Recovering apprenticeship for the newly ordained

The Alban Institute and the Lily Endowment are beginning a project to assist the newly ordained make the transition from seminary to ordained ministry, as well from the life as a lay person in a congregation to pastoring a congregation.

The process uses some old techniques: mentors, apprenticeships in congregations dedicated to the ministry of forming new pastors etc. And it includes new stuff: understanding of congregational systems, new learning on the changed role and status of religious institutions in society, and wider use of peers and mentors outside the new congregation.

The newly ordained person, the supervising pastor, the new congregation and the outside peers and mentors come together as a community of practice to make the transition time a period of learning and vision rather than one of disorientation and–as too often occurs–trauma.

A promising set of new experiments has the potential to make a collective impact on the way people enter pastoral ministry in the twenty-first century. The Transition into Ministry initiative (TiM)—an effort funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and participated in by more than 800 beginning pastors to date—has drawn hundreds of new seminary graduates, a variety of denominational and judicatory leaders, congregations from at least 11 Protestant denominations, several seminaries, and thousands of congregation members into a shared effort to change the experience of pastors at the thresholds of their ministries.

At its core, this initiative seeks to reshape the preparation of Protestant pastors by supplementing the seminary training received in the M.Div. program with a focused apprenticeship in an infrastructure of support and practical education (which we call a “community of practice”). Based on the assumption that pastors will be better prepared to lead congregations when they have had the opportunity to become reflective participants in a local community of practice—mentored by experienced pastors and supported by peers and a congregation committed to their formation—these projects seek to counter a two-centuries-long trend of viewing pastoral preparation as something that is largely completed upon graduating from seminary.

The difference in transition support can be crucial:

In a recent special issue of the Alban Institute’s magazine, Congregations, several young clergy wrote about their early experiences. One of these new pastors, Sarah Griffith, wrote of the invaluable support system that the TiM programs had provided her. But then she described the experience of a friend who was not in the program: “She quickly began to experience hazardous conditions, unsafe boundary violations, and rapid exposure to the diseases of the church. She lacked significant support from clergy colleagues, she felt overwhelmed and isolated. Her situation-induced depression consumed her, and the work became unbearable. Phone conversations revealed a person in a spiritual, mental, and physical crisis.”1 That friend left the ministry after a year.

Read more here.

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