Lawyers. Teachers. CPAs. General contractors. Typically, these and many other professions have required continuing education courses to take, in order to stay up to date with all the latest federal and state laws and/or guidelines. And beyond these vocations that have required continuing education, many others such as those in technology fields must keep up with all the latest innovations if they want to remain relevant and competitive in the always-changing culture.
But what about pastors and those in church ministry? You probably have your bachelor’s, your master’s, perhaps an additional master’s and a doctorate, but those are typically intended to increase your theological foundation, your bookshelves, and the suffixes at the end of your name. What do pastors typically do for continuing education? Is that not even necessary? Are you simply grateful to be done with school and are against any further version of it?
I get that, if that describes you. I really do. But let me suggest a few unofficial areas in which I believe every pastor needs to regularly seek “continuing education.” Pastors’ retreats and conferences are nice and necessary in their own ways, but this goes beyond getaway weekends with your staff and family.
More than likely the makeup of your immediate community looks a little different than it did when you first arrived at your church, and especially since the church was planted many years ago. Is there a particular ethnicity that is growing in large numbers nearby and you are in dire need of learning how best to serve them and provide for them a church that they would feel comfortable worshipping at? Whatever that may be, do not take lightly your responsibility in finding ways to better educate yourself in their culture so as to best serve the community in which God has placed you.
You’re probably not a licensed marriage or family therapist. And you’re definitely not Larry Burkett or Dave Ramsey. But I can guarantee you that your congregation is filled with people who at one time or another are going to seek your counsel on marriage, children, finances, or all three. And they don’t want you simply handing them a book off of your bookshelf and saying, “Read two chapters and call me in the morning.” Read up on Burkett, Ramsey, and other financial gurus. Invest in marriage and family books and conferences like those from Emerson Eggerichs and James Dobson. No, you can’t become the go-to man in all areas in which your congregation may struggle. But these three are pretty major areas that almost everyone deals with. You would be wise to be continually educating yourself in the latest books on them.
“New Christianity” education
You and I may agree that the Bible is complete and without error and that the conservative Bible-based education you received in seminary is the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. But not everyone feels that way, and as long as there’s a buck to be made there will always be “Christians” preaching and writing about what they feel is a more popular gospel. People will always flock to beliefs that help them feel better about their lifestyles, and you should be familiar with these viewpoints and ideologies. Be open to ideas that may not be what you have been taught but you cannot say unequivocally are contrary to the Bible; but definitely hold up the Bible, and the Bible only, as the litmus test for any new popular belief.
Popular culture education
It would be near impossible and highly inadvisable to keep up with all the latest TV shows, blockbuster movies, YouTube phenomena, and social media trends. But does that mean you should stay away from it all, save for NCIS and Andy Griffith reruns? Not if you want to reach the unchurched in your community who saw the latest Star Wars for the fifth time last night. Being educated in popular culture does not mean immersing yourself in it. It means knowing who won the game last night, knowing what all the buzz is about on Twitter, being aware that The Walking Dead is about zombies, not mummies. But beyond simple awareness, find something you feel comfortable enjoying and taking part in. Get into The Amazing Race or Agents of SHIELD and find ways to work them into the sermon from time to time. Let those in your church know that you’re just as normal as them, rooting for the new illusionist on America’s Got Talent.
Not all continuing education requires going back to school or spending a week’s time in a stuffy classroom downtown. The best education for pastors sometimes is simply better educating yourself concerning the mission field in which God has placed you.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.