When I came to seminary I was skeptical about the value of multiple field education requirements. As someone who thought that teaching in the academy was the ultimate ideal, I would have preferred to have had the opportunity to enroll in another theology, history, or philosophy class. Despite the reservations I had, God had an amazing way of shaping and molding me through my first two years of seminary.
Field education is a part of seminary that will take you out of your comfort zone and throw you into the practical challenges that will help you grow into a better minister. Ideally, your school official will place you somewhere where the difficulty level is harsh enough to force growth, but soft enough to do it gently. I have been blessed to have had two of these experiences.
The church has a need for capable and experienced leaders. Unfortunately, many of the people you will grow to know and love throughout seminary will eventually leave the pastorate. As the son of a pastor I was aware of some of the difficulties before going to seminary. Despite this, living and working in a different community under someone who struggles daily with providing order within the chaos of church life helped me grow immensely. Even veterans of church politics will face new scenarios in new churches.
Field education is important because it is one of those rare opportunities for aspiring young leaders to sit under the mentorship of someone more experienced. When I look around at my particular seminary community I see a group of people who are passionate about a great variety of amazing things. As a rather young person myself, I recognize the advantage of this passion. It gives us motivation and an enthusiasm that can inspire people in the church to get active in their church communities and local ministry opportunities.
There is, however, a looming threat. The statistics are telling, many clergy will struggle with the problems of divorce, depression, burn-out, family problems, loneliness, and feelings of insecurity. Seminary provides a time and place for future ministers to learn more about the academic subjects, pastoral care, and to grow more faithful in practicing the spiritual disciplines. As important as most of the classes many of you will take, they are only one element of the pastoral life. Field education is the class that will prepare you to deal with the real burdens of ministry. It will put you in an uncomfortable place where you have to go to your supervisor and ask how he or she deals with the stresses of pastoring.
The opportunity to have genuine conversations about dealing with your emotional attachment to the growth of a people or the pain that comes with seeing discord will help you grow in ways that are hard to imagine. As someone who just finished his second and last field education placement, I can say that I have grown immensely. My sense of call to pastoral ministry has been confirmed and made plain, my understanding of self-care has heightened, and I have had the opportunity to grow close to two mentors who have helped me shape my own sense of ministry style and purpose.
If you decide to go to seminary, or are currently enrolled, I encourage you to make the most of your field education experience. Use it as an opportunity to grow in the areas that scare you or you feel weak in. When I came to seminary I knew that the practice of pastoral care was going to be one of the more difficult burdens for me to deal with. I often told myself, “If I have someone walk into my office and tell me about the horrible injustice or sin they’ve just committed – I’m not sure I will be able to respond appropriately.” Ironically, it has been the practice of pastoral care, in the field education setting, that has affirmed my sense of calling to the pastorate more than anything else.
I hope that you will remember that field education is one of the most important classes you can take in seminary. The study of philosophy, theology, and biblical studies are all incredibly important to the development of an effective minister, but field education is just as important as any class you could take on Barth, the book of Romans, or the Pentateuch. The church needs well rounded leaders who can deal with difficult situations and field education gives you the opportunity to struggle with the practice of ministry.
Written by Kadin Williams. Kadin is presently in his third year at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. He has served as an intern in American Baptist, Southern Baptist, and RCA churches. He is presently seeking ordination with the American Baptist Churches USA. You can connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.