Not one but TWO teaching positions in my field were advertised this week, which caused me to do some soul searching about the new ministry path on which I am embarking. My dream is to find a ministry position where my research and writing would be considered an enhancement of the position rather than a distraction from it. It’s possible that one of these positions could be my dream job, but two qualms prevent me from submitting an application.
Qualm Number One-- Donald Schön’s scholarship on professional education has persuaded me that he is right. In order to learn professional skills, students must practice these skills under the supervision of a competent mentor. Whether educating students of medicine, law, business, architecture, music, or ministry, all of the schools training students for a profession must offer the equivalent of a design laboratory for every skill that students are expected to acquire.
This means that whatever skills a seminary considers essential to effectiveness in ministry, students must be able to practice all of those skills in a setting for ministry. The curriculum would have to be structured in such a way that every course was linked to a practicum where the ministry skills taught in that course were practiced, experimented with, and critiqued. The purpose of the critique would be self-evaluation, answering the questions what worked, what didn’t, why, what should be changed and what should remain the same next time. (I’ve published on this topic if you’re interested in a more in-depth presentation of my pedagogical viewpoint.)
I am not aware of any seminary that balances theory and practice. Most offer one or two sessions of supervised ministry. According to Schön’s theories, that amount of practice is not sufficient to train reflective practitioners of a profession. Hence my reluctance to return to an educational model that does not adequately prepare its students.
Qualm Number Two-- I spoke to two young pastors last week, a clergyman and a clergywoman. Both of their churches are struggling to pay the bills. The clergyman is considering dropping down to part-time status and entering a PhD program so that his church can afford to pay his salary. He’s not the only one serving a church that can’t afford its pastor.
Several years ago, Bishop Ann Brookshire Sherer-Simpson told me she anticipated that more pastors in Nebraska would have to become bi-vocational. Her prediction rings true. Every year fewer churches in the conference are able to pay the costs associated with having a seminary-educated pastor.
Are seminarians aware of this trend? Do they know that they will most likely be offered a less-than full-time position? That they will have to bear the cost of their health insurance and retirement savings? That going the course of study route would have been the more practical choice from a financial perspective?
I find it difficult to justify pursuing a tenure-track position at a seminary when I fear that an M. Div degree would leave students with a lack of professional experience and few professional opportunities that would pay off the loans they incurred at school.
So my new career path is taking me to the University of Nebraska, Omaha. I’m entering the Master of Accounting program this Spring, and I’ll focus on accounting principles for non-profit agencies. These are the steps that I am taking to become a bi-vocational minister. As you read the signs of the times, what steps are you taking in order to fulfill your calling?