The last few posts have been a little too wordy.  This one will be swift and to the point.

Sunday I talked about weddings and referred to the troubling fact that in the three years of seminary, at supposedly one of the premier seminaries in the world, I was never taught how to do a wedding.  Never.  I have wracked my brain since Sunday and tried to come up with all I was ever taught about weddings and it boils down to a couple of photocopied pages that spell out the importance of premarital counseling (without ever telling you what you should say in that counseling) and the injunction that every pastor has the right to determine whom they marry.

That’s it.  Everything else we were told, “you’ll figure it out.”  Here is a partial list of the things I was never taught in seminary but I have found to be vital in the pastoral ministry.

1.  How to conduct a business meeting.  I was given a copy of Robert’s Rules and told to not pay much attention to it.  I was, however, taught how to do a church budget in various detail.  I was just never told how to pass it!

2.  Lord’s Supper/Communion.  Nothing.  Ever.  Not once.  The theology of it we discussed at length.  How to do it, never.

3.  Baptism.  You would think that the preacher boys would all get in a baptistery tank of a local church and spend an afternoon practicing on each other.  Nooooooooo.  As I said Sunday, I almost killed the first person I ever baptized in church.

4.  Funerals.  Just like with weddings, we were never told how to lead or conduct one.  We were, however, told all about the grief cycle, depression, and the importance of the church’s long term ministry to those who suffer loss but as for the nuts-n-bolts of a funeral service, dealing with the funeral home, cemeteries, honor guards, Masonic lodge, florists etc… there was absolutely zilch.

5.  How to run a meeting.  As a pastor I run a lot of meetings:  Staff, deacons, teaching elders, ministry teams and so forth but I was never taught how to run one.

6.  One more–hospital visits.  I was told to do them, and I was told they were important but never was I instructed on how to actually do one.  I say this seriously, because hospitals are cramped, smelly, and odd environments that require some level expertise to navigate.  It would have been nice to have maybe, a fake hospital room in the seminary building somewhere with an actor or another student playing the roll of patient to go visit.

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I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING NOW

Some things just can’t be learned by reading a book.

Do not get me wrong.  I learned a great deal in seminary about the Lord, Scripture, the languages, doctrine, ethics and so much more but there were huge holes.  As I said earlier, it has been a long time since I was in seminary (mid 90’s) and I hope  much has changed for the better.  I doubt it though, because the trend is toward distance learning and online courses which do not help with practical aspects of the work.  I wonder if one of the reasons why church has been in such crisis for the past 3 decades or so might not be in some part related to the lack of practical education at the seminary level.  I wonder.

15 Comments

  1. That certainly reveals an advantage to serving on the ministerial staff for many years and being mentored through all those things by patient, experienced pastors.

    I probably should have paid more attention!

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    1. i think that is exactly what seminary was thinking–that every student had a great mentor in their church, or that everyone grew up in church. however, i was pastoring full time by my second year of seminary, and i know many of my other friends were too.

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  2. As one of the members of your church, in my opinion, in all of the things you were not taught while in the seminary, you have received your instructions from the Lord, and you do all of the things you mentioned very well according to one of your members who is much older than you and can find no fault with the way you handle anything that a pastor is required to do. I know that you feel you have “learned the hard way” but when you seek the Lord’s directions and follow what He says, you cannot fail to do what is right under any circumstance.

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    1. the Lord does certainly take care of things dottie, but you can indeed fail to do what is right if you drown your baptism candidate (victim) or get the order of the cup and bread wrong during Lord’s Supper.

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  3. It would have been nice to have maybe, a fake hospital room in the seminary building somewhere with an actor or another student playing the roll of patient to go visit.

    And best of all, if it were conducted as skillfully as this:

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  4. I took a class at ETBU called Ministry Formations. While I didn’t care for the teacher and most of the class wasn’t helpful, near the end of the semester we were taught principles of executing four religious rites: wedding, funerals, communion, and baptisms. After we were taught it, we were broken up into four groups and assigned one of those functions to put on for the class.

    I was in the funeral group, and we held a service at a local church with a coffin and everything. The wedding group held a ceremony and cake reception, white dress and all, at an outdoor venue in town. The communion group had us gather outside on a pretty day around a blanket and partake in communion together, as well as a foot-washing ceremony. And the baptism group did a baptism in another local church.

    It was one of THE most helpful and useful projects I ever had in college. And after hearing about how many pastors and church leaders never got that kind of training, even in seminary, I’m even more grateful that I had those experiences during my undergrad years.

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    1. sounds like a great experience put together by a very wise teacher. it is telling that you received this instruction at Bible college while seminary didn’t. like i told jim above, i think that often the seminary assumed either church staff experience before you were the senior pastor or, perhaps, that every seminarian went to a Bible college first.
      i am thankful, though, for your experiences and for wonderful institutions like ETBU.

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  5. I’m surprised you didn’t tell about the counseling we received! What help that WASN’T! Even though you were not trained, you became a master at it. It is a blessing to witness every time. Love you, cute man! =)

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      1. Is your nose in the air so high, again, that you are being rude??? =P Somebody better be nice to the person who is about to read his next short story for editing purposes! She might make lots of red marks with rude comments!!! ;D

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  6. You were and are very equiped-the Holy Spirit, love and commonsense. That is all you need. The other parts the local church will tell you how THEY do it anyway!

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  7. After hearing your sermon on marriage that Sunday, I have noticed how many times I hear about weddings (especially with summer coming on) and 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 being spoken. While it is great out of text for the newlyweds to vow by, I find myself wondering if the pastors, priests and rabbi’s have understanding of the full text to get a full idea, or if as you said, go along with it because it ‘works’. It is great to live by in all aspects of life, just as you said that it should not be reserved for special occasions. So I find myself thinking it silly every time I hear people talk about this in association with weddings and marital love. Though of course, had you not preached it, until I read it myself (and maybe even after) I would have fallen in with the same group. :p

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    1. carlie–glad you’re thinking about it. my overarching desire is not to take that passage, necessarily out of weddings, but to make certain we apply to the place paul meant it–to the inner workings of church life.
      thanks for reading, and really thanks for commenting!

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