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Unprepared pastors

Unprepared pastors

Were you or were the clergy you know prepared for pastoring a congregation by their education? Thom S. Rainer talks about eight ares where many are unprepared for the job they are called to do:

My email inbox is full of tragic examples. They entered into vocational ministry with hope and healthy idealism. They had been prepared well in the study of the Bible, theology, Church history, and other classical disciplines. They were bright, eager, and ready to change the world in God’s power.

And they failed. Let me say it more clearly: From their perspective they failed.

They began leading that first or second church and they were blindsided by what hit them. Some are still walking wounded in ministry today. Some moved quickly to the next church, only to find that you can’t run from messy ministry. Some are still serving, but they are bitter and disillusioned. And too many quit ministry altogether.

Three of the 7 are:

Relational intelligence.

Leadership skills.

Dealing with critics.

Read it all here.


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New clergy, experienced clergy, and Virginia Theological Seminary are collaborating to integrate theological education with the skills necessary to lead. The process supports both lay and ordained leaders. There is a process for mentoring, peer learning, and reclaiming the congregation’s role in leadership formation. In addition a core of experienced pastors have developed this process over the last thirteen years through the Lilly Foundation, Inc. (LEI). LEI calls it Transition into Ministry. The model with VTS is known as the Ministry Resident Program. There are programs at both the Diocesan and congregational level. New clergy do not need to enter congregations unprepared.

Carol P Oak (name added by editor)

Emily Mellott

While this list is better than most “they didn’t teach this in seminary!” lists (plumbing seems to make it on many lists), I find it odd that we expect seminary to teach ordinary life skills (finances), how to manage expectations or criticism (a challenge in every field), easily accessible information (we live in a consumer culture. Surprise!), and the necessity of respecting your own family. Seminaries are accredited to teach academic subjects, not plumbing, basic office administration, and other skills required in multiple fields (or expertise easy to find via the yellow pages or internet). Many do teach leadership skills and relational intelligence, though often those are not in classes labeled as such.

Sure, in many fields there are more opportunities to learn on the job before confronting all the difficulties, but I do get tired of hearing about how unprepared people are for ministry.

In many dioceses of the Episcopal Church, we discern and call people for ministry because they have gifts in leadership, relational intelligence, and similar areas. That’s a real gift of our structure and polity, though it’s uneven across the church.

Emily Mellott


In his list he mentions finances in terms of reading budgets and balance sheets; I would add fundraising to the practical financial skills needed.

I gained the fundraising knowledge I have from the wonderful Fundraising Day events put on by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. They blew my mind.

In general, I wish seminaries offered more about money. As I think about it, I’m not sure money was even mentioned in a single class.

I’m actually writing this as I take part in the faith cohort of the SOCAP conference, which is all about the intersection of money and meaning. It’s a conversation we in the church need to have more often.

Laura Darling

Ann Fontaine

The best class I took at Harvard to prepare me for congregational leadership was one offered to the Div School students by the Business School on mediation and conflict resolution.

Matthew Buterbaugh+

I actually think my time at Seabury prepared me pretty well for pastoral leadership. I certainly didn’t learn everything there is to know, and I learn new things every day (reflecting Paul’s comment). But by and large my seminary spent A LOT of time teaching us about leadership and congregational dynamics. We also had a really good preaching professor, which has been very valuable.

I really don’t feel at all like I was ill-prepared for practical ministry and leadership.

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