How Ministry Practitioners Learn Best
I have been enjoying the Facebook group, "Things they didn't teach us in seminary." The varied topics confirms the educational truism, "You learn what you need to learn when you need to learn it (and not before)." There are things you just can't learn in seminary, even if well-intentioned professors try to teach them. The number and frequency of entries is proof enough that ministry in complex, demanding, unpredictable, sometimes outrageous, and full of all the pathos and drama of the human experience. I can't help but admire every courageous soul who has answered the call to ministry and shared their stories so graciously.
Ministry is demanding, and many of us seek all the support we can find, even on Facebook. In the book, So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive, Penny Long Marter, et. al (Chalice Press, 2013) explore the phenomenon of one of the best ways practitioners in ministry learn to thrive and find support. The book summarizes, through data and stories, how peer groups have helped thousands of clergy and ministers grow, survive, and thrive in ministry. One intriguing finding: "Pastors with a history of participation in a peer group lead congregations that grow. The relationship is quite strong." (p. 8).
As a long time member of a peer learning group I can attest to the value of committing to a group of one's peers for support, friendship, learning, challenge, and accountability. Over the course of twenty years members in our group came and went, changed jobs, transitioned though terminations and relocations, experienced divorces, deaths, health crises, joys, celebrations, accomplishments, and all the things that shape or disrupt life and work. For many of us, the group made the difference between merely surviving ministry and thriving in our calling.
I'm still convinced a formal rigorous theological education is a must for those who answer the call to ministry. But as some have discovered, you can't learn everything you need to know in seminary. Learning is always contextual, and some things cannot be learned in seminary. As I sometimes remind colleagues, seminaries are good at the formation of seminarians, but pastors are formed in churches. A formal theological education is important, but thriving in ministry requires a different kind of learning. I'm convinced one of the better ways to learn and thrive as a ministry practitioner is in committing to a peer group for the long haul.
The Center for Lifelong Learning will facilitate a new cohort of peer learning groups for 2013-2014. If you are not a part of a peer group, this is a great opportunity to join one, or, to gather a group together. If you are part of an existing group that needs support, a new direction, a fresh start, or a new focus for the year, this may be for you. See the information in this issue of Journeying Together for more information. Join a peer group, it's a "so much better" way to engage in lifelong learning for ministry.