Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And What Exactly Do You Do?

Last Spring one of our seminary students asked me about what area of theological studies I enjoyed the most. He thought that I had a particular interest in biblical studies. In an offhanded way, I responded, “I am not that much into biblical studies.” He gave me a funny look and said, “Since you are minister, isn’t that a little odd?”

I suppose that I should have unpacked my response a little more at that point. I did not, but the exchange got me to thinking. (Much of this posting is transparently personal, so you may want to tune out at this point.) After some consideration, I realized that I have always been something of a generalist rather than a specialist. There is a need for specialists—I want a well-trained surgeon to work on my body or an extremely competent engineer to design the airplane on which I am a passenger—but many of us in ministry must be generalists to respond to the demands made upon us. You can reflect on your own experience, but let me recount mine briefly.

My college studies probably started out me out as a generalist. After dropping a physics major because I was not motivated by math courses, I found myself a history major with a minor in religion and philosophy. In reality, I was a liberal arts major who took courses in a number of areas including sociology, speech, political science, psychology, and education in addition to those in my major and minor fields. The Army decided this qualified me very well to be a supply officer and platoon leader!

Although I pursued a master of divinity degree (with languages) in seminary with the goal of becoming a campus minister, I also took a number of courses in the religious education school and thought about getting a second degree in RE, but I finally decided it was not worth the time to spend another year to do so, and it was time to get to work. I was fortunate that the MDiv program provided opportunity to take elective courses in ethics and philosophy of religion. The religious education courses I tacked on included psychology and counseling.

Since completing seminary, my ministry experiences have challenged me to develop at least a minimum level of competence in a number of fields. These competencies have been developed through formal seminary and university classes, degree programs, seminars, reading and mentoring.

Early in my campus ministry career, I developed an interest in small groups and pursued studies in group process and dynamics. In fact, my initial plan was to do my doctor of ministry project on group development, but this didn’t happen. Even so, my learning in this area led to the creation of family groups, discipleship groups, and leadership teams in three campus settings.

An effort to involve lay leaders in ministry with college students led to a doctor of ministry project centered on the faith development and psychosocial development of young adults. This not only helped me to understand the life situations of the students with whom I worked but also provided tools to bring lay leaders alongside in this ministry.

Work with a state judicatory led to an interest in learning more about both management and leadership through seminars, tape resources, reading, and dialogue with colleagues. I was fortunate to be part of a Total Quality Management program while there, and I pursued additional college course work in organizational development and psychology.

My own experiences with therapy as well as classes in psychology and counseling led me to complete a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education about a decade ago. This helped me to learn some helping skills but also convinced me that I was not called to be a counselor or a chaplain!

As I began working with a new state judicatory, I was persuaded that the old way of “doing church” was not working in most situations. This led me to reading about the missional church and then classes on both missional church and postmodernism. This study still informs my thinking about the mission of the church in the 21st century.

An undercurrent during these years was the opportunity to write and edit. I did a good bit of writing for denominational publications at one point and edited a journal on campus ministry as well as various newsletters. Most recently, this has resulted in this blog where I write about things that interest or concern me. Somewhere along the way, I have also developed some computer skills. I suppose this started with the purchase of my first home computer from Radio Shack!

My “growing edge” at this point is developing my skills in coaching. Some friends have recognized my innate skills in this area, but I am pursuing formal training this Fall and Winter in order to be certified as a life coach.

I think that if you looked in a dictionary under “generalist,” you might find my picture. In response to needs in the various places where I have served and my own personal gifts, I have developed some level of competency in a number of areas. I don’t really consider myself a “specialist” in any of them, and I am certainly learning most of each of these. The remarkable thing that I have discovered is the transferability of many of these skills to the various positions where I have served—campus minister, interim pastor, state program leader, trainer, state judicatory leader, teacher, seminary center director, and leadership coach. I am thankful that I do not have to choose one thing as my specialty. There is an old adage about “jack of all trades, master of none.” That’s fine with me.

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