I graduated from Pittsburgh Seminary last June with my M.Div. Six months ago, I began my first call. As the temporary, solo pastor at Mt. Nebo United Presbyterian Church.
One of the unexpected blessings to my current call is that I manage a preschool. Last week I met with my head preschool teacher to discuss payroll, registration, and teacher evaluations. As I held my own in a conversation about registration protocol, Miss Beth exclaimed, “I bet they didn’t teach you this in seminary!”
If I had a dollar for every time someone has said this to me in the last six months, I would be a rich woman. But I don’t think that it’s a helpful way for us to evaluate seminary education. Sure, there are plenty of things I’ve had to learn on the job. But I couldn’t have learned them without the foundation that is my seminary education. Let me explain what I mean, by giving you a list of the 10 things I’m glad I learned in seminary:
1. Sunday’s Coming, Gotta Preach
A former professor taught us this chant in homiletics. Having spent time with the text, she explained, how can we not climb into the pulpit and preach the good news? In my ministry, I am learning that Sunday comes every single week, whether I are ready or not. It comes every week because the gospel we proclaim every week demands a weekly proclamation within the gathered community.
2. The Times They Are A Changing
When I was a student at Pittsburgh Seminary, we welcomed five new faculty members, one passed away unexpectedly, one retired, one became Dean of Faculty, and four took positions elsewhere. All of these things taught me to accept change as a natural part of ministry. God calls specific people, to specific places, for a specific time. Learning this in seminary helps me to face changes in my congregation without anxiousness.
3. The Art of Transitional Ministry
In my current call, I am following a pastor who served Mt. Nebo for 16 years. My time at Mt. Nebo thus far has been a time of transition as the congregation gets used to someone of a different generation, gender, and theological perspective than its former pastor. In the midst of this transition, I’m so glad that I studied at a seminary with such diversity amongst its faculty and student body.
4. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
If I learned nothing else in pastoral care, and parish leadership, I learned about boundaries—learning to say no to things that are not your responsibility. I admit that I still struggle with this. There is so much need, and there is only so much of me to go around. One way that I practice boundaries in my ministry is by not working on Fridays. I snooze my e-mails. I let my assistant screen church phone calls. I unplug from my phone and computer. Setting this boundary allows me to offer my best self to the congregation on Sunday mornings in worship.
5. Budgets are Theological Documents
Money can be a huge source of anxiety in a congregation. Especially around budget season. If you don’t know how to read them, they can look like someone took a big red pen and wrote HERE’S WHERE WE MESSED UP LAST YEAR!!!! Thankfully I learned in my Theological Reflection on Ministry class that budgets are theological documents. They are a way that our church leaders can put into writing where we believe that God is leading our congregations. God is in control of our budgets; our job is to get in on what God is already doing.
6. Rely on Your Colleagues
I’m really lucky to be ministering in Pittsburgh Presbytery, the same presbytery Pittsburgh Seminary is a part of. When I graduated, I had a whole network of contacts to help me navigate the first few months of new ministry. I’m so grateful to Pittsburgh Seminary for helping me develop this network of colleagues.
7. Read as Though Your Life Depends on It (Because it Does)
In seminary, you read to pass your classes. In parish ministry, you read because no one person can know how do to every aspect of ministry. I try to read two books a month that are not part of my sermon preparation. Sometimes these books help me work through a particular challenge of ministry. But mostly they remind me that I am not alone, that God is with me, and the call is to be faithful, not perfect.
8. Turn Off Your E-mail on Your Phone
My field education supervisor told me that she would never get a smart phone because she didn’t know how to impose boundaries on technology. I thought this was a generational problem. A problem that this millennial wouldn’t have to worry about. Well I didn’t sleep for the first month of my call because one of my volunteers is a night owl, and would be e-mailing me into the wee hours of the morning. Now I only leave e-mail on my phone when I’m working.
9. Never Call a Meeting without an Agenda
You know how they say a party without cake is just a meeting? Well a meeting without an agenda should be done over e-mail. I learned this from my time serving in leadership in the seminary’s Woman’s Caucus. Meetings without agendas do not respect people’s time, and rarely accomplish anything. I view a well-run meeting as an act of pastoral care to the lay leadership of my church. And I always have a written agenda.
10. God’s Grace is Enough
Every seminary student can point to a moment where they persevered in their preparation for ministry despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Some call it luck, but I believe it is God’s grace that sustains us for ministry. When I look back at my first six months at Mt. Nebo I have no justification for our thriving preschool, amazing, high functioning staff, dedicated lay leaders, and a pastor who really loves her job, other than God’s grace. God’s grace is enough. In all times, in all places, and in all seasons.
The Rev. Rebecca DePoe ’16 is the pastor of Mt. Nebo United Presbyterian Church in Sewickley, Pa. She earned her MDiv degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. A member of Pittsburgh Presbytery, she served on the Administrative Commission for Transformation (ACT). Rebecca blogs at mtneboupc.com/pastor-s-corner, and tweets @RebeccaDePoe.