Training for ministry: a two-stage process

On Tuesday next week I will be inducted as vicar of Holy Trinity West Bromwich. I believe I have been very well prepared for the task, though I still have lots to learn. First by three years of residential theological study at Oak Hill College, London. Second, by almost four years of understudy as a curate. For anyone about to enter training or who is part way through the training process, you need to see the two parts as necessary as part of the whole for the following reasons.

Training for ministry is like turning iron ore into a building or car. Theological college does the work of the refinery and rolling mill. Raw ore is smelted, has its impurities removed to make high quality steel and is rolled and straightened into beams, flats and coil. But, this is not the finished product. Residential theological education is essential for refining the mind under scripture, developing tools for study and for getting a big view of God, but the product residential college is not complete.

The curate or assistant pastor’s post is the second stage of training, like the fabrication yard or car plant. Here, steel products are turned into useful, functioning parts for structures or machines. The curacy is as essential as theological education for learning a different set of skills: how to preach to a congregation, how churches really work, what questions people have about life, the world and God and how to take your wealth of biblical knowledge and to make it real for these people. Without a period of on the job training, we remain unfinished products.

I’m sure someone told me this as I went through theological college, but it’s only really after the event that I realise theological college is only part one of a two stage process.

The parts are ready. By God’s will and grace I’ll be used to make other parts to build Christ’s church where I have found myself. And, for those who know I was a structural steelwork engineer and fabricator in my previous career, I hope the illustration was not stretched too far.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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2 Responses to Training for ministry: a two-stage process

  1. theurbanpastor says:

    I’ve been pondering similar issues recently. My current sound bite on the issue of theological training is that we overtrain our curates and undertrain our pastors. I valued the theological training I got at OHC enormously, itw as a real treat to be so well taught. But I’m not sure that I needed it all for teh first 5 years of ministry. I’m now in a place where, in my seventh year out of college, I would benefit hugely from some further input. I’m all for continuing theological education but I’m just not sure that trying to do that ‘on the job’ is the best thing. I’m not sure what I’m proposing but I just think that the idea that we give our curates a life’s worth of preparation at the start and then send them out is deficient. You follow my train of thought? Have any observations?

  2. neilrobbie says:

    Hi Perks

    In a sense I can see what you’re getting at. On one level residential training creates a massive gap between our knowledge of God through his word and the knowledge of the people we are teaching.

    I don’t know how growing in knowledge and growing with a congregation can be achieved practically. Perhaps, the time when our kids grow up being taught the sort of stuff we now learn in tertiary eduction things will be different. It would be great if our church primary school taught NT Greek instead of Spanish and church history instead of secular history.

    I spoke to someone who trained part-time at OHC at the same time as a peer who went full time. The part-timer (no derogatory pun intended, I think part-time study is harder work when trying to maintain a ministry at the same time) said that he watched as his friend shot past him in knowledge and confidence. He compared theological training to rebuilding a car engine, it doesn’t really work as you are stripping it down and rebuilding it.

    I wrote my post to encourage full time students to think of their training as two-stage, to prevent the “I know everything cause I’ve been to college” syndrome which, sadly, I suffered from. Tim Keller’s recent stuff on the nature of the questions we ask the text was really helpful. We should not be ashamed to spend a few years with our head in the bible asking “what is God like and how does it all fit together?” We also need a few more years to start asking the sorts of questions our communities are asking and take them to the text.

    As for the 7-year mark. I’ll probably only be able to answer that when I get there. Do you have any tips about continuing to learn about God on the job?

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