Most professionals participate in some form of ongoing learning related to their field of expertise, whether it is self‑directed study or training to fulfil a regulatory requirement. Charles Hewlett and Mike Crudge reflect on the benefits of lifelong learning for Baptist pastors—for the pastors themselves and for the churches they lead.
It amazes me how lightly many pastoral leaders take the idea of lifelong learning.
Personal professional development is often seen as nothing more than an interruption to the real work of ministry and mission. Quick, inexpensive and non-academic options are considered more attractive than formation opportunities that are time-consuming and studious. And often, any accountability to a national body is something to be scoffed at, almost deemed offensive. I understand that with the Baptist movement in New Zealand, 40% of pastoral leaders have currently let their Baptist Leaders’ Registration lapse, or have never been registered. I am so glad they are not my doctor, or teacher, or accountant, or lawyer, or plumber, or gasfitter and drain layer!
There are many reasons why having a serious professional development programme is important for the pastoral leader. Firstly, rather than becoming bored with the same theories and practices, lifelong learning energises us with fresh ideas. Pastors regularly tell me that one of the biggest challenges they face in ministry is boredom. Over the years the week in, week out meetings and tasks can become dull and monotonous.
Pastors: Professional development will introduce you to different and innovative ways of doing things. It can provide you with the creative and inspired thinking that you need to address those problems that have been hounding you for years. And I have no doubt the people you lead will be very thankful!
Rather than being solitary, lifelong learning provides us with opportunities to network and meet new people. Within New Zealand, pastoring can often mean being called to more rural and isolated settings. Even in the middle of a big city, leadership can be an extremely lonely vocation. Lifelong learning will provide friendships and support through such things as cohorts, supervision, conferences, and all the online social media that is incorporated into education today.
Thirdly, rather than being closed and dogmatic, lifelong learning opens us up to different ways of thinking and seeing things.
Pastors: When was the last time you changed your mind about something? Like the best way to do ministry, or how leadership should be structured, or a theological understanding? Rigid, egotistical, obstinate leaders hinder the work of God and are damaging within the local church. Lifelong learning will open you up to a greater appreciation of diversity, which will lead to improved relationships and better communication, and therefore reduced conflict and a healthier well‑being for you!
Rather than becoming out of date and out of touch, lifelong learning keeps us current in our thinking and practice. The world we live in changes at such a fast pace. The pastoral leader is expected to be an expert on so many complex issues like ecology, genetics, housing, sexuality, world religions and refugees. And what about all those skills we are expected to become proficient at, like connecting and engaging with a social media world? Lifelong learning stops us from becoming stagnant; it enables us to be more aware and up to date.
Finally, rather than being isolated, lifelong learning brings a healthy level of accountability to our thinking and practice. Leaders who see themselves beyond review and account perhaps concern me the most.
Pastors: Good professional development will result in a positive level of culpability being placed upon you. It may be a tutor marking your reflections, or an author challenging your practice. Perhaps peers will critique your preaching, or a wise sage keep an eye on your thinking. How healthy is this? And how safe does it keep the people we lead?
I find the observations of Carson Pue alarming: “We keep getting elevated in Christian leadership responsibility past the point of getting accurate feedback—and we are allowed to continue without anyone ever asking the question, ‘Where are you in relationship to Jesus?’”1
Pastors: What level of investment are you currently making in yourself as a pastoral leader? Do you have a lifelong learning programme in place? Is there someone that you feel responsible to?
We must never stop learning. The education stage of our lives must not be limited to the few years we spent at theological college. Let’s be honest, when we learn new things we become more interesting people to be around!
Story: Charles Hewlett
Charles Hewlett was Principal of Carey Baptist College from November 2009 to November 2017.
- Carson Pue, Mentoring Leaders: Wisdom for Developing Character, Calling and Competency (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 40.
Baptist Leaders’ registration and the Carey Centre for Lifelong Learning
Since 1996 the Baptist family of churches has provided a framework that facilitates both professional development and the recognition at a national level of a leader’s call into a local ministry context. It is called Baptist Leaders’ Registration and comprises three components:
- learning—a commitment to some form of ongoing, lifelong learning
- Baptist whānau—participation within the Baptist family of churches beyond the local church
- supervision—having an accountability relationship that is concerned about ongoing development, meeting at least once every two months.
These components make up a Ministry Development Agreement, which is renewed each November for the year ahead.
Elders: Do you have an annual review with your pastor that includes feedback and input into their Ministry Development Agreement?
Pastor search/call committees: Do you ask candidates about their recent Ministry Development Agreements? Do you find out their future development plans and aspirations and how you might enable them?
Our Carey Baptist College exists to serve the church and this is primarily done by developing leaders for ministry and mission. At Carey we are also extremely interested in the ongoing professional development of both leaders and practitioners. Serving others is not always easy; as a college we want to use our resources to help sustain church leaders with depth for longevity.
At the heart of Carey’s Lifelong Learning is a professional development programme for leaders in ministry and mission. We also offer public events, lectures, conferences, seminars, retreats and online resourcing. Our goal is to offer the same calibre of content and teaching that would be expected in the Carey classroom. Overseas examples of such lifelong learning centres are showing us that this approach is the way of the future in terms of resourcing church leaders throughout their ministry and mission calling and careers.
Story: Dr Mike Crudge