Welcome to theological field education! Field education is an opportunity for you to develop ministry skills, practice ministerial reflection, discern your call, experience professional collegiality, and undergo personal transformation. This is what field education is about—and more. Seminaries and divinity schools value students actually doing ministry so that they can integrate ministry theory and practice. For many students, the ministry setting will be a congregation and for others a hospital, campus ministry, or faith-based agency. No matter what ministry God is calling you to, field education will be a significant part of your preparation. It offers you a place to practice ministry and a space to reflect on it so that you can grow towards competency in ministry.
You will be investing many personal resources and three or more years of time preparing for your calling. What are some factors you might consider as you enter this transforming educational process? You come from a rich and interesting matrix of family, educational, personal growth, and ministry experiences with a good deal of formation having already taken place. God has already invested a great deal in your life. In the midst of all of this, God spoke to you in a way that led you to seminary. As you listen to your fellow students, you will learn that each has a unique story to tell related to this matter of call. Don’t feel overly anxious if you aren’t certain at the beginning of your seminary experience about what God has in mind for you. Here is one thing you can count on: God seems pleased to use the process of seminary, and field education in particular, to clarify students’ sense of call. This is what students report in self-evaluations as they reflect on their field education experiences.
For most students, entering seminary is a new beginning, and many feel a bit displaced. You may have moved across country to attend a denominational seminary or a divinity school whose ethos was attractive to you. Perhaps you have left a career and you and your family feel a bit like Abraham and Sarah going to a place that you have never been before. Nevertheless, your confidence can be that God the caller, as with Sarah and Abraham, will lead to the place “I will show you” (Gen. 12:1).
Field education also allows you to make adjustments to your mental map of the world. Your family of origin, education, and religious and other life experiences, as well as regional and larger cultural forces, have shaped your way of looking at the world. From all of these experiences you have formed an internal map of how the world works and how best to navigate it. Your map allows you to make sense of things and at times cope with extra challenging experiences. Everyone else has formed a map, too. In seminary you will learn that each of our maps is a bit different, and given our cognitive limits no one of us has the perfect map. Some differences will appear in the classroom, some in your ministry settings, others elsewhere. Often, you will feel uncomfortable, perhaps even disturbed, about these differences. You might feel your dis-ease with a situation even before you can name it. It is a ministerial skill to understand, even appreciate another’s way of framing the world in which they participate. Can you be flexible and patient enough to discern another’s perspective?
Field education empowers you as a learner. This is one of those instances in your life when it is about you. As an adult learner you have gained from both formal education and the lessons that life teaches. You may also know what you want to learn. Don’t be afraid to speak candidly with your field educator (your liaison at school) and your ministry supervisor (the one supervising you at your field placement site) about your learning goals. Here is an acronym to help you identify them: NICE.
- N is for needs. Do not be afraid to spell out what it is you need in order to achieve your learning goals and objectives. It will be an encouragement to your ministry supervisor and your field educator to know how they can tailor the learning opportunity to address the needs you have identified.
- I is for interests. Let your ministry supervisor and field educator know what you are interested in, the more specific the better. Each is committed to providing space for you to explore your ministry interests.
- C is for concerns. You may at times have concerns about your field placement. Your supervisor-mentor is the first person to speak with since he or she wants the field education experience to go well. However, if you need help thinking through how you might speak to the concern, meet with your field educator, who is an expert at this kind of thing.
- E is for expectations. Make sure that you and your supervisor-mentor are operating with the same expectations. Your learning covenant or learning and serving contract, a written document in which you and your ministry supervisor spell out learning goals and objectives for a unit of field education, provides one opportunity to discuss and define these.
Even though you are an adult learner, let’s admit that training to become a professional in a new arena means that there are things you do not know. Let’s add H for humility. Invite your ministry supervisor to lead you into experiences that you might never think of. Much of ministry during the week is never seen by the congregation and requires a wide range of skills: time management, crisis intervention, counseling, scholarship, administration, mediation, and so forth. Your mentor possesses a wealth of knowledge on these and many other subjects because she or he lives with these challenges week in and week out. In fact, as Craig Dykstra writes in For Life Abundant, “To be a good pastor, you have to be very smart in lots of really interesting ways.” This wisdom is yours for the asking.
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Adapted from Welcome to Theological Field Education! edited by Matthew Floding, copyright © 2010 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
Welcome to Theological Field Education!
Edited by Matthew Floding
Field education is an opportunity for students to develop ministry skills, practice ministerial reflection, discern their call, experience professional collegiality, and undergo personal transformation. Field education offers them a place to practice ministry and a space to reflect on it, to integrate theory and practice, and grow towards competency. In Welcome to Theological Field Education! eleven directors of field education in seminaries and divinity schools across North America pass on their wisdom to both students and their supervisors.
Ministry Greenhouse: Cultivating Environments for Practical Learning
by George M. Hillman
The goal of Ministry Greenhouse is to help seminary and Bible college students, their supervisors, and the lay leaders who work with them create the best environment for leadership development through a beneficial internship. Hillman explores the meaning of “call,” identifies the ingredients of a successful internship, discusses strategies for establishing goals for an internship, and offers guidance for reflecting on learning during an internship. Ministry Greenhouse shows how to create an environment where God can work to develop calling, character, and competencies .
Shaping Spiritual Leaders: Supervision and Formation in Congregations
by Abigail Johnson
Recognizing that supervision is important in the formation of lay leaders and in the life of candidates for ordination, Johnson has developed this book to guide all who supervise others in a congregation. She views supervision as a ministry and shows how leaders can use their own innate gifts to enhance their supervision skills. Supervision can become an opportunity for mutual growth and learning that strengthens all other areas of ministry.
A Lifelong Call to Learn: Continuing Education for Religious Leaders
Edited by Robert E. Reber and D. Bruce Roberts
A Lifelong Call to Learn is aimed at directors of lifelong learning and continuing education that serve both clergy and laity in Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish seminaries and conference and retreat centers. While proposing new approaches in continuing theological education, it also addresses the need for programs that involve both clergy and laity at the congregational level and that support ongoing interreligious dialogue in our increasingly pluralistic society. In this time of foment in theological education, when institutional leaders are striving to develop new models for the basic master of divinity degree, this collection will be of keen interest to theological educators in every setting.
Heart, Mind, and Strength: Theory and Practice for Congregational Leadership
by Jeffrey D. Jones
Leadership, observes Jeffrey Jones, is never about you. What happens to you as a leader stems from a vast array of issues and dynamics over which you have little or no control. Leadership, Jones also insists, is always about you—Christ’s disciple, part of the system, an individual with your own anxieties and a personal life that shapes both your personhood and your relationships. Heart, Mind, and Strength is about dealing with the tension between these two realities. It will enhance your practice of ministry by providing well-grounded theory related to the practical concerns you encounter in the daily work of balancing what you know with who you are.
IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO GIVE THE GIFT OF LEARNING!
For the clergy on your list (or yourself), consider Alban Senior Consultant Larry Peer’s retreat on bringing balance to the challenges of pastoral leadership:
Clergy Wellbeing: How to Balance Ministry and Life
February 1-3, 2011
La Casa de Maria, a beautiful (and warm) retreat center near Santa Barbara, CA
Facilitator: Larry Peers, Alban senior consultant
For that key staff person whose supervisory skills affect the well-being of the entire congregation, three days with Alban Senior Consultant Susan Beaumont can make all the difference. You will be glad they attended:
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