Okay, glad to hear that you are closing in on a Field Education position for the coming term. I promised to write again with a couple further thoughts, so here you go.
Choosing a field education position, take two
I have three things to look for in whatever size of church you are looking at.
1. Look for a healthy church
First of all you should aim to do your field education in healthy churches.
Once a denominational executive told me, adamantly, that there is no such thing as a healthy church.
I thought he was absolutely wrong. I had already been part of a church that seemed to bubble over with vitality, as expressed in lives growing in discipleship and wholeness, networks of supportive and encouraging small groups, and involvement in mission and service — plus associate pastors who stayed on for decades rather than fleeing in brokenness.
The true bit in what he said is that there is no such thing as a perfectly healthy church, just as there are no perfectly healthy people.
- Every church member is a sinner in need of forgiveness.
- Each of us is a broken soul needing restoration in the image of God.
- And every human organization has its share of dysfunctional people and processes.
Still, if you are choosing between two possible congregations for an internship, choose the one that shows more signs of flourishing.
- Are there happy people? Or do you quickly encounter bitterness and rancor?
- Do they have joy in worship? Or is Sunday morning a dour routine?
- Do the people seem to want to learn and serve? Or are they aiming to maintain their individual and corporate status quo?
Because you are learning how to be a pastor, and that is complicated enough without the uphill battle of a troubled congregation.
And because your first experiences as a pastor are formative. You will be absorbing a sense of what is possible.
If you come to assume that bitterness, boredom, and self-interest are the typical way Christians and churches are, you may come to expect the same, and unconsciously even encourage it in your next position.
One of the most important things you can have before entering full time pastoral ministry is a rich set of experience of health in churches.
2. Look for a teaching church
You also need to look for a church that is eager to teach you. They should know that their field ed intern is a student pastor. Their job is to help you learn and grow in the role.
You will find far too many potential field education positions where the congregation simply wants to offload some of the work of ministry. The most typical scenario is that they want you to run their youth program.
- They may have some youth, but nobody in the congregation has stepped up to be the youth leader. Easy answer? A field education student.
- They may have a whole bunch of youth. They really want to call an associate pastor for that ministry, but they don’t have the financial strength to pull that off. They may think of a field education student as the cheaper option.
- They may not have any youth at all, but they think that the fresh face of a seminarian will mystically conjure up a youth group, thus providing the members some hope for the future.
Being a field education student is not just filling a role. It isn’t doing a job. It isn’t fee for service. It is part of your spiritual formation as a pastor.
I don’t mean to discourage you from youth positions or other specialties.
Just make sure that, whatever the position, the church is going to provide the support and guidance you need to learn and succeed. The ideal, really, is that they don’t actually need you at all. They take you on to help you.
3. Look for a good supervisor
That support and guidance should come at least in part from the pastor. (And if you take a position as a solo student pastor, the guidance should come from whatever experienced minister in the area is serving as your supervisor.)
Ideally you should work under someone whom you can see as a potential mentor, during your field education service and beyond.
At the very least, you should look for a supervisor you respect, and who seems to know something about guiding a church toward health.
I say this because one of the most corrosive things in ministry is working under a problematic pastor
- whom you distrust,
- or whom you don’t respect,
- or whose own ministry exacerbates problems in the congregation.
You won’t find a perfectly healthy church, and you won’t find a perfectly wise supervisor. But in your search for a really helpful position, always choose the healthiest option.
That’s good advice for other kinds of relationships too, by the way.
Coming soon… my fall class to jump start your prayer life, “Pray Like a Reformer”!
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