing it.  Well there is a good reason for it!  The author makes so many compelling statements in the first 15 pages I wanted to share these with you in hopes that you will read the entire book as I am endeavoring to do.

Here is the story…

My wife works for a Christian radio station where she is a production assistant. One of her duties is to set up interviews with the authors of books that the stations receives.  I look through the books when they come home and will peruse a few of them before they are sent back to the station for interviews.

I was looking through a recent stack that she brought home and saw a book that intrigued me.  I am drawn to any type of book on ministry, leadership or mentoring and this was no exception.

The book I am talking about is Protege – Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders by Steve Saccone.  I had never heard of the book or the author prior to seeing the book in a stack of books. I picked it up and started to casually read the Introduction not knowing how far I would get.  I did not get very far before I started reading some things that really resonated with me!  My wife happened to come into the living room and I read some of these things to her and told her that this was unbelievable, that I had been waiting for someone to write something like this!  She could tell that I was pretty passionate about what I had been reading.  I told her that what I had read and had drawn me in was just within the first 15 pages of the book!

Before I share the quotes that arrested my attention and compelled me to read the rest of the book, I want to share a bit of my story.  I have been looking for an opportunity to serve in full-time pastoral ministry since January 2010.  If you have read here , you would know that my search has been highly unsuccessful.  I have submitted my resume over 30 times to 30 different ministries since 2010 and have yet to be granted an interview.  I had stopped searching while we were expecting our second child because we were unable to travel if called upon to candidate.  I have since resumed searching but the results are still the same.  This book really hit home because it addresses some of the core issues that I have been dealing with since launching my search for an opportunity for full-time pastoral ministry.

Here are the things from the book I wanted to share:

I think back to when I was nineteen years old, when I initially stepped into ministry and had no idea where to begin. Someone decided to help me figure it out…  Not only that, he spend time coaching and mentoring me with insight and compassion because he believed in God’s call and gifting in my life.  He believed in who I could become as a person, communicator and leader (pg.12)

Wow, what a powerful example of mentoring and coaching!  It gets better.

Throughout history, if someone wanted to learn a particular skill, he or she would find a master or mentor to guide them.  This person seeking to learn and grow is called a protege.  And like any skill or trade, ministry leadership involves a set of abilities that must be developed and cultivated.  (pg.13)

There are countless proteges simply waiting for an experienced master of their trade or wise mentor, but they so often become lost in the deficit of strong and developmental leadership that is so absent and misprioritized in today’s culture and today’s church.( pg. 12)

The author speaks about seminary – he is in favor of theological, academic training but also realizes that there are some shortcomings as well.

I’m profoundly convinced that attending seminary without also receiving “on the job training” is the equivalent of a physician attending medical school without ever practicing their skills in clinical rotations.  And this dilemma is not solved with a simple field education course, as good as it may be. Think about it.  Can you imagine being treated by a physician who possesses all the medical knowledge in the world after just graduating from several years in school but has absolutely no hands-on experience?

The author has hit the nail on the head!  I have used the same example also in some of my writings on the subject as well.

He continues on:

Many proteges who attend seminary as their sole preparation end up stumbling around the church upon graduation and battling confusion and frustration.  Why? Because they initially believe they’ve been properly prepared, trained, and equipped for the demands ahead, but they soon realize it’s not true.  In actuality they were, more often than not, only given information instead of personalized and intentional development.(pg. 14)

This is true also of those of us who have served and are serving in the local church.  My seminary experience was not just merely academic.  I was involved in service within the local church while in seminary and even now.  I also served as a pastoral intern in my local church as a graduation requirement.  I have also found out that having two Masters degrees (M.A. and MDiv) along with over 25 years of practical Christian service in three different local churches will not cut it with churches looking for pastors, whether a senior pastor or assistant pastor.   The expectations have been raised so high now that most seminary graduates do not have much a chance in finding a church ministry unless they were able to serve in full-time ministry on a church staff while completing their seminary training.  Most seminary students have to work a secular job to take care of their needs and after that, there is not much time for anything else.   I speak from experience because the entire time I was in seminary from 2002-2010, I worked a full-time job at minimum 40 hours a week, many times a lot more hours along with studying and other academic responsibilities.

The author also talks about training indigenous leaders:

And if we’re going to become the movement we long to be as the church, we must begin by raising up indigenous leaders rather than just looking outside our own backyards for people who are already where we want them to be. In the short-term, it may be easier to hire a ready made leader; but in the long-term, we not only do a disservice to all the hungry proteges around us, but to the church’s future.  Her future will be shaped significantly by how we as leaders choose to engage the development process of the next generation of ministry leaders”  (pg. 16)

I do not think that there is much more that I can say than what the author has already said in the first sixteen pages of the book.  I think that the church really needs to step up and take responsibility for the proteges in their midst.  We see the church taking a vital role in the development of leaders (see Acts 13).

I look forward to reading the rest of this book

What are some ways that the local church and its leadership can contribute to the training and development of the proteges in their congregations?




What we can learn from Joe Paterno

This is not going to be an article on football or the scandal that plagued Joe Paterno in recent days before his death, but rather a few things that I learned from an article in the USA Today written by Jack Carey.

Most people will remember Joe Paterno for his coaching longevity, his accomplishments on the football field or the scandal that eventually led to his dismissal from Penn State University. What stood out to me was something far different.

Joe Paterno had a mentor who believed in him. This belief was not just something that was said and never acted upon. The individual who mentored Paterno was a coach named Rip Engle. As the story is told in Carey’s article, Paterno had been accepted into law school, but while he was waiting graduation, Paterno was given the opportunity to be a part-time assistant under Engle working with the quarterbacks. Engle was later given the head coaching position at Penn State and was allowed to bring one assistant with him and that assistant was Joe Paterno. Paterno ended up succeeding Engle in 1966 and the rest of the story is history.

The part I am focusing on is that fact that Paterno was given a chance by someone who could help him and did help him succeed! Engle gave Joe Paterno a part time assistant job which ended up preparing him for the job that he held for 46 years. Not much was said in the article about the relationship between Engle and Paterno, but it was that key relationship and mentoring that undoubtedly took place between these two men that helped Joe Paterno become one of the most well-known college football coaches. Not many people know who Rip Engle is, but they know who Joe Paterno is!

If you are mentoring someone, what are you doing to make sure that they are advancing and progressing in their respective fields? Many professions require an internship and it is during those times that the greatest learning takes place because it is leaving the theoretical and the book learning and allowing them to put things into practice with hands-on learning. What good is a doctor, if they complete their classroom training, observe the more experienced doctors practice medicine, but then the student is given menial tasks and never allowed to do anything of substance that would allow him to eventually practice medicine and become a full-fledged doctor? What good is a lawyer that finishes law school and passes the bar exam, but is never allowed to argue a case?

I think that there is a big misunderstanding in mentoring. Mentoring is not just getting together, talking and listening, or just watching some experienced person perform various tasks within a certain field. Mentoring is spending time with people and letting them do some of the same tasks that the mentor would do. Mentoring is about making opportunities for the one being mentored so that they can grow and develop.

Too many times we can place too much stock in education. I am not discounting education in any way. I have a B.A , M.A. in Theology and a Master of Divinity, so I am not against education. I think too much emphasis is placed on education and too little on letting people learn hands on. I would not want a pilot flying a plane, if he hasn’t had the proper amount of classroom training along with time in the flight simulator and the right amount of flying hours. The balance here is education with practical training.

The same is true for pastoral ministry. We have enough people out there that are saying, “Watch what I do and learn from me”, but not enough pastors who are willing to take a risk and let people learn by doing.

I think the words of Mark Dever are so applicable in this context of mentoring,

God raises up young men who watch their life and doctrine closely and are gifted to teach his Word publicly. Hire them when they’re a cub. Let them chew things up around the house for a while, and you’ll have a lion that loves you for life! Young pastors make mistakes. But young pastors—if they’re called and equipped by God—can stay for a long time, and have deeply fruitful ministries for decades

Remember, not many people knew who Rip Engle was but they knew who Joe Paterno was. May we be people who not only mentor others but give others a chance to learn by doing and by making opportunities for them to do so!

History does repeat itself

I was reminded of this disputed fact earlier this week, when I encountered some former seminary colleagues and their inquiries as to what I am doing now. It reminded me of when I graduated from college in 1992 (that seems so long ago – almost 20 years ago).   When I graduated from college, I was ready to head into ministry, after all, I had just finished Bible college and earned a B.A. degree in Church Ministries.  However, the following things were not in my favor at the time:  I was 23 years old, single, and had no formal ministry experience.  The economy was bad all over (like it is now) I had a decent secular job, but my heart was not there at all.  I sent my resume everywhere I knew that an opportunity existed that would possibly suit me.  Nothing happened for six long years. I was active in my local church, not real good in the dating arena from 1992 onward.  I was living in frustration because I felt like there was something wrong with me because I was watching my college friends and colleagues leave Jacksonville for ministry positions and opportunities.  The brief stint that I did have in full-time ministry (1998-2002)was a real eye-opener for me (it was not in a local church ministry, but a para-church organization) and it was some of those experiences and the hypocrisy that I saw that God used to get me to leave the dysfunctional situation and resume my education after a ten year hiatus.  So in 2002, I resigned my position and headed north for the Twin Cities to begin my academic career towards a MDiv. degree at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN.

Little did I know when I arrived in the Twin Cities how things would change in my life.  I started seminary in the Fall of 2002.  I could not find a job right away (It took 2 months to find a job and I am still with the same company almost 9 years later, but in a different role) I met my future spouse in 2002 and we were married in 2004, while I was still in pursuit of the MDiv degree.  In 2006, our first child was born, Joseph.  We lost his twin brother (earlier) and my mother passed away in September of 2006.  I thought that the convergence of these circumstances would push me to the breaking point and that I would quit seminary.  God was faithful and used several people to encourage me not to quit. As a result, I dropped back into the M.A program and finished the M.A in May of 2008 and then set out to finish the MDiv. which God allowed me to do in May 2010.  I applied to attempt to continue my education but was not accepted for post-graduate work.

Earlier this week, when I was talking with people and they were inquiring about my status (ministerially speaking) and I told them that I had sent out 15 resumes last year and no interviews.  Answering these questions, brought me back almost 20 years ago when I was answering the same questions to college colleagues who came back to the Jacksonville area and I would run into them at Trinity Baptist Church /College functions.

I did not realize how discouraged I had become until I started answering those questions on Monday morning.  By the time I came home on Monday afternoon, I was ready to crawl under a rock.  I asked the usual questions, Why me?  What did I do wrong?  It is also tough because I do not have a mentor or an advocate like so many younger guys have these days.  I could mention instances where guys have gotten their “foot in the door” and eventually obtained a position because of who they were associated with (mentor) or who they worked for or someone who was willing to “go to bat for them.”  I do not have anyone like that.  I thought if I had been accepted to post-graduate studies that kind of a Paul/Timothy relationship would have been fleshed out.  The reason I thought this is because I have heard about these types of relationships from my seminary professors with their mentors and have seen it in the lives of other ThM and PhD students at other institutions.

Now instead of being 23, I am 41 on the verge of being 42, I am married now (7 years in July) and I have one son (Joseph), one in heaven (Jonathan) and a son or daughter due in August. Now instead of being too young and inexperienced, now I am older and married and still do not have any formal experience (most churches do not take into consideration my extensive experience serving in three Baptist churches as a volunteer faithfully since 1987, they want to see that I had a title and/or a paycheck for what I have done and they have come up with the five years of experience as some form of benchmark of success or competency.  I recently saw one church was looking for a pastor that had a minimum of ten years experience!)

Even though time has marched on and now I have three ministry degrees, the pain is still present when I have to answer these types of questions.  20 years ago, Facebook and Twitter did not exist.  Some of the discouragement comes from seeing what others are doing and they are landing some great opportunities to serve God.   The pain is compounded when I returned to the secular  job where I have served honorably for the last eight years, but get no recognition, no career development and the compensation is lacking (when you are the main breadwinner) in an area where the cost of living is high in contrast to the salary that is below the per capita salary for our area.  Then you watch people get promoted who have been with the company less time than I have and with less education.  That does not help.  It would be one thing if I was radically succeeding in the secular workforce and making enough to support my family adequately, but that is not the case.  It feels like a grand failure on both fronts (secular and ministerial).

Charles Spurgeon talked about depression, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

I am hoping at this point that I will not have to wait another six years before going into full-time ministry, but that is not for me to decide.

Remember, you did not do it for the money…

I saw an article recently on Yahoo regarding worst-paying degrees and I was actually shocked to see the following:

At # 8 of the worst paying degrees was Theology at the range of $34,700 to $51,300

At #12 of the worst paying degrees was Religious Studies at the range of $34,700 to $54,400.

When I finished reading the article, I reminded myself that it is not about the money, but rather the call of God upon one’s life!

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…