Some of my friends here at seminary have started the job search process for churches next year. I always enjoy listening to their experiences of the process and the surprises of what they encounter. Some are set on working in churches in the rural Midwest. Others only are interested in pursuing ministerial positions in urban or suburban settings. Some want to be teaching pastors, some executive pastors, some youth pastors, some worship pastors. But through some of these dialogues, two common themes have arisen. First, all but maybe one have expressed that they did not want to be a senior pastor right out of seminary. They all preferred to be apprentices under long-standing pastors for a few more years as an associate before being promoted to a senior pastor position. The second common strand is that most people want to be pastors at thriving, growing churches.
In response to the first theme, I asked why they didn’t want to be a senior pastor yet. All of them replied that they were not ready yet. One of these people has even had 4 or so years experience as a youth pastor in a church before returning to seminary. He doesn’t think he’s ready. I’m about 7 years his younger and although I do not feel prepared to tackle everything thrown my direction, I do feel prepared to be a senior pastor. A few more years of training will not prepare me for every little thing that could happen. The underlying question to all this is why don’t they feel prepared? Most of them have had ministry experience of some sort. All of them will graduate from a very good theological school with a masters of divinity. Sometimes you just have to go get your hands dirty. In high school I ran track. Before important meets, I remember my father always telling me to trust my legs and more importantly, to trust my training. All those long hours I put in on the track earlier in the spring was always ample preparation come time for the regional and state track meets. Somehow though, I had to be reminded of the confidence I should have possessed because I had prepared the best I could. All there was left to do was to go run the race. Training for a few more months might help a second or two or three, but I needed to test my training thus far. Trust your training. I wonder if seminarians would change perspectives in regards to being senior pastor’s fresh out of seminary if they trusted their training. And all their long hours studying in the library and counseling in their church office.
The second common theme was the desire to pastor “successful” churches. Will Willimon noted this in his own denomination earlier this year (I couldn’t find his blog post on it . . . sorry). He thought it was because we hadn’t trained pastors to be visionaries or true leaders. Instead we had trained pastors to be shopkeepers, to maintain the status quo, to build on a foundation already laid. Although I think this is true a large part of the time, I also think we must discern where seminarians will best fit in a church setting. Some may do excellent with already well-established congregations. For others, this may seem choking and crippling, with all their creative capacities being neglected. This may be one of the most important parts of discerning pastoral ministry as seminarian students – trying to decide what kind of setting your pastoral skills could be utilized in.