Friday, May 24, 2013

Where the Church is Present Seven Days a Week: The Opportunity

Given that lay people often fail to understand what the clergy do during the week—“Preacher, it must be nice to work just one day a week”-- we can understand why clergy do not have an appreciation for what their parishioners face during the days when they are not at the church building.  Most clergy have held only temporary or part-time non-church jobs (although this is changing as median age adults are responding to the call to ministry).  Few clergy today visit their members at their place of employment; in fact, often the laity don’t even work in the same community where they reside and attend church.  Even if the pastor was employed in business before responding to the call to ministry, he or she may not be familiar with the stresses that are peculiar to the settings where their members work in 2013.

This can be addressed in many ways in the church, but the process of making the connection can begin in the seminaries, schools of theology, and divinity schools where clergy are formed and informed for ministry.  In his article on “Theology for Workers in the Pews,” Chris Armstrong suggests how these institutions “are helping business leaders to think ethically and theologically” and also “helping clergy to engage more intelligently with business leaders in congregations.”  His recommendations suggest some ideas about steps that theological institutions can take to foster an interactive dialogue between church world and business world.

First, seminaries could partner with businesses to offer staff development experiences in the workplace taught by seminary professors with ministry students as small group facilitators or teaching assistants.  Some possible topics might be ethics, interpersonal relationships, and servant leadership.

Second, Armstrong suggests that seminaries rethink their approaches to field education.  Rather than limiting ministry praxis settings to clinical pastoral education (CPE) in hospitals, prisons, and psychiatric wards or field education to congregations and church-related ministries, students might do internships in businesses where they would shadow executive leaders, work with employee assistance programs, or resource teams working on community service projects.

Third, seminaries could take advantage of the experiences of local business people, especially those who lead entrepreneurial endeavors, by inviting them to campus as speakers, guest professors, or symposium participants.  Discussions about vision, values, business practices, and quality of life in the workplace would benefit the business leaders, the seminary leadership and the students.

If seminaries can begin the process of theological engagement with the workplace during the minster’s seminary days, they will open doors for more effective dialogue when the students begin serving local congregations.

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