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The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.

“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.

For quick announcements about changes or developments in the preparation process, dates related to exams or other key events, discussion boards, surveys, etc., you can follow us on Facebook at “Preparing for Presbyterian Ministry.”

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November 29, 2011

"Pastor-Theologians" and "Practicing Lawyers"

Theory and PracticeA recent article in The New York Times dealing with law schools and the legal profession (“What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering”) reminded me a good bit of some discussions I sometimes hear about seminaries.

The article talked about how the selection criteria for law school faculties often do not emphasize, or perhaps even include, experience as a practicing lawyer. Even though they are technically professional schools, the curriculum emphasizes legal theory—both archaic (stressing precedents laid down a century or more ago) and esoteric (incorporating postmodernism and deconstructionism)—rather than the day-in and day-out activities performed by lawyers. As a consequence, many legal firms find they have to provide the most basic practical aspects of legal training for those who have already earned their law degrees and passed the bar exams (and clients don’t appreciate being, in effect, billed for the on-the-job training of these new associates).

Basically substitute “seminary” for “law school,” “theology” for “legal theory,” and “pastor” for “lawyer” in the preceding paragraph, and you will find more than a few people within the church who would conclude that the paragraph makes just as much sense. (They might even say congregants share similar resentments as law firm clients.)

Certainly there is a counter-argument that could be made—and in fact often is—with regard to both seminaries and law schools that it is tendencies toward both ever higher degrees of specialization among fields of professional learning and ever higher degrees of complexity in the real world that have influenced the composition of both faculties and curricula. Citations of scholarly journal articles may not immediately show up in either legal briefs or sermons, but their respective content shapes how both lawyers and pastors think about the world and their responsibilities within it.

My point in this blog is not take one side or the other in this debate. It is instead to echo what many who work in the development of professionals in many fields are saying: Professional formation must include both what we call the theoretical and the practical. Just as clients of law firms want associates working on their cases who are up on the latest legal theories and have experience in the practice of law, so congregations are looking for true “pastor-theologians.” They want people who know the Christian tradition and have practical experience drawing on that tradition in the creative ways required by our rapidly changing culture. The “pastor-theologian” has been a hallmark of the Reformed tradition within the church since its beginnings, and it is as needed now has it ever has been.

So, how do we help to assure that those preparing themselves for possible service as teaching elders within the Presbyterian Church (USA) have both the academic and the practical training they require? As in emerging trends in other professions, I think it will have to include those engaged in the practice actively apprenticing those in preparation already while they are in graduate school. That is to say, the church needs to assume responsibility for practical training contemporaneous with the academic training in seminary. Neither congregations nor seminaries can do it all on their own.

Who knows, if the mentoring pastors are as willing to learn from as to teach those whom they apprentice, they might even become better theologians themselves as they catch up on developments in engaging faith and culture since their own graduations decades earlier.

Categories: Ordained Ministry, Ordination Process , Theological Education

Tags: mentor, practice of ministry, professional training, seminary


November 21, 2011

Exercising Judgment

I’ve recently been spending some time in Matthew 7, and I must say that I couldn’t get past the very first verse of the chapter without recalling a sentiment I often encounter in my work with those engaged in the preparation for ministry process from all sides: “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” (Common English Bible, here and throughout this post) Admittedly I don’t often hear it put in precisely those words. Usually the phrasing is more like, “Who is in a position to judge the Spirit’s call on another person’s ...

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October 31, 2011

New "Advisory Handbook" Released

The new Advisory Handbook on Preparation for Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has now been released. It is a thorough revision of the previous edition in light of changes to the Book of Order in July of this year. In previous posts I have discussed the approach that was taken in the development of the new Advisory Handbook (see “More Flexible, Less Regulatory,” and “More Advisory, Less Handbook”). In this post I will provide information on how to access it and review what it makes available.

The Advisory Handbook is being made available in two formats: (a ...

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October 24, 2011

Top Five Changes in Preparation for Ministry

At the Fall Polity conference last week, I led a workshop entitled “COMs and CPMs since nFOG.” The workshop was structured as a “top ten” list of changes and held in conjunction with the release of new advisory handbooks for COMs and CPMs by the Office of Vocation. I’ll have more to say about the new Advisory Handbook on Preparing for Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in my next post (but you can download it now by clicking here). In this post I want to share my suggestions for the “top five” changes in the preparation ...

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September 29, 2011

Why Ordination Exams? ... Future

The previous two posts have explored how the ordination exams began from a concern for equitable treatment of those preparing for ministry of Word and Sacrament and the principles formed to achieve this purpose of equitable treatment of candidates across the church. In this final installment in the series, I want to look to the future of the ords in light of changes to the exams process recently announced by the committee of the church responsible for their administration.

The current model for administering the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordination examinations is essentially unchanged since the tests began in the United ...

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