Classes that should be taught in seminaries

I know that everyone’s focus is on the Hooey in St. Louey this weekend, but honestly, for most of us, the day to day demands of ministry in the local church easily push those concerns to the back of our minds. Yes, there are big theological and political issues worthy of consideration, but for the average local pastor, the bigger concern is whether the boiler will make it through another night or why no one seems to be able to hear you during worship in the sanctuary. I am all for the minister as theologian model that seems so prominent in our divinity schools, yet I never had a class on the theology of the brokenness of paper folding machines — something that I deal with on at least a monthly basis. So, here is my list of classes that should be a part of every seminary curriculum these days:

1) Heating and Air Conditioning Engineering

During the past 20 years, I have served in four congregations. In each and every congregation, with buildings of differing ages and conditions, I have had to deal with issues regarding the heating and cooling system. When I think about my three appointments as the lead pastor, I’ve ended up having to raise close to three-quarters of a million dollars in addressing these needs. I’ve learned about “package units” versus water-based boiler/chiller units, the limitations of computer-controlled temperature systems, and a variety of other things that I never knew would be part of my ministry. Yes, I have had good Trustees and competent building staff, but eventually, the pastor ends up involved in the conversation. And of course, there is the continual battle between those who think the sanctuary is too hot or too cold on Sunday morning.

2) Sound System Engineering

Of course, your church has a resident sound engineer. And sometimes that person is actually pretty effective. But it never fails that some event will happen — a funeral or a wedding or some community event — and it becomes the pastor’s responsibility to make sure it’s all up and running. Of course, I know I’m an odd case as someone who used to do that type of engineering for a living so there may be expectations put on my that aren’t put on others. But I recently was at a community meeting at another church with a pastor friend, and I ended up having to help him navigate their elaborate sound system so that there would be a mic for folks to use. It would probably help to know what a mixer is, how to turn it on, and what to do when a microphone feeds back.

3) Daycare Management and Playground Design

Come of my colleagues might say that this isn’t really an issue for the pastor, but after five years of being in a church with an active daycare, I’m amazed at how often I’m called upon to assist with issues from the daycare. My perspective about my involvement is colored by my observations of another colleague’s experience when a crisis happened in their daycare program. While he thought he had a good director and board in place, when bad stuff happened he found that he was ultimately responsible for the program. So, I’ve learned that a hands-on approach is necessary to avoid future pitfalls. In my time here, I’ve had to deal with staffing issues, facility issues that affected the daycare, and even working with our leaders about inclement weather decisions. More recently I’ve had to be involved in getting bids for the replacement of our outdated and worn out playground — which must comply with state licensing requirements. Daycares are wonderful ministries and I completely support ours but know that there is a learning curve in dealing with them.

4) Employment and other law

When I went to seminary, I had the option of being a part of a dual degree program. If I had stayed for two additional years, I could have walked out with both a Master of Divinity and a law degree. I chose not to pursue that as an older student with a family who REALLY wanted to get back to Tennessee. When I started service congregations I came to regret that decision because I was amazed to find how often legal questions arise in the course of my ministry. Of course, the normal concerns about liability (always an issue for the Trustees) is ever present, but more often I am dealing with staffing issues that involve concerns about fairness and what is both required and allowed under the law. From a pastoral perspective, I regularly have folks come into my office who are negotiating the criminal justice system, who have questions and needs regarding dealing with mom’s estate or her long-term care options, or a variety of other questions. I’m not suggesting that the pastor provide legal advice — a good attorney is always needed. But, the pastor SHOULD have a list of attorneys on speed dial in their phone and should have enough knowledge to point someone in the right direction.

Paper Folding Machines

Yes, if you have more than 50 folks in worship, you may want to consider getting a paper folding machine to fold your bulletins and inserts. However, know that they often have minds of their own and do things that make no sense. I am a technical guy, an early adopter, who is pretty comfortable with a variety of technical and mechanical things. Yet, I’ve spent more time trying to get the folder to work than I’d like to admit. Sometimes it does . . . and it’s a great time saver. Other times I should have just folded them by hand.

I’m sure there are other classes that should be added to the seminary curriculum. What are your suggestions?

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