At a national orientation gathering for The Company of New Pastors, seminary students in their final year of studies were encouraged to continue to develop "a deeply theological core" for their pastoral ministry. "What we need in the midst of this confused and chaotic time is a center of gravity from which we can do our work," said Program Director Quinn Fox. "The Office of Theology and Worship is absolutely convinced the pastoral vocation is about serious sustained attention to the faith. That's what congregations need most."
Fox spoke about the vision for The Company of New Pastors — now in its tenth year — which originated with Theology, Worship and Education Director Joe Small. "These are Joe's questions, but they have become my questions," said Fox. "Hopefully they will become yours. Who is God? Not who I wish God was, or who I think God ought to be to make it more convenient for me to live. Really who is God? Who are we? After we take off our masks, after we quit pretending. Not just us but members of congregations. What does the real God have to do with us? On top of that what do we have to do with one another?"
Fox challenged seminarians from six Presbyterian seminaries, Austin, Columbia, Dubuque, Pittsburgh, Princeton and Union, along with Fuller, to spend the rest of their lives working out these "God questions" with their congregations. "If you did that in a sustained way with integrity," said Fox, "your congregations would grow to love God more. They would grow to love one another more. And the church would grow."
Invited seminarians who join the Company of New Pastors enter into covenant groups in the spring of their middler year. Together, with their faculty mentors, they engage in the classic spiritual practices of the Christian life (prayer and reading Scripture). "It has given me a sense of accountability," says Andrew Whaley, from Columbia Theological Seminary. "When I tried to do this alone, I would do it in short bursts." But because Whaley is praying and reading the Bible daily his life is more "connected to God and the world." Through the discipline of daily prayer he increasingly experiences delight in the goodness of God. "At the end of the day I'm beginning to see how people I've encountered have helped me," says Whaley. "It has become both a prayer of praise and a confession when I fail to recognize it. I've grown that way."
Shane Berg, a faculty mentor, from Princeton Theological Seminary says his involvement in the Company of New Pastors is a logical extension of his vocation of preparing students for pastoral ministry in the reading and interpretation of the Bible. "Unwittingly by preparing as pastors, one can lose the practice of the Christian faith," says Berg. "I really cherish and am blessed, as are the students, to not just see themselves as professional service providers."
When these seminarians graduate next spring and accept their first call of pastoral ministry they will enter into regional covenant groups that are mentored by veteran pastors. As they practice the spiritual disciplines, and reflect on those God questions in a sustained way, they will strengthen "that deeply theological" core of pastoral ministry. Those joining The Company of New Pastors make a five year commitment to the program, in part because of Joe Small's vision and conviction that "the first five years of ministry determine a lifetime of ministry."
The Company of New Pastors uses the spiritual disciplines and is a structured application of The Company of Pastors. As such it is designed to help prepare seminarians for pastoral ministry. "Because of my covenant group, I am not alone," says Columbia student Katie Owen. "As I consider where God is calling me next it is incredibly helpful to know I am on a journey with God and with others."
"All pastors can be in The Company of Pastors," says Fox. "Our goal is to get to the point where practicing the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life becomes the way — part of the ethos — for how we prepare for and do ministry."