Forming pastors, together

September 29, 2010 | Viewpoints | Number 19
By Karen Martens Zimmerly |

A young adult in her last semester of college and considering pastoral ministry takes the initiative to invite each pastor in her community for coffee so that she can learn from their wisdom and experience.

A middle-aged man, well-established in his career, volunteers in a seniors home to test a new call to ministry.

Despite a continuing passion for her calling, an experienced pastor feels unfulfilled in her career and joins a network of other pastors.

Although classroom instruction and spiritual disciplines are the more familiar approaches to pastoral formation, these examples illustrate that peer mentoring, congregational encouragement and continuing education are also important factors in the process of developing those who lead our congregations to live out God’s call in the world.

The master of divinity degree continues to be recognized as the standard level of preparation for pastoral ministry, but we recognize that within Mennonite Church Canada pastors enter ministry from diverse paths. In the rapidly changing dynamics of the 21st century, the important foundation laid by schools needs to be sustained with continuing education, formation and spiritual growth.

In light of these challenges we have developed a binational document with MC U.S.A.—“Ministerial credentialing, competencies and education”—that names a standard of six core competencies for effectiveness in ministry, yet provides a flexible framework for pastoral leadership development:

  • Know the biblical story in content and formation; where the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus become the keys to interpreting the Bible with the congregation.
  • Know the Anabaptist/Mennonite story, history and theology in light of the wider church, so that the congregation is formed by its values and practice.
  • Grow in Christian spirituality and discipleship that nurtures a relationship with God and contributes to the spiritual formation of individuals, the faith community and those beyond.
  • Healthy self-awareness as a leader so that one can help the congregation live with healthy diversity, express differences and welcome new people.
  • Contextual awareness that interprets the many cultural, faith, ecological and global dynamics impacting the congregation’s local context and call to mission in God’s world.
  • Leadership that equips the congregation for transformation and to fulfil its calling through worship and rituals, organizational change and connection with the larger church.

This tool will now guide credentialing bodies within each area church as they assist pastors in the process of moving towards ordination. When specific abilities require strengthening, a plan of action and accountability will be developed.

Growing in each of these core areas is a lifelong pursuit. No single body, whether the pastor, the local congregation, post-secondary schools, the area church or the denomination, can provide everything that is necessary. We must work together!

Let’s thank God for pastoral leaders who continue to hear God’s calling to ministry and let’s engage in the network that equips them to lead us as communities of grace, joy and peace, through whom healing and hope flows to the world.

Karen Martens Zimmerly is the denominational minister and director of leadership development for Mennonite Church Canada.

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