Moving Beyond Preparing People for Jobs, Pt. 1: Gifts

June 12, 2017

Gifts Don’t Separate Easily Into “Jobs” – So Stop Trying!

What if theological education isn’t about developing people for the “job” of pastor but rather about developing people to live out the gifts they have been given?  What if the “job” of pastor as it has been traditionally understood is no longer the best way to even describe that role?

Over the past few months, we have been looking at how Sioux Falls Seminary lives out passages like 1 Peter 4:10 and Colossians 3:17.  Today we begin a series that challenges some of the commonly held beliefs about the educational process.  I will spend the rest of this article getting us started down that path and, over the next few weeks, others from the seminary community will look at a specific piece of this puzzle.  Let’s jump in!

When the modern form of education began to take root, the focus was heavily placed on making sure people were trained to do specific jobs.  We divided society into several different jobs and looked for ways to churn out people who could do those jobs.  The same was true for the church. We needed pastors to manage churches, so we created Harvard, the University of Chicago, Rochester Seminary, Sioux Falls Seminary, and so on and so on.  Theological education was centered around creating a system that produced a specific set of skills for a specific job.

As our society comes to grips with the push of post-modernism, the changes we see in culture, the shifting perception of the church, and even the various changes to the expression of the church, it may be time to rethink the role of education.  Already it is true that the role of “pastor” is different than it used to be.  The role of “engineer” is different as well.  In fact, some are beginning to say that the Millennial Generation must think differently about the role they will play in the workforce.  Yes, we still need people to do specific jobs, and there are still churches that need the same type of pastor as the last several generations have had. However, I think we are often too quick to turn gifts into jobs.

For instance, if someone has the gift of preaching, then they must be a pastor.  If someone has the gift of pastoral care, then they must be a chaplain.  In his first letter, Peter calls us to use whatever gift we have received to serve others.  This is to be an act of stewardship.  What if the gifts we have don’t seem to fall into a specific job?  What if we have an uncommon combination of gifts?  Are we to use only the gifts required for a specific job rather than steward all of our gifts?

At Sioux Falls Seminary, we have seen this play out in the way we structure our staff.  It is very difficult to come up with job titles when an organization focuses on gifts and skills rather than jobs.  I get a lot of quizzical looks when I describe the different tasks completed by our Chief Financial Officer because his role doesn’t fit into the typical work of a Chief Financial Officer.

Over the past few years, we have worked this idea into our educational philosophy as well.  We are developing an educational paradigm that encourages students to discover, enrich, and steward their gifts rather than assuming each student is being prepared for a specific job.  In fact, most of our students are already engaged in some role prior to enrolling at the seminary.  Our task is to help them take a long-term view of their calling and ministry and to discern the types of projects or passions that should receive their energy.  Instead of identifying a specific role, we want to help students understand that discipleship is an ongoing process of development wherein we invite others to speak into our lives as we continue to develop knowledge, character, and skill related to our calling to participate in the kingdom mission.

As we dive further into this topic we will look at the following: 1) The changing nature of pastoral ministry, 2) The idea of developing people as they pursue their calling as opposed simply equipping or educating people; 3) Vocational ministry as something to which all followers of Christ are called; and 4) Pursuing passions rather than a career.

Be sure to stay with us for the next few weeks.  I think we will all learn something in the process!

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