There were many things that I learned in seminary, very valuable things that will enrich my life forever. Then there are always those things that you felt like you didn’t learn. Now if you have been to seminary you know what I mean. You get to your first church position and you realize I wasn’t really taught anything about how to handle a church budget. And after all, maybe you didn’t need to learn that. Or you realize, I was never taught how to handle a crisis phone call, and then again, maybe that’s something you learn on the fly. The list goes on and one, but those are some of the things. Now if you haven’t been to seminary, than maybe you have realized certain deficits in your pastor. We all have them, but you might be thinking, didn’t he or she learn that in seminary. Maybe not.
My Master of Divinity program at Fuller Theological Seminary was 144 quarter credits. That’s three years full-time, all year round. And they are packing a lot into those three years. Even though we wish we could have gotten more, there just wasn’t enough time.
But recently I have learned that the biggest deficit in my seminary education was pastoral counseling. And maybe not even that since I could have taken the class. But the idea of being with someone and not having to spew out more religious talk, or theology, or talk about God, but rather just being with someone. Instead we are often taught that being busy, (Check out Chris’s post) is what makes a good pastor and ministry.
But in this process of being busy, we fail to truly be present to most people that we come into contact with. We run around with our heads cut off making decisions, listening to concerns, counseling others, preaching, etc., and rarely do I get the sense that we are truly present with someone.
That is why it is odd to me that for an occupation/calling that puts us in direct situations with people who want someone to listen, that we never received lots of training in the field of pastoral counseling, or just listening. Pastors are really good at talking, but sometimes fail to listen. If I knew, and I really should have known that a majority of my ministry is spending one on one time with college students, or small group time with college students, I would like to have gone back and taken more classes on pastoral counseling. And not pastoral counseling that teaches the pastor that he or she has all the answers and his or her job is only to spew out advice, but pastoral counseling that teaches the pastor to really be present with someone. To really listen to someone. To really be able to sit in someone’s pain with them, etc.
Maybe this is why I am back in grad school again at Fuller working on my Marriage and Family Therapy degree. I think that for the first time I am truly learning what it means to be totally present with someone. See, I always thought I was before, and I think most people would have thought I was being attentive and caring. But what I am realizing about myself is that the times when I thought I was being present, I still had thoughts about the next sermon going through my head; still had thoughts about what ministerial task needed to be completed as soon as I was done spending time with this person; still felt on edge a little bit knowing how much had to be done that day, and that I needed to get back in the office to get back in front of the computer to finish work.
I would much rather have a ministry that made people feel like they were most important to you. That when they were with you, they felt and knew that you were totally present.
This doesn’t mean that I let everything else slide like administrative tasks, preaching, etc. But I think it does mean that you, or I re-prioritize our tasks. Because when people feel connected, and they feel that you truly treat them as humans and are present with them, that makes everything else in ministry better, such as the administration and the preaching.
So seminary can’t teach you everything. Some things you have to learn in your internship and in your job. Sometimes you learn in a formal way, other times it is on the fly. And all of it is lifelong learning.
But I hope that I am learning, and am getting better at being truly present with someone.