In a lot of ways, I’m somewhat unique where seminarians are concerned. I came to seminary with my theology almost fully formed, with the majority of my main theological struggles behind me; I also came as one who had been through the call process multiple times, although not as a Presbyterian. To be fair, this makes me something of a nightmare for a portion of my professors, since I have a very different perspective on what will truly be helpful to seminary students. While I appreciate all of the tips on preaching, I’m the only instructor of homiletics I know of that teaches students how to surreptitiously check to make sure their fly is zipped before entering the pulpit.
There are other helpful tips and tools that most seminaries never pass on to their students, especially as they’re graduating and in the process of being interviewed for their first placement as a minster in Christ’s Kirk. One thing that most graduating seminarians don’t understand is that they aren’t just being interviewed by the pulpit committee, but they should also be interviewing the pulpit committee, as well.
Sometimes the questions I recommend that they ask seek a little odd; and perhaps they are, from one perspective. But from another, they may help you diagnose the real situation in the church.
Shocking as this may be, churches aren’t always honest in the interview process. For that matter, ministerial candidates aren’t always honest either. This give and take in the interview process allows you, the seminary graduate out to change the world, to poke and prod beneath the surface, and discover what you aren’t being told.
Here’s an example: as Protestants in more than just name, we regularly state that we desire biblically faithful preaching over all other skills and duties on the part of the minister. We also want our ministers to perform home and hospital visits, do counseling, teach the youth group, balance the budget, catechize the children, and be an example of a godly husband and father.
Since I was actually a pastor before I entered seminary (I was a minister for almost 9 years before I went on for further education), the other students tend to ask me questions that they aren’t comfortable asking faculty members with the title Doctor in front of their names. I’ll also occasionally offer unsolicited advice.
Here’s a little piece of wisdom that I learned the hard way that I offer to those who might read this post:
At some point in the process of interviewing, you need to get your hands on a whiteboard and dry-erase marker, and divide the board into columns, putting the duties that the church expects of you as their pastor at the head of each column. Then look at the pulpit committee and ask, “How many hours per week do you expect me to spend laboring at this particular pastoral duty?” Do that for each column.
The results will be educational, not just for you, but for those whom you are now interviewing. For the first time in their lives, they may realize that they’re asking their pastor to work over 100 hours per week without sacrificing his marriage. And this doesn’t begin to include those weeks where some one dies or some crisis occurs that is going to suck up a great deal of your time!
The other result of this exercise (that is more common than you might think) is that while the church says it places the greatest value on the preached Word, in practice they expect you to preach three sermons a week with only ten hours total of preparation time (meaning your 3.33 hours of prep per sermon).
The upshot of all of this is that you must never lose sight of the fact that you are also interviewing the church, and you must never be afraid to say no.