Keep on Learning!

Transcript of the episode “Keep on Learning” from The Basin and Towel podcast, January 27 2021

In the last episode of The Basin and Towel podcast I asked you to think about a Pastor’s Self-Evaluation Tool that you might be expected to complete for your church body, District, Presbytery, or other governing body.  I suggested that our experiences during this past year of the COVID pandemic might give us the opportunity to address in those self-evaluations some of the changes and adjustmentes we’ve made.  I used some questions from the form I’m expected to fill out to nudge you to think about new strengths in ministry that might have been revealed in you.  I asked you to reflect on some changes you’ve made in the way you do ministry.  I talked about changes you might have made in the way you engage with your community; and I wondered about how the circumstances of your extended family have affected you.

I also said that there is one area on my own Self-Evaluation Tool that I would leave to this episode, and that’s Continuing Education – and maybe it’s on your list, too.  So let’s get to it!
I hope that your learning didn’t end when you graduated from the seminary!  I once heard about a pastor who thought that all he needed to do was to re-read some seminal seminary texts each year, and he’d be fine.  I don’t know how long he kept that up, but I don’t think that was a good idea.  But in my particular church body, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the entry-level degree for serving as a pastor in most cases is the Master of Divinity degree. 

We’re also one of the few vocations that has that entry-level requirement, but no requirement for continuing licensure.  Doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors, lawyers – in most states these vocations and professions require a set number of continuing education units to renew a license to practice; but it seems that’s not so in many ministry settings.  I don’t know how you’d feel about going to a doctor that hasn’t done anything to renew his license in years, but we often let pastors slide on their continuing education.

I know that some pastors don’t want to keep a of list their continuing education courses for the same reason they don’t want their seminary diploma on their office wall – sometimes they call that humilty, and they say that pastors shouldn’t try to pad their resume.  But if your Self Evaluation Tool for your District or church body asks for your Continuing Education coursework, to be accurate and up-to-date on that list is definitely a way to tell others what you’ve been focusing on (like, counseling or evangelism) as opposed to what you haven’t been fodusing on (like, youth ministry or prison ministry).  That way, if your district supervisor is looking to fill a ministry position with someone with an evangelism background, he might look at you; but if he’s looking for a youth pastor he’ll know to look at someone else.

So where can you find continuing education coursework?  The most obvious place for people in ministry to look is at seminaries themselves.  Whether you take classes online or in-person, if you’re interested in in-depth theological reflection,seminary coursework offers the depth of theological reflection that isn’t available elsewhere.  It really wouldn’t hurt to take a seminary course periodically because part of your pastoral call is to bring a theological and spiritual understanding to the issues and questions your congregation is facing.  If you take enough seminary courses, you could also earn a certificate in a certain focus area, or even another degree like the Doctor of Ministry.

There are other non-seminary options, of course.  If you lean toward counseling, for instance, sometimes coursework and maybe even a degree is offered by a seminary.  Often, though, coursework in counseling is offered by a university, or even an agency.  Try connecting with a local agency or county coalition of counselors and social workers.  They sometimes offer seminars that meet CEU requirements for their licensees, but they might not turn away anyone else that wants to learn.  Community-based courses like Mental Health First Aid or Bridges Out of Poverty are usually open to anyone in the community.  And if you’ve logged any hours in Clinical Pastoral Education, don’t forget to add those in also.

Let’s talk about less formal Continuing Education opportunities that you might consider.  Even though I’m not a licensed Counselor or Social Worker, I’m on an email list in my county to receive notifications of one-or-two day seminars and conferences coming to our area.  These seminars have helped me over the years to keep up with current thought and practice in these parallel professions, and given me a broader understanding of some of the critical issues many people face every day.  I’ve attended several multi-day conferences and continuing education modules where I’m the only ministry person in attendance, but that hasn’t prevented me from learning a lot or from being welcomed.

Of course, there’s a lot of Internet-based learning out there, too, from 10-minute YouTube videos to webinars on a variety of subjects.  Especially during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, the webinar format has taken off like wildfire!  You can contact your denomination’s or district’s office to find out what webinars are available to your specific denomination, but you can also just wander around the internet in areas that seem of interest.  Be sure to check out good quality programming from reputable sources, though – not everything you read on the internet is true, but not everything is garbage, either.

There’s also the old-school standby of reading books.  If you graduated from the seminary more than a few years ago, you might be surprised at what scholarly work has occurred since then.  New books in all theological areas are being published all the time!  If you have a particular area of interest, try going to the website of your favorite seminary, look through their course catalog, and see if you can download a syllabus of a course that interests you – then order one or more of the books that are required reading and get started.

I’m also a strong believer that since we Christians believe, teach and confess that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, we owe it to our growth as persons and people in ministry to be as curious as possible about the whole range of human activity.  That means that whether you take a community education course in conversational Russian, welding, beginning watercolor, ice fishing – or whatever tickles your fancy – you’ll be a better pastor and person for it!

One last thing – the format of the required Self-Evaluation Tool that’s used in my church body doesn’t permit me to add all the possibilities I’ve mentioned here – it only asks for the ones that are offered by our own denomination or its colleges and seminaries.  Here’s my work-around (that I borrowed from my son, who teaches at a university) – make your own personal website that functions as an easily-updateable resume and Continuing Education tracker, then paste the website address into an appropriate place somewhere else in your Self-Evaluation Tool.  I’ve included a link to my personal website in the show notes, and there are also links to some of the other resources I’ve mentioned here.

  1.  To see what a personal website that tracks Continuing Education might look like, here’s mine:
  2. Here are some websites for continuing education courses mentioned in this episode:  Mental Health First Aid; Bridges Out of Poverty; Look Up Indiana; Institute for Clinical Pastoral Training

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