By Terry Shue
On May 23 and 24 I was privileged to attend the commissioning and graduation ceremonies of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in northern Indiana. The formalities were a blend of traditional academic regalia and deeply centered faithfulness. For those of us who love the church and have served out of a sense of call it was a very moving experience. Though out the ceremonies I was mindful of the sacrifices that so many people made to get to that point for each of the graduates present.
I have to admit there were times during both of the services that my mind wandered down memory lane, recalling my days in seminary. It was not all that long ago that I was a young graduate with three small children, heading out from seminary to take our first church. I was well-equipped by those who trained me for ministry and yet still ill-equipped for all the needs that pastors have in the local context of pastoral ministries today.
Studies show that the first several years of a pastor’s experience in a local congregation can either make or break their long-term commitment to pastoral ministry. For a pastor to start ministry in a context that is unfamiliar to them, while charting out a pastoral identity that is yet un-developed, creates a complex web that is fraught with challenges, surprises. Often this is a path charted alone. In these early years, energy is often misspent, habits are easily developed that are not always healthy and tenure of these pastoral positions that are not always as long as they could be for these beginning pastors.
Building on some of the best practices of current leadership development–that of using the ministry context as an intentional place to learn about ministry, we are designing a program called “Transitioning into Ministry” (TiM). With the encouragement of conference ministers, we want to work together across the conferences on this initiative to strengthen the 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 will meet with cohorts of no more than five beginning pastors each. 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 positive 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 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 the local 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 together.
If you would like to hear more about this transitioning into ministry program, I invite you talk to your conference minister or drop me an email and I will share additional information which will help explain the program. Just one more thing we can do, together!