Not Too Cool For School: Continuing Ed

Jennie Barber —  February 13, 2014

JBarberConfession: I’ve been guilty of bad stewardship. I’ve repeatedly squandered a gift I receive from the church I’m serving…that is until recently. Continuing education was something that always sounded like a good idea. I’d hear about fantastic conferences my friends attended and think, “It would be great to learn more about family systems in the context of the church, but I’m so busy I’ll just re-read Edwin Friedman and call it good.” But a couple of weeks ago, my attitude and actions with respect to continuing education changed. I didn’t find one amazing conference that transformed my perspective. Rather, I discovered my bad stewardship was causing me to miss out on some wonderful opportunities and experiences. Here’s what I learned about why we should be good stewards of continuing education and how to embrace it for all it’s worth.

1. S.S.R.: Sustained silent reading featured prominently in my early education. As a bookworm, 15 to 20 minutes focused solely on reading was a treasure. Most of the pastors I know love reading. Most pastors I know have a giant stack of books with crisp new pages on their shelves. Continuing education provides time for S.S.R. It doesn’t guarantee we will get through every book we’ve wanted to read, but it gives us time to take the plunge and open the first page.

2. Keep Your Nametag On: Typically, nametags are either stickers that always seem to pull out my hair one tiny strand at a time, or they resemble a big necklace that makes me feel like a contestant in some sort of nerdy pageant and/or dog show. Then there’s the way nametags force familiarity. I’m thinking of that awkward moment when we look quickly at what’s printed on someone’s nametag and say “Cathy, tell me about your experiences with new Sunday School curriculum” as if we’ve known Cathy for years rather than minutes. But I found there are good things about keeping a nametag on.  Continuing education conferences are short and nametags provide details that assist quick connections with other people. If I see someone is from a particular city and state, or serves in a particular role, it may help to build a relationship with a new colleague in ministry. Nametags also allow us to continue meaningful conversations because we can avoid the embarrassment of having to ask someone their name for the 500th time.

3. ID Theft: I’m not promoting purse snatching or cybercrime. The ID I’m referring to is the first two letters of “idea”. As we go about our daily tasks in ministry, our creativity can dwindle. We can get stuck in the rut of the easy and familiar. Continuing education supplies a wealth of new ideas and innovations. Our creative fires get rekindled as we consider the ways we might apply new techniques and implement new experiences in a way that fits our context.

4. Learner not Leader: Leading is part of our calling and our job description. But switching out of leader mode every once in a while is a good thing. Continuing education lets us shift out of our typical ways of operating and engaging with others. We’re reminded that we’re called to receive wisdom, insight, and knowledge just as much as we are called to share it. Learning encourages us to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit, not just in the workshop we’re attending, but long after the workshop ends.

5. Go to the Cafeteria: Table fellowship was a key aspect of Jesus’ ministry and it is a key aspect of continuing education experiences. Sitting around a table with peers in ministry is a gift and a blessing. There is something we all “get” about each other so we can relax into real and honest conversation. We can tackle topics like difficulty with volunteers or vocational discernment because they are struggles we share. Ministry can be an isolating and lonely vocation. Laughing, crying, and debriefing with peers rejuvenates us with encouragement and strength.

How are you a good steward of continuing education? How have continuing education opportunities refreshed your spirit and renewed your focus?  Share some of your favorite continuing education experiences—tell me what I should sign up for this year.

Jennie Barber

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Jennie is currently serving as the Associate Pastor at Rivermont Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is a wife, mother, lover of Asian food, and a pastor seeking to be a faithful disciple of Jesus.