Four Really Cool Continuing Education Events Every Pastor Should Take

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

mike closeup web“The organization will only grow to the extent that the leader is growing.” This is a paraphrase of John Maxwell’s Law of the Lid. If the leader isn’t growing, generally the organization will not be growing either.

Lay people, you want your pastor growing. Flourishing. The sermons will be deeper, enthusiasm and energy will go up. The money you spend on your pastor’s continuing education gives you the most “bang for your buck”. You never lose when you invest in people. I once heard someone ask a consultant, “What if we invest time and money in staff and they leave?” The consultant thought about it for a moment, then answered, “What if you don’t invest in them and they stay?”

Pastors, you want to be growing. A tree is either growing or dying. There is no stasis. Which would you prefer? The Alban Institute did a study that showed that burn out is more closely correlated with not taking continuing education than it is with not taking vacation. Go away. Learn. Fill your tank. You will come back recharged and excited to tackle challenges that seemed hopeless and overwhelming when you left.

I just finished reading all of our pastors’ reports to the bishop. People do a variety of things to sharpen themselves theologically and professionally. Our first call pastors use much of their continuing education funds in First Call Theological Education, which they help shape and create.

I received 82 reports.

  • Pastors under call: 48
  • Pastors on leave from call: 2
  • Pastors with a call from Synod or Church Council: 10
  • Retired Pastors: 15
  • Lay Ministers: 5
  • AIMs: 2

Here are some other things our rostered leaders have done for continuing education this year:

Let me say, our theological conference is great, but not enough. Many pastors do not pay for this out of their continuing education allowance, but out of the conventions and conferences line item.  Our Leadership Gatherings are super, but focused on growing lay leaders. Many read books, which is super. Some only read, and could benefit from more experiential continuing education. Sadly, some did nothing to continue their education. No time or money spent. I grieve this.

Plan your continuing education this year so that it is renewing and challenging. Look ahead as well. Here are some continuing education events you should plan to do sometime in your career.

1. The Holy Land

Most people who have dedicated their lives and careers to Jesus would love to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Capernaum some time in their lifetime. This is not just true of pastors. Lay staff also yearn for this trip, but see it as out of reach. Pastors have studied the culture of first century Palestine, the geography, the coins, weights and measures, clothing, customs, religion and politics. Seeing things first-hand enriches that understanding and will make teaching and preaching come alive.

This is an expensive trip, but worth it. Plan ahead. Map out your continuing education for the next 5-10 years. You can always change it, but failing to plan is planning to fail. Decide when you’re going to go, even if its five years from now. Set up a designated fund for your continuing education expenses, so that what you don’t spend this year rolls over to next year. Let people know your plans. There are members of the congregation who want this for you and will even chip in if you openly share your plan without pressuring people.

Go deep. Don’t sign up with a touristy group. There are Holy Land trips that are like Disneyland. “This is where Jesus stood when the woman touched the hem of his garment.” You don’t want this. There are groups that go over every year that engage church leaders on the ground. The groups Pastor Steve Quill leads meet Bishop Younan, Pastor Mitri Raheb of Christmas Lutheran in Bethlehem and other key leaders. Call my office if you want to find a group. You will have a life-changing experience that will move you to the core.

2. Luther Land

Most Lutheran church leaders get excited about visiting Wittenberg, Eisenach, Erfurt and Eisleben. A well-planned trip will expose you to scholars and deepen your understanding of the Reformation.

There are opportunities for study as well. The ELCA Center in Wittenberg has incredible rates. Book early. They are already booked for 2013. Talk to Pastor Robert Moore (Christ the King, Houston) who leads one or two trips over every year. His upcoming trip in June includes the Bach festival.

Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, sparking the Reformation. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is coming up in 2017, just four short years. That may be the year to go. Or, you may want to beat the crowd and go a year or two before. We have numerous trips planned, every year between now and then. Now is the time to start saving. Consider coming with us on a trip, then leading one of your own. We can help you with this.

3. Companion Synod

The Gulf Coast Synod has two companion synods: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peru and The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic (CAR). We have very good relationships with both churches, as well as affection for one another and a shared love of the gospel. You interlopers from other places: Your church also has a relationship with a church elsewhere in the world. Find out where and be sure to go.

Trips to the CAR are pretty expensive, but worth it. The church there is growing rapidly. It is a joy to see. Because there are not hotels (or electricity, paved roads or running water) in most places, we can’t take very many people. If, however, you feel a strong call to come, and if you have a lot of stamina, let us know and we will plug you into an upcoming trip (especially if you speak a little French).

We have several groups that go to Peru each year. The synod sponsors at least one trip. This year’s trip is $500 plus airfare. Congregations organize others. Many of us have been going for over a decade. Some of our folks are godparents to children and new Christians in Peru. When we go, it feels like a family reunion. We have taken away more than we have given. Usually when we go, there are extensions available to Macchu Picchu or the Amazon. This year a group is hiking the Inca Trail. We always chip in so that four Peruvian friends can accompany us on these extensions. You can learn about the upcoming trip.

4. Sabbatical

The Gulf Coast Synod’s policy is a three-month sabbatical after the first seven years serving a congregation and then one sabbatical after each consecutive five years. Although this article is directed at pastors, staff should also be offered this opportunity. The Alban Institute says years 8-15 are the sweet spot, yet the average tenure for a pastor is seven years. Many leave because they are ready for a new season of ministry, a new challenge. A sabbatical provides an opportunity to re-gear for a new chapter of ministry. It can feel like (and should feel like) starting a new call.

Talk to your council about this early. Don’t put it up to a vote. Just share the synod’s policy and tell them you’re hoping for a sabbatical when you reach the seven-year mark. After a couple years of bringing it up they’ll warm to the idea. If not, let us help convince your leaders this is a good idea.

Often the finances are a congregation’s primary concern. How do they pay for your plans and pay for pastoral coverage while you’re gone? If you take away that problem, their resistance immediately dissolves. Apply for a Lilly grant. Pastor Kerry Nelson (Faith in Bellaire, Texas) did this many years ago. Ask him about it.

Click here for more information on Sabbatical Grants

Save a portion of your continuing education funds each year and you’ll build a nest egg. Let people know your plans. They’ll want to help. Consider doing it on an ordination milestone anniversary and people will see it as a gift.

LEAD, our new leadership organization called for by our synod’s strategic plan, is committed to growing leaders. LEAD is piloting a program for leaders who are committed to growing. This program will involve immersion experiences, covenant groups, training experiences and resources sharing.  These will be open to all Christian leaders, lay and clergy, Lutheran and non-Lutheran, Gulf Coast and beyond.

Above all, make a commitment to grow yourself. Although our outer nature is wearing out, our inner nature is being renewed daily. Fill your tank. Feed your spirit. Your congregation will thank you.

Michael Rinehart, bishop

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