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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Help! I'm a Pastor in Seminary!

One of the most challenging dynamics of a Wesley Seminary education is also one of its most significant strengths. Unlike most traditional seminaries that invite students to take a respite from ministry in order to study, Wesley Seminary has intentionally positioned itself to equip students while they minister instead of before they minister.

Although I attended a traditional seminary, and a very good one at that, I had the privilege of serving as a pastor while studying. I remember the rigorous balancing act. Juggling ministry, marriage, and the Master’s degree brought out the best and, I confess, the worst in me. I experienced seasons of fatigue, frustration and fear. There were days when I wanted to quit ministry to focus more time on the MDiv and marriage, or quit the MDiv to focus more on ministry and marriage. Quitting the marriage was not an attractive option, since I certainly got the better end of that arrangement

I decided to stick it out and learned to navigate the Masters, marriage, and ministry or, as I like to call them, the “3M challenge.” I’m glad I did. The 3M challenge is an ideal way to “do” seminary, which is one of the many reasons why I love serving at Wesley Seminary. Here are some of the benefits of the 3M challenge I see among Wesley Seminary students:

-Learning and doing reinforce each other. The learning we experience sticks most when it is immediately applied. In my preaching course, for example, students will read Augustine and Wesley’s guidance on sermon delivery. We will discuss what we learned from these saints of the past, as we also explore current best practices for sermon delivery. Then, students will devise criteria to guide their delivery of sermons. Finally, they will deliver a sermon in their ministry context governed by their thoughtful criteria. Wesley Seminary students immediately and consistently integrate learning and doing in a manner that maximizes both. Our students are thoughtful practitioners.

-A community of real life ministers grapples with real life questions. Our students don’t learn in the vacuum of some ivory tower. They are immersed in the trenches of ministry. So they come to class with real questions that reflect the complexities of contemporary ministry. In the classroom, actual or virtual, students wrestle with these practical questions and are guiding by the Bible, theology, church history, each other, and experts in the field. Essentially, our students experience their entire seminary journey as a robust supervised ministry education. This particular seminary model diminishes one of the most severe ministry hazards- loneliness. Our students are not swimming alone but have a cadre of classmates and professors to help them navigate the real challenges of real ministry today.

-Scrupulous time-management is a necessary pastoral skill. Our students don’t have the luxury of studying 15 hours per day. Most of them have families to love and all of them have churches to serve. And this is a good thing. The unfounded assumption among many traditional seminary students is that life will become less complex once they achieve their degree and enter full-time pastoral ministry. This is a myth. In order to endure and thrive in ministry, the pastor must develop the skill of time-management, and quickly! Wesley Seminary students are immediately thrust out of the nest and into the rigors of strategic time-management, or “priority discernment.” Our students must decide at any given crunch-time, which priority most warrants their attention. Sometimes a student will need to give their undivided attention to family and postpone study and ministry. But, there are also times when study requires a devotion of time that necessitates the deferring of ministry. And, of course, there are times when the student must choose ministry over time with family or in study. These are the current realities of life and ministry. Wesley Seminary students traverse these tensions and, we hope, learn the scrupulous time-management skills that will serve their families and churches for the long-haul.

I could cite more benefits of serving and studying simultaneously. Room remains for you to jump into the conversation and list some strengths of Wesley Seminary’s unique approach to ministerial formation.

Looking forward to your thoughts,


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