Academia and Ministry

Will Willimon opened a recent blog post with the following paragraph:

One of the most important decisions that a new pastor can make is to obtain a good pastoral mentor. Ministry is a craft. I am unperturbed when new pastors sometimes say, “Seminary never really taught me actually how to do ministry.” I think seminary is best when it instills the classical theological disciplines and exposes to the classical theological resources of the church, not so good at teaching the everyday, practical, administrative and mundane tasks of the parish ministry. One learns a craft, not by reading books, but by looking over the shoulder of a master, watching the moves, learning by example, developing a critical approach that constantly evaluates and gains new skills.

Although I have not yet attended seminary, I have received an excellent education via Northwestern College. That is why Willimon’s writing resonates with me so much. Internships increase the learning curve very quickly (those that have done internships in any field would probably share a similar sentiment). Our education gives us our posture. How we act out of that is in our gestures which are learned by imitating another. Books and knowledge may provide the framework in which we stand, however, the task of putting into practice and utilizing that knowledge must have a catalyst. And that catalyst is the wisdom and experience of another. This is how pastoral ministry is learned. And this is what makes me so grateful for the internships I have had. They have opened my eyes to what ministry is in real life, not just in books. And learning by doing only reinforces everything that we have learned in the classroom. There is not a break between academia and ministry. Rather they are codependent on one another, one providing the framework out of which the other can work, the other providing the hands and feet to give this framework a tangible presence.

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