Taking Versus Leading Continuing Education

Church Leaders: when was the last time you took continuing education without having a leadership position?

As I prepare to return home after the National Gathering of NEXTChurch in Baltimore, I feel replete with so much good information now crammed into my head. Next comes the fun part: processing what I’ve absorbed.

  • Worship ideas
  • Church development ideas
  • Mid-council ideas
  • Relational ideas

My brain is stuffed full of them, not to mention the unspeakably joyous feeling of being with both birth/marriage family and chosen family.  Sharing stories and updates is soul-enlarging.

I was asked to co-lead a workshop at NEXT because of my role in the denomination.  And while that was a satisfying experience, what was more satisfying and life-giving was hearing from so many amazing people whose wisdom I need to hear again and again.

Sometimes we reach a point when we don’t want to play/participate if we can’t be in charge.  At this point in my life, I have been blessed to be the leader many times in a variety of venues.  And that’s a great honor and privilege.  But I have come to love attending events when I am not in charge.  There is so much I have to learn and I love that.

Some (many?) of our congregations resemble Zombie Land.  The living dead roam the halls of our church buildings perpetuating programs that are also dead – although we don’t realize it.  There is no evangelical spark in their voices.  There is no excitement about resurrection in their faces.

These congregations tend to have leaders who either

  • get no study leave funds or time (because they are part-time with no benefits) or
  • they do not take their study leave to learn new things or
  • they spend their study leave looking inward – preparing worship or strategic plans for the next year without any beyond-the-walls influence.

I have colleagues who do not take advantage of continuing education unless they are in charge and while I agree that preparing to teach something is itself a great education, we really need to step out on a ledge and allow ourselves – even our erudite, brilliant, super-experienced selves – to learn from people who are younger, browner, and closer to the secular world than we are.  (I’m talking to you, Baby Boomer sibs.)

NEXTChurch consistently offers an array of brilliant material in the form of worship experiences, workshops, talks, blog posts, publications, and conversations.  And they are not the only ones.  Wild Goose and The White Privilege Conference are two other events where I’ve been stretched and inspired by people beyond my usual circle of influencers.

What if we – clergy types and especially stuck clergy types – intentionally chose a continuing education event in the coming months that made us a bit uncomfortable and less rigid?  What if we registered for an event that pulled and pushed us spiritually?

Note to congregations and boards:  please be as generous as possible with Continuing Education funds for your leaders.  You need to give them at least $1000 to attend an out-of-town conference.  It would be better to give them $2000.  If you want to reward staff members for an excellent job, add to their continuing education line item.  (If you give them a raise, they pay taxes on it, although raises are good too.)

The old Church is dying.  We won’t know what the new Church looks like without being nudged to consider the possibilities.  Also Pastors:  you don’t have to be in charge.  Just sit and learn.

Image of the Rev. Billy Michael Honor, the first preacher at NEXTChurch National Gathering 2018.

2 responses to “Taking Versus Leading Continuing Education

  1. AMEN. Online or in person, being in community while learning matters. Other voices matter. Dialogical, contextual learning, not solely didactic theory poured into heads/input via keyboards matters. Transfer of learning to accountable activity matters.


  2. Great challenge! Yes, we can tell when our leaders don’t invest in their growth and continuing education–and we feel cheated. The Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary is committed to meeting this need. Come and PARTICIPATE (don’t sit) in our programs and offerings!


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