Imagine planning to preach 48 Sundays a year if you’ve only preached five sermons in your life. Imagine leading a church that has diverse ministries when you’ve never served as primary leader of anything.
To help prepare seminary graduates for their first call, CrossWay Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin, where I’m a member of the pastoral staff, has crafted a pastoral training program that supports, rather than replaces, the master of divinity degree program offered by our neighbor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Now in its fourth year, the CrossWay Pastoral Training Course (CPTC) was developed in partnership with Trinity, and a written agreement spells out how the program fulfills field education requirements.
The partnership idea emerged after much research and many conversations. At CrossWay, we’re strong proponents of theological education, and we know we’re not equipped to offer the academic rigor that a seminary provides. At the same time, we believe hands-on experience and mentoring within a local congregation is an essential component of ministerial training.
CPTC is a multiyear program with training phases that correspond to the M.Div. curriculum. Ministry responsibilities and mentoring opportunities increase as participants progress through the program. There are currently 14 participants.
From the outset we identified four objectives:
1. Meaningful ministry experience
Seminary faculty offer classes that explain the how-to aspects of ministry, but nothing can replace the hard work of facilitating a small group, equipping volunteers, or caring for the sick. Rather than merely putting students to work, though, CPTC provides guidance, feedback, and recommendations for further growth. This sometimes adds to our staff’s responsibilities, but the investment is well worth it.
2. Two forms of mentoring
Students in our program see ministry modeled rather than merely taught or explained. We give participants behind-the-scenes access to leadership processes, including staff and elder meetings. We invite them to come along on hospital visits, sit in on appointments, and participate in strategic planning sessions. Our children’s ministry intern says, “We’re seeing what we’ll be doing in a year or two.”
The program gives special attention to character development. We believe that character flaws — arrogance, laziness, greed — are more detrimental to a student’s future ministry than is a lack of rhetorical polish. Our pastoral mentors attempt to identify character shortcomings that may surface in this real-world setting and work with students to overcome them.
3. A vision for ministry
At biweekly, two-hour meetings, students and church leaders come together for focused training, including discussion of biblical thinking behind our ministry philosophy, students’ reading assignments, and their questions about church ministry.
4. Supportive relationships
Pastoral ministry can be lonely for people who lack colleagues to call on for counsel. CPTC encourages the kind of deep and satisfying friendships that are likely to continue past the seminary years. “I see another CPTC guy on campus, and there’s a connection and understanding because of the program,” says Stephen Auld, children’s ministry intern. “It’s helpful sharing the seminary journey with other guys who are wrestling with the same issues as I am.” Much credit for the CPTC’s success goes to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for proactively developing partnerships with area churches. Our proximity to Trinity has strengthened our church, and when we talk with young people about ministry as a vocation, we recommend they consider Trinity.
We also provide financial grants — matched by Trinity — to help with tuition. The partnership has been good for Trinity and for CrossWay Community Church as well, helping us to contribute toward training the next generation of Christian leadership.
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