Clergy Continuing Education

What is clergy continuing education? Well, your pastor is constantly learning: learning to be a better leader, a better counselor, a better preacher, a better spiritual guide, a better pastor. Some of this learning is informal. That is, he might read books, discuss an issue with another pastor, or listen to a sermon or lesson. But pastors also need formal learning. This formal learning is called, continuing education. Nearly every profession that requires certification also has some form of continuing education.

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Your doctor has to take classes and attend accredited seminars just to maintain her license. A lawyer also has to take classes to maintain his certification. Teachers, professors, and even your insurance agent all have to continually upgrade their skills in order to continue practicing in their field.

Pastors also have a certification process. It's called ordination. Ordination usually involves several years of college and often seminary. Either during seminary or shortly afterwards, the candidate will usually get involved in some type of internship. After seminary and an internship, the candidate for ministry will usually undergo an oral exam. No, his teeth aren't checked. He stands in front of a group of ordained pastors and professors armed only with his bible. The pastors and professors can then ask the candidate questions about theology, his character, his call to ministry, and about his philosophy of ministry. These ordination council's typically last from three to five hours. After the questioning, the council decides whether or not to recommend the candidate for ordination to the candidate's church or ordaining organization. When the candidate passes, the church or ordaining organization holds an ordination service, after which the candidate is officially a pastor.

Though clergy continuing education is not officially required by most ordaining churches, it is vitally important. Your pastor needs to stay current with trends in counseling, improve his preaching skills, become a better student of the Bible, and strengthen her leadership abilities.

But how do you determine what your pastor needs? What type of clergy continuing education will benefit both your pastor and your church? As you discuss these questions with your pastor I suggest you clarify the purposes you want accomplished through continuing education.

Purposes of Clergy Continuing Education

In my opinion, clergy continuing education is valuable if it accomplishes at least some of the following...

  • Provides peer level interaction. To sharpen a professional's skills, he or she needs to spend time with other people who are experiencing the same things they are. Doctors need to meet with doctors. Lawyers need to discuss things with other lawyers. Moms need time with other mothers. And pastors need to spend time with other pastors. Pastors are the only people who understand what other pastors are experiencing. Pastors are the only ones who can effectively challenge, counsel, and console other pastors. Pastors need the interaction of their own peers.
  • Sharpens pastoral ministry skills. Some pastor seminars are designed to help pastors improve their preaching skills. Other clergy conferences focus on leadership or counseling. But for a clergy continuing education opportunity to be beneficial, it should help sharpen at least one ministry skill.
  • Expands on college or seminary training. Since graduating from seminary I realize that what I learned there was only a foundation. I am constantly needing to build on that foundation if I am to be an effective minister.
  • Keeps your pastor's knowledge of ministry issues current. Pastor's don't have time to read all the counseling, theological, and leadership journals. Clergy conferences help to summarize a lot of the new information that he needs to maintain his effectiveness.

If a clergy continuing education opportunity accomplishes some of those purposes, it is probably a valuable investment.

But then comes an even bigger question...

Paying for Clergy Continuing Education

I get disheartened whenever I learn about another pastor's conference that costs more than most pastors spend in a month to feed their families. In my opinion, it's unconscionable that a two or three day conference which draws up to 5,000 people costs each attendee $300 or more. Add to that the cost of travel, food, and lodging and many conferences are out of reach for most pastors.

So once you've determined which opportunities are valuable, how do you pay for clergy continuing education?

I wish I could say I have inside information that would save you hundreds of dollars. I'm sorry, but I don't. I have, however, learned a few things through the years that might be helpful as you determine how best to use your resources.

  • One great conference is more valuable than two or three typical pastor conferences. Look around. Search the internet. Ask other pastors and church leaders. Many of the best opportunities are not the most advertised. In fact, I've frequently been more impressed with small regional conferences than I have been with the national conferences put on by mega-churches. Check with nearby bible colleges, seminaries, and para-church organizations.
  • Several day-long seminars can take the place of more costly conferences.
  • Instead of conferences, help you pastor earn his doctorate.
  • Encourage and enable your pastor to combine a vacation with a conference. While this may not save your church any money, it might save your pastor money. The church would already be paying for travel expenses to the conference site. For a little extra he can take his family. By vacationing this way, he may be able to visit places he would never be able to afford on his own.

Clergy Continuing Education Conclusion

I'd like to conclude with a couple pieces of advice. First, conferences and seminars are not time off work - they are work. Your pastor may take his golf clubs along with him. But no one should ever think that he is taking time off.

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See this page for more information.
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Second, to help both your church and your pastor, get pulpit supply for when your pastor is gone and for the Sunday after he returns. Your pastor will be exhausted from his days away. And he won't have time during the week to prepare for Sunday. He can make the announcements, pray the pastoral prayer, and give the benediction. But don't make him prepare a sermon while he's away at a pastor seminar or conference.

Clergy continuing education is vital to your pastor's effective ministry. That means that it's an investment in your church to provide the time and money for him to get away for education.

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