By Nancy Kauffmann
I remember my first day as a new pastor, sitting in my office. I couldn’t believe it was true. I had felt a call from God to ministry, and the congregation and conference affirmed that call. Part of my preparation for that day was seminary and several ministry training experiences in my home congregation. I was ready and excited, but scared and unsure.
Sitting at that desk, I wondered “where do I begin?” The phone then rang and I began my journey as a pastor. Those first few years were full of excitement, surprises, challenges, mistakes, successes, doubts, and questions.
I often wished there was a manual for ministry that could guide me through every situation: “Page 6 when this happens. Page 300 when that happens.” By the grace of God I made it through those first few years with the help of mentors, continuing education courses, and trial by fire events that helped to shape me and my ministry.
We as a church celebrate when a person responds to the God’s call to ministry and we anticipate a long and healthy ministry. One way for the church to assist in a good start for beginning pastors is a new initiative we are designing called “Transitioning into Ministry” (TiM) which will begin this fall. This initiative is heavily based on the good work of Mennonite Church Canada’s TiM program.
TiM builds on some of the best practices of current leadership development–that of using the ministry context as an intentional place to learn about ministry. With the encouragement of conference ministers, we want to work together across the conferences on this initiative to strengthen beginning pastors in our denomination, working together for a specific task which would be very difficult to do as individual conferences.
TiM will be a two year program in which trained coaches meet with cohorts of no more than five beginning pastors. To keep costs down, the cohorts will meet exclusively with the coach through video conferencing. Though we realize this has limitations, and is not as good as a face-to-face meeting, we believe the added advantage of including beginning pastors in any region of our national church is a benefit and great equalizer for those living outside of the traditional Mennonite hubs.
Topics to be covered by the coach in the cohort will be: clarification of pastoral identity, a deepening self-awareness, exploration of ministry context, personality profiles, and annual growth goals for each beginning pastor. Learnings will come through peer feedback, from ministry experiences, reflections on assigned reading and the serendipitous nature of working with trained coaches.
The cost for the program, approximately $700 per year, will be shared between the participating pastor, the local congregation, the area conference and Leadership Development Office of Mennonite Church USA. It is true, this is a lot of money. And yet, not to do everything for these beginning pastors is even a more costly action.
Multiple studies show that when attention is given to the first 3 to 5 years of ministry, the effectiveness, the longevity and the success of pastors is significantly raised. We believe that we can strengthen beginning pastors and local congregations, and thus our area conferences and the whole Church through specific attention given to these first several years of pastoral ministry.
I am excited about the potential effect Transitioning in Ministry could have on our pastors and the church. If you would like to hear more about the TiM program, I invite you talk to your conference minister or contact either Terry Shue at firstname.lastname@example.org or me at email@example.com .