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The Scandal of Unprepared Pastors

In an article titled Why Do So Many Pastors Leave the Church? The Answer Will Shock You, one paragraph stood out to me:

90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands and 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.

I once taught on prayer at a pastors’ conference. The speakers had been running late, so I kept my talk short—seven points and about 20 minutes.

After the session a young pastor came up to me and said, “That’s all well and good, but what do I do when a member of my congregation comes up to me and asks for prayer? How do I pray for someone?”

In the conversation that followed it turned out that in going through the United Methodist process for ordination and completing his Master of Divinity degree he had not taken a single class on prayer.

Now I could talk about the importance of learning about prayer. I do think it is a critical study. But that’s not really the issue. If this young pastor’s seminary had offered a class on prayer, I still doubt it would have prepared him to meet the needs of a congregation.

In one church I attended there were many lay speakers. Dozens of them, in fact. The chances of any lay speaker actually getting to speak were essentially nil, however. Why? The people expected the pastor to be in the pulpit.

And therein lies a solution. The one way to learn how to serve people, how to minister to their needs, how to be a minister, in fact, is to—wait for it—be a minister. Oddly enough, that’s precisely what we are all called to be.

So if someone gets out of seminary and doesn’t know how to pray with people, perhaps seminary is not to blame. The question I’d want to ask is this: Why didn’t the church have this person doing ministry? All members may be called to ministry, but if they are entering a process that will lead to ordination, they are feeling a call to a special place in ministry. What excuse is there for not having them involved in all aspects of ministry? Let them learn how to preach and teach under the supervision of their pastor and members of the church who have the appropriate skills. Let them listen to people, pray with them, and yes, sit on committees and see the business of the church hashed out.

Yes, seminaries need to provide training in practical subjects. But much more importantly, the church needs to practice ministry. Nobody should be completely ignorant on how to listen with empathy and lead someone else before God in prayer.

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