Those who serve the church in its many forms must never stop learning. The responsibilities to care for people, to preach the Word, to nurture communities, to extend out in mission demand that we stay fresh. Hans Küng writes: “A church which pitches it tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling. . . . [We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, live by improvisation and experiment.” It is unsettling, but as ministry leaders in a constantly changing world, we must engage in learning activities that stretch us, even disturb us, and give us new skills and imaginations for our work.
In their book Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry, Gregory Jones and Kevin Armstrong write about the danger of “mediocrity masquerading as faithfulness.” It is an easy trap. We get so busy in our work; the urgent demands press upon us, and we don’t have time to breathe. So we go on autopilot, doing the work that must get done. We look busy, but we are going stale. This hurts us and our ministry.
We need to make lifelong learning an intentional and regular part of our lives. The motto for Fuller’s Doctor of Ministry program is Fire for your Ministry; Oxygen for your Soul. Fire speaks to our desire to help leaders reignite their passion and retool for ministry in a rapidly changing world. Many who are engaged in ministry feel that their previous education did not fully equip them for the practice of ministry. Our lifelong learning programs give them new frameworks to think and work in ways that are theologically sound and practically oriented. We know that ministry leaders carry a heavy burden and often neglect themselves in the care of their congregations. Oxygen speaks to our goal of giving leaders a space to reaffirm their call, nurture their hearts, and develop practices that will sustain them in ministry over the long haul.
It is neither easy nor automatic to gather our community together, engage in our context, discern how to share good news, and step out onto new missional frontiers. To do our work well, we must be continual learners, but how?
- We read in a variety of areas: Bible, theology, ministry, non-fiction not related to ministry, and novels. This broadens our understanding.
- We go to conferences sponsored by our denomination and connect with networks that resonate with our philosophy of ministry. These are wonderful places of inspiration, encouragement, and motivation. We hear our marching orders, and after a time away, we are ready to tackle the challenges of ministry again.
- We gather with other ministry leaders, people with whom we have engaged in ministry over time. We study together, pray together, laugh and weep and encourage each other. These friends are often the ones who keep us in ministry through the rough patches.
- We also engage in more formal educational opportunities. Fuller’s Doctor of Ministry program is a non-residential program with learning through online formats and one-week intensive courses that keep a leader in their ministry context as they learn. The DMin program is available to ministry leaders with a theological master’s degree.
Some ministry leaders do not want another formal degree, and yet want to keep learning in a more focused manner. We have just launched the Advanced Diploma in Ministry Leadership (ADML). This non-degree diploma is available to ministry leaders with a theological master’s degree. Students participate in four Fuller DMin classes and engage in a mentoring experience over the course of their studies at a greatly reduced cost.
The South African missiologist David Bosch wrote: “The church is always in a state of crisis and its great shortcoming is that it is only occasionally aware of it.” Ministry leaders also are often unaware of the crisis. The challenges and the responsibilities of ministry call us to stay fresh. Theological education in its various forms is vital for a renewing church and for enlivened ministry leaders. May we have the courage and wisdom to embrace this lifelong endeavor, for our own lives and the life of the church.