Lawyers do it. Doctors do it. Accountants do it. Auto-mechanics do it. All of them participate in mandated continuing education or additional certification. We can list other fields of learning where it is expected that those in the field know they will need to continue to learn to “keep up” and to be effective. Why not pastors?
A few years ago, Calvin Theological Seminary developed a new curriculum and also identified that we are about forming authentic, biblical, contextual, life-long learners. People have responded well to this emphasis on pastoral formation. I believe that C.T.S. has grown and is continuing to grow in this area; however, I have a concern. What kind of church are we preparing our students to minister in now and for the next thirty to forty years?
I know from my experience that the continuing education line for pastors is sometimes the first to go when a church faces fiscal challenges. We (as a denomination) have affirmed the value of education and training, but we have also tended to oppose “mandating” or “compulsory” continuing education for pastors. As a result, we tend to continue speaking around this topic. We know that for pastors to navigate the ministry context that is continuing to change, continuing education and training is key for them and for the church. Can we finally address this reality?
My suggestion is that we need to “covenant” continuing education. This is not about mandates or forcing people to do something they don’t want to do (compulsory), but it is about framing the conversation and making the investment – year by year.
I propose every council have an annual conversation with their pastors with the central question being – what two or three areas of ministry would we “covenant” together need to be addressed in our context. Out of that discernment, the conversation moves to how such areas should be addressed and where the pastor (and maybe other leaders) can obtain training. Because of the conversation, there is an opportunity to provide a ministry review and a consistent discussion on following a pathway whereby both church and pastor come to discernment and agreement.
We are living in a church age where pastors and churches are separating at an alarming and seemingly accelerating rate. I believe that one cause for that separation is that there has not been ongoing and consistent review, evaluation and covenanted conversation.
Isn’t it time for such a covenant between churches and pastors?