6 Findings on What Pastors Value in Ministry Training

Jun 2, 2016 | Blog, Education, Pastor | 0 comments

“To lead with courage and pastoral wisdom in the twenty-first century requires ministers to make a transition from simply imagining ministry to embodying pastoral imagination.”

Recently, some colleagues and I read the Auburn Report on “Learning Pastoral Imagination.” The study followed 50 pastors for 5 years—from graduation into their pastoral ministries—and examined what they received from their theological education. See the Auburn Report here: http://pastoralimagination.com

This 5-year study involved 50 diverse ministers across the United States (diverse ethnicity, ministry context, theological training, denominations, etc., plus both women and men). It examined what these pastors valued about their ministry training, and what they’d like to see changed in theological education.

The Overarching Research Question was: “How is pastoral imagination formed through practice in ministry over time?”

Auburn Report: How is pastoral imagination formed through practice in ministry over time? Click To Tweet

By “learning pastoral imagination” the researchers mean transitioning from simply imagining or conceiving ministry (and what it looks like and demands), to genuinely embodying pastoral imagination in ministry and missional contexts.

This is about the move from information to formation, in an integrated, contextualized, immersed-in-mission-and-ministry way.

Twenty-first century seminaries and theological colleges are deeply shaped by centuries-old practices:

  • Division of theological disciplines
  • Dependence on texts as the basis of knowledge transmission
  • Classroom training
  • The relegation of missiology and missional theology to the fringe of the curriculum (elective choices, rather than central to training)
  • Inadequate focus on practical and in-the-ministry-and-mission-field training
  • The Euro-American-centricity of educators, curriculum, readings, educational methods, etc.

My colleagues and I didn’t agree with all the findings of the Auburn Report. We asked questions, for example, about:

  • The way the theological orientation and academic climate of the institutions and pastors influenced the findings
  • The way the recommendations aren’t neutral (e.g. the shift from a textual paradigm to a contextual paradigm isn’t a neutral shift, and it may be just replacing one type of text with another)
  • The negligible missional reflection in the report and recommendations

But we value many issues the report is raising, and we see the need for improvements to theological education:

  • The focus on integrative, embodied, and relational training
  • The emphasis on issues of justice, equity, and listening to fresh or marginalized voices
  • The attention to mentoring and apprenticeship models, and learning pastoral practices in context
  • The focus on the formation of the whole person
  • The importance of lifelong learning
  • The prioritization of spiritual formation and relationship with God
  • The shift to practitioner-theologians (people teaching out of ongoing immersion in ministry and mission)
  • The need to take context serious

So, what did the Auburn Report say about the way theological colleges equip new ministers for mission and ministry, (1) in the light of the new challenges they face, and (2) by a thoroughgoing evaluation of their training models?

6 KEY FINDINGS

 

Here are the 6 key findings:

 

Finding 1: Integrative, Embodied, & Relational Training

Learning pastoral imagination happens best in formation for ministry that is integrative, embodied, and relational.

In order for adequate formation for ministry leadership to take place, such formation requires a lively interchange between contexts of knowledge acquisition and leadership practice—again, the 3 words integrative, embodied, and relational are critical.

 

Finding 2: Integrating Teaching, Practice, & Identity-Formation

Learning pastoral imagination centers on integrated teaching that understands and articulates the challenges of the practice of ministry today.  

New ministers cultivate pastoral imagination when they seek out and engage integrative curricular elements or find dynamic teachers that help them to integrate their academic and skill-based learning with a developing sense of identity in ministry.

 

Finding 3: Learning Through Critical Reflection on Practice

Learning pastoral imagination requires both the daily practice of ministry over time and critical moments that may arise from crisis or clarity.

As one accumulates multiple instances of pastoral situations, by the repetition of doing what is needed in the flow of the day, the experience of how to do it becomes intuitive, as if without thinking. The interplay between an extended immersion in practice and the singular critical moments when either crisis or clarity interrupt and pull one up short does not really solidify in one’s practice unless processing and reflection help the moment stick.

 

Finding 4: Apprenticeship & Mentoring (in Context)

Learning pastoral imagination requires both apprenticeship to a situation and mentors who offer relational wisdom through shared reflection and making sense of a situation.

Ministers must find the way that works relationally for them, through apprenticeship models, mentoring, in dialogue with the ancient wisdom of the Gospel, and in dialogue with the values of their particular tradition. Mentoring and apprenticeship can be a pathway to extraordinary learning.

 

Finding 5: Addressing Injustice, Oppression, & Marginality

Learning pastoral imagination is complication by the interaction of social and personal forces of injustice.

Where students have found opportunities for ministry, the work of leading the fight against oppression has looked a good deal more complex than it did from the halls of divinity school.

 

Finding 6: Personal & Corporate Spirituality

Learning pastoral imagination is needed for inhabiting ministry as a spiritual practice, opening self and community to the presence and power of God.

Spiritual formation is crucial—especially formation in and for grassroots ministry.

 

5 MAJOR IMPLICATIONS (PLUS DISCUSSION QUESTIONS)

 

Here are 5 major implications for theological and ministry training.

I’ve included some reflection/discussion questions for you to use, if you’re looking at this report with a group of theological and ministry educators:

 

Implication 1: Contextual Education

Shift from a textual paradigm to a contextual paradigm.

“For faculty, staff, administration, and trustees: How can your school’s culture and curricula embody deeper alignment between classroom and context? Which particularities about context—especially contexts outside the white hegemony of evangelical and mainline ministry settings—are already shifting the needs and skills for ministry so as to demand new responses in classrooms and curricular design? What intersections of classroom and context best foster leadership formation and pastoral imagination? Might asking these questions be the shared commitment of the whole faculty, rather than the contextual or practical faculty whose work typically raises these issues? What interventions might constitute not just strategic fixes in the programs and curricula, but might initiate adaptive cultural change? In other words, what moves beyond tinkering with what you already do, and risks an alternative proposal with distinctly different educational assumptions and practices aimed at the formation of imaginative pastoral leadership for the future?”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is our goal here in training ministers and others?
  2. How are we going?
  3. What options can we brainstorm for doing this better?
  4. What will we commit to doing, from now on?
  5. How will our progress be assessed (assessment leading to further changes and commitments)?

Implication 2: Integral (Whole-of-Life) Education

Take account of the education and formation of the whole person—especially concerns for the personal impact of social injustice upon students.

“For faculty, staff, administration, and trustees: How can curricular elements, including classroom and experiential learning requirements, and co-curricular elements (chapel, spiritual formation, and the like) align intentionally to serve the integration and formation of the whole person for ministry? What practices of collaboration and communication among faculty and between faculty and students, staff and administration, and trustees will foster such alignment? How can issues of oppression and justice, as part of a focus on holistic well being, be made integral to teaching and learning rather than simply left to the student?”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is our goal here in training ministers and others?
  2. How are we going?
  3. What options can we brainstorm for doing this better?
  4. What will we commit to doing, from now on?
  5. How will our progress be assessed (assessment leading to further changes and commitments)?

Implication 3: Lifelong Education

Support developmental learning over a lifetime.

“For faculty, staff, administration, and trustees: How might you recognize and assess the diversity of knowledge and abilities students come to seminary with? How can you help them to foster a robust engagement with their own learning over time? What kinds of assignments encourage growth in a practice over time? What mechanisms or systems of support and reflective practice will create a supportive environment for risk and growth, rather than protection and plateaued learning? How might clear outcomes for learning, including outcomes which are embodied and holistic, not just cognitive, help articulate stages of student learning over time? How will you help students’ embody relational skills for ministry that go beyond more engagement with written texts?”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is our goal here in training ministers and others?
  2. How are we going?
  3. What options can we brainstorm for doing this better?
  4. What will we commit to doing, from now on?
  5. How will our progress be assessed (assessment leading to further changes and commitments)?

Implication 4: Practitioner-Focused Education

Cultivate teachers who know ministry.

“For faculty, staff, administration, and trustees: What would it take to gain agreement on the need to recruit faculty and contextual supervisors who teach toward the game students need to learn to play, leadership in ministry? Could this recruitment commitment extend to every area of the faculty and not merely the contextual and arts of ministry areas? How could review, promotion, and tenure procedures shift so they more directly reward teaching, research, and writing focused on how a scholarly area contributes to ministry leadership? Might faculties commit to full participation in contextual education programs? Might doctoral programs think less about reproducing their disciplinary excellence and more about shaping teachers for the vocation of theological education and preparation for ministry?”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is our goal here in training ministers and others?
  2. How are we going?
  3. What options can we brainstorm for doing this better?
  4. What will we commit to doing, from now on?
  5. How will our progress be assessed (assessment leading to further changes and commitments)?

Implication 5: Formation-Centered Education

Relationship with God is at the heart of forming wise pastoral leaders.

“For faculty, staff, administration, and trustees: What kinds of alignment across multiple modes of learning in the life of your school could foster integration towards pastoral imagination—at the level of curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular requirements, at the level of pathways through curricula (online, intensives, residential classrooms), at the level of full course syllabi, and at the level of course assignments? How might your faculty engage one another in theological and spiritual reflection on the practice of ministry with a telos of re-imagining your teaching and curriculum? How are you making spiritual formation for mission and ministry at the heart of everything you do, an dhow are you showing and emphasizing that to students?”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is our goal here in training ministers and others?
  2. How are we going?
  3. What options can we brainstorm for doing this better?
  4. What will we commit to doing, from now on?
  5. How will our progress be assessed (assessment leading to further changes and commitments)?

 

I wonder whether these findings, implications, and recommendations resonate with you? Or (if you’re a parishioner, pastor, or theology student) would you push back on these in some way? Or suggest alternatives?

 

Graham Hill

Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.

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