Most informed congregational leaders recognize that pastors need to be involved in regular continuing education opportunities in order to stay up-to-date on the latest information,knowledge,and resources for effective ministry. Most pastors understand this, too.After engaging in active ministry for a few years, they discover that they have a need to learn more about certain aspects of ministry that,for whatever reason, they did not learn in seminary.

But understanding the need for continuing education is only the beginning of the pastor’s dilemma. If most pastors’ experience is like mine, they are inundated with promotional materials about continuing education programs ranging from the “latest proven effective”way to grow congregational membership to the most efficient type of software for doing sermon preparation.The training programs offered through the hundreds of sponsors that send these mailings run the gamut from basic skills training to various types of ministry enhancement techniques. I counted a total of 138 different possibilities just from the magazines and mailings that arrived on my desk this past week. Included in the offerings were at least 20 programs for improving my spirituality, at least two dozen for enhancing my skills in doing pastoral care, and another 15 or so through which I could learn various methods of conflict management or resolution. Among the more specialized offerings were an opportunity to explore what is beyond contemporary in the field of worship today and another to learn what research has revealed regarding church growth motivating factors for different age groups. And if I wanted to learn how to make my church more “missional,” I could take a course in “Christian Bodybuilding in a World Torn Apart.”

When faced with such a vast array of continuing education opportunities, the pastor must confront several questions: What is the best way to pick the most appropriate continuing education offering from the available choices? How can I be sure the continuing education event I select will be the wisest use of my limited time and the financial resources of the congregation? What will help ensure that the congregation will get the greatest benefit from what I learn in the program?

In my experience, the wise pastor will ask the pastor-parish relations committee for help in addressing these questions. One major responsibility of a pastor-parish relations committee is to give counsel and guidance to the pastor in regard to using continuing education time and budgeted funds. A pastor-parish relations committee has the responsibility to help foster the best possible working relationship between the pastor and the congregation; working with the pastor to decide on appropriate continuing education opportunities can help accomplish this goal in three ways:

  • First, it will help the pastor clarify the priorities for his or her continuing education. Through the input and feedback of church leaders, the pastor can learn how these leaders experience and perceive what is happening in the church and where improvements may be needed.
  • Second,selecting the best continuing education option in a collaborative way increases church leaders’sense of ownership of the pastor’s training,enhancing the likelihood that what the pastor learns through the program will be utilized in follow-up efforts in the church.
  • Third, there will be more of a willingness to support the pastor in trying new things if the decision-making regarding his or her continuing education is done with church leadership involvement and is based on real felt needs for improvement.When continuing education decisions are made in this collaborative fashion,church leaders are more likely to believe that the time and funds invested will provide some payoff for the church.

Rev. Terry Foland has been a consultant for the Alban Institute since 1992. He is an experienced trainer and administrator who advises congregations and religious organizations in the areas of conflict management, clergy transition, and congregational revitalization. Prior to joining Alban, he served as an area minister for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).