Pastoral Continuing Education: Fast Food or Planned meal?

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A four-day conference "Fragile Earth, Island Home" promises to help clergy understand "preaching connections for theology and science"; a university extension program announces its top billing, "From Civilization to Planetization: The Gospel of John"; a Resource Center for Christian Spiritual Disciplines offers a two-day seminar entitled "Sexual Spirituality: An Approach to Integration." And the list goes on.

There is no lack of opportunity for continuing education for pastors today. Seminaries, colleges, retreat centers, institutes, conferences all offer a great wealth of professional study that, strangely enough, has the potential of becoming a professional hazard.

Pastors who respond impulsively and without planning and forethought to the array of continuing education opportunities that cross their desks are like a family that eats too many meals at fast-food restaurants. They are not going to starve. Once in a while they will even receive a real burst of energy. After all, some fast food is good food.

The point is that, like fast food, many of these continuing education opportunities are good but could be better, especially if haphazard seminar-hopping has become the pattern for one's engaging in continuing education.

Over the short term fast foods may keep one on the go, but over the long term they lack variety, sustenance, and even interest. The same is true of ill-chosen education events. Clergy may fall into the trap of selecting on the basis of impulse as at the fast-food place where the staff seems to expect you to order as you walk in the door, before you've even located the menu! Over the long period of ministry, the fast-food mind-set can deprive pastors of the broad, solid basis and depth of learning required to do effective ministry today. The randomly selected growth opportunity may delight and please one occasionally and for a brief time, but finally, real education is like good nutrition: there is no substitute for planning.  What is the best way to plan your meal?

1. Separate interests from needs. Just as certain foods may appeal to your palate without contributing to your health, so the seminar that attracts your fancy may not enhance your ministry. To select from this vast menu the meal that will provide the nutrition you need, you must take a look at yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses as an evangelist, preacher, counselor, visitor in the home, teacher of children and youth, administrator in the parish, leader in the home, and so forth?

2. Separate professional competencies from weaknesses. Select at least one strong area for further development and one problem area you want to strengthen. For the former choose a seminar that will challenge you to an even higher level of competency profession ally or personally. For the latter select a seminar that will help you remedy a weakness. Don't choose all seminars from either category. Choose a balanced meal.

3. Separate immediate needs from long-range goals. Weight control may necessitate an immediate reduction of high calorie foods. The strategy is to set priorities. So also in planning a continuing education program. The needs that you have may be many and varied, but you cannot deal with all of them immediately. You should identify those areas of concern that need attention now. 

Having Influence

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It was my first church where I was the senior pastor and the 7th and 8th grade teacher was for a reason that I can’t now recall needed to be gone and I was asked to teach Bible and PE for a week or so.  I had never had any pedagogical training but went to the elementary school to be a teacher.  I quickly learned to appreciate the challenges provided by pubescent boys and girls.  They were quick to give all the right answers in Bible class but when then we went to recess the Bible lessons we spoke of in class did not have any effect on behavior when it came to playing baseball.  I quickly learned that the theory of Christian living in a Bible Class did not always translate into behavior on the ball field. 

What is true for pubescent boys and girls is also true of adults who listen to preachers giving moral instruction in church, and is true of some university students who find the freedom of university life releases them from the moral constraints of their home life.  After my week of substitute teaching I was ready to go back to pastoral ministry with a greater appreciation for those who have given their lives to teaching.  I would encourage every pastor to have such an experience.  I not only had a greater appreciation for teachers and the work that they do but I had developed a relationship with many students who were also parishioners of mine and who would, hopefully, pay more attention to the pastor when he/she preached on Sabbath because he/she had spent time on the ball field with them. 

Leadership, as John Maxwell says, is influence, and the influence of a pastor is dramatically increased with parishioners when he/she spends time with the children of those parishioners.  Whether those children are in elementary school or in college or university.  Influence is gained through relationships and there is no quicker way to develop a relationship with church members than to connect with their children.  And there is no better way to do that then to spend time either in a local elementary school, academy or college connecting with the young people of the church.  It is said that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” well the way to the heart of parishioners is through their children.

My experience as pastor of the university church in Collegedale strengthened the conviction of the importance of building relationships.  Being at the university church enabled me to connect with many college students and I learned that they are just older elementary school students.  They appreciate personal attention in the same way as younger children do.  Connecting with them on the racket ball court or the ball field developed the relationships that enabled my spiritual influence to be more significant.  As previously said, “leadership is influence” and you don’t gain influence without building relationships and you don’t just do that from the pulpit.

When I became president of the university I tried to build relationships by teaching a class or two but found that my schedule did not allow it to be done effectively (and besides that I was not the most effective teacher), so I sought other means to build relationships with students.  Once again it was playing on the ball field, just watching football/basketball games or eating with students in the cafeteria that enabled me to build connections with students.  Showing interest is building influence.  When it comes to college students it is not necessary to play games with them.  (In fact, given my skill level it was better if I didn’t play with them.)  It was just important to show up, listen, and talk to them.  The word transparency comes to mind.  Influence is developed when the students see the “real you” without putting on the pastoral cloth.

Ellen White wrote in the book Education that “the work of education and the work of redemption are one.” (page 30) For many pastors the most significant evangelism campaign that they embark on will be the work they do among the young people of the church. 

I have found that what is true for students in elementary school and academy is also true in the university setting.  The expression “out of sight out of mind” too often applies to students who leave home and the local church and make their way to a college or university to continue their education.  They are often forgotten by the local church.  There are those who complain about the young people leaving the church when they graduate from academy or when they go away to college or university, but do those people remain connected with the young people?  As previously indicated, “Leadership is Influence.”  We have no influence over those with whom we maintain no connection.  It is about relationship and maintaining relationship with the church, and that is not a building, but it is people who love and care for young people and show that through actions.

The single most significant thing that a pastor can do after establishing a position of influence with the young people in his church is to use that influence in encouraging them to attend a Seventh-day Adventist school.  Generally, parents and students, particularly those of modest means, believe that they can’t afford higher education.  They have heard stories of tuition rates in the multiples of 10 thousand dollars and on their wages, they don’t see how it is possible for them to even think about having their child go to one of the 13 SDA higher education institutions.  But the fact is that when you consider scholarships, government aid and work it is not as expensive as it sounds.  In fact, it is generally less expensive than sending a student to a boarding academy.

Research[i] demonstrates that when young adults attend Adventist higher education they are

·      Eight times more likely to experience professors who helped me develop spiritually.

·      Seven times more likely to experience professors who studied the Bible, and prayed with me.

·      Seven times more likely to participate in mission service or mission trips.

·      Four to five times more likely to work on campus.

·      Three times more likely to experience positive dating interactions

·      Three times more likely to participate in campus activities, such as sports teams, music groups campus publications, student clubs.

·      Two to four times more likely to develop lifelong friendships with classmates, faculty and staff.

·      Two times more likely to learn the importance of healthy living.

Churches have school boards to monitor the function of schools, they have Sabbath School Departments that plan programs for all age groups.  It would be helpful, even if the church has no young adult class, for there to be a young adult ministry department that maintained connection and therefore relationship with young adults no matter where they were living.  When my daughters left home and went away to school you can be sure I maintained close connection with them through care packages, phone calls and visits.  It would build influence with our young adults if the church family worked at maintaining close connections with their young adults who went away to school.  Why not:

1.     Send a care package of goodies.

2.     Make a pastoral visit to the campus and take the students from you church out for a meal.

3.     Send personal notes or call on birthdays

4.     Make a special announcement and welcome students back when they come home for vacation.  (“You are missed and loved.”)

5.     Make a financial contribution to the student’s education (no matter how small. Education is expensive and your gift will send a significant message of support.

On more than one occasion when I was president of Southern Adventist University I received a thank you email from a student when I simply showed up to watch a basketball game or football game.  The pastors who made the effort to travel to Southern once or twice a year to simply take the students from their congregation out to eat developed a positive influence in the lives of those students.  So, to sum up the pastor and his//her relationship with college or university students – just show up.

Gordon Bietz serves as the associate director for higher education for the North American Division Education Department


Reprinted from the second quarter 2017 issue of CALLED


[i] CollegeImpact research report results from a study of the college experiences of alumni of Adventist colleges and universities and Adventist graduates of public colleges and universities in North America November 2014

Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Releases Hybrid MDiv Degree Option

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The Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University has released a new hybrid Master of Divinity (MDiv) course delivery option. The hybrid MDiv makes the degree more accessible to students by allowing them to earn up to 50% of their required credits off-campus.

Previously, MDiv students were required to spend two to three years on campus to complete their program. Now, with the hybrid MDiv course delivery option, students can decrease their residency time by up to 50% by utilizing online courses, intensive courses taught on-campus, and the Master of Pastoral Ministry courses offered in various unions.  The remaining required credits can be earned on-campus through intensives and full semester courses.

“The hybrid MDiv is an exciting new opportunity,” said Fernando Ortiz, MDiv program director. “It allows busy professionals who are eager to start their Master of Divinity, but cannot immediately transition to the Seminary, to begin their program from home.  In addition, on-campus students who need to return to their conferences sooner than expected can complete their degree remotely. It opens up a world of options for students, pastors and conference administrators.”

To learn more about the hybrid MDiv or to enroll in the program, email or visit

Making an Annual Church Calendar


The Bible says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Too many churches approach ministry with a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality. Instead of carefully making plans for outreach and church life they coast along hoping something good will happen by accident, dumb luck, or God simply taking pity on their depressing lack of effort. I have found that it isn’t only local churches that struggle with this, but schools and occasionally conference departments too. A lack of planning creates an undercurrent of stress that saps energy and fun out of serving Jesus. While planning is hard work,  it prevents even harder work in the long run.

Several years ago, our church rented to a Methodist congregation and I was blessed to form a friendship with their pastors. One of their practices was to gather ministry leaders together once a year for a “war room” session. In this meeting they plotted out the entire year—from social events to sermon series. I have since adapted this concept to my ministry and have found it to be a huge help for both our church and school. While it takes creative energy and time the process isn’t hard to implement.

The first task is to pick an annual date for war room (or whatever name you like better) and make it permanent. Ours is the first Sunday of November. In the lead up to the meeting, pastoral/elder staff should be roughly sketching what sermon ideas/series/concepts they intend to preach. Other leaders should be notified of the upcoming meeting and asked to plan what special event their ministries intend to participate in and on what date. The congregation should be notified with a bulletin insert asking members if they know of any special events they plan on being involved with or that they think the church should host. The various events and outreaches should have dates attached to them and be sent to the secretary or pastoral staff.

Prior to the final planning session, a rough draft calendar should be created and emailed to all board members/ministry leaders. The pastor should be mindful of school, conference, and academy calendars as well to avoid conflicts. This calendar should have the sermon title, speaker, and text for each Sabbath, as well as times for church outreach/social events. Encourage people to make corrections and notes on the calendar and bring them to the meeting.

During the actual meeting food may be served while leaders go through each month, with the pastor chairing, finalizing events. Once everything is written out the information can be handed to a secretary to draft or, and this is recommended, given to someone in the church with graphic arts skills. The goal is to produce, on card stock, a document that has one side with the church logo/motto and all the Sabbaths with their corresponding sermons/speakers. On the other side a calendar of events should be displayed with pastoral/elder contact information underneath. Once completed, it should be made available to people in the lobby—ideally by January. This helps reduce communication, create an overarching flow with church events and sermons, and reduces a lot of stress as everyone knows what’s going on.

Seth Pierce is the lead pastor for the Puyallup church in Washington

Teachers and Students Smile at the Opening Bell

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Monday morning begins in the usual way at College Park Elementary School. The bell rings at 8:20 am and the huddled masses enter the building. One would think that CPES is just your typical Seventh-day Adventist Elementary school, but once inside the building you might be surprised. It’s not the layout of the school, it’s not the building structure, it’s not that we cover a different curriculum that any of our sister schools. What is unique about CPES is the connection we have with our churches and our pastors. We have four constituent churches in the area, so you would expect some pastoral involvement. People may say that pastors visiting their local Adventist school is not uncommon, but here is why our story is so unique.

Pastor Antonio Bueno of the Bowmanville Seventh-day Adventist church realized the importance of the church and the school working together. He took the initiative and met with a number of the pastors in the area. He wanted the pastors to be involved in a way like never before. The response from the pastors was overwhelming.  As a result of that first meeting, 10 pastors are now actively involved in the school. The pastoral break down is like this 6 from our constituent churches and 4 from outside of their current area. Each pastor has adopted a class and once a week a pastor comes to their class and worships with the students. Some play an instrument and sing songs; some tell stories from their childhood or share a Bible story, and still others get their students to act out Bible skits and actively participate in the worship. The interaction has built trust and a sense of community between the pastors and their classes.

The pastors are also assigned a month end assembly where they share a worship talk with the entire student body, staff and any visitors. One could say, that “This is far more than expected”, but it this not the end of the pastoral involvement. Each pastor realized that it is not just the students who need spiritual food, so on a two week rotation the 10 pastors come and worship with the staff.  The staff are ministered to by one of the pastors between 8:00 am-8:20 am five days a week.

The teachers and students agree; the pastors coming into the school has been a blessing to all. Some of the pastors have started Bible studies with specific grades and now meet once a week after school. When you think about it, the school is a mission field for teachers and pastors to introduce each student to Jesus. We are working to help all of the students find Jesus and personally choose to follow Him.  The project which started out as a pastors coming in a few times a month to worship with a class has grown into this amazing, Holy Spirit led endeavor.  God is moving in a most wonderful and powerful way. At a time when we need the Lord more than ever it’s comforting to know that God has a plan for his children.

From the start, we at College Park Elementary School have felt that the Lord’s leading. From our early beginnings on the campus of Kingsway College we know that Jesus is the Cornerstone of this institution. It only makes sense to have Him in every aspect of each and every day. Students should see Jesus in every subject, at every recess, in every face of the staff who works here. With the pastors so involved and the students so engaged, the Holy Spirit will continue to lead. I am sure that the Guardian Angels of each student and staff member must smile when the school bell rings and a new school day begins.  

Jason Perkins is the principal of College Park Elementary in Oshawa Ontario


Reprinted from the 2017 second quarter issue of CALLED

Adopting the Adventist Young People From Your Church Who Are Attending Public Schools

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In an ideal world, Adventist kids enjoy the threefold support of the Adventist home, Adventist school, and Adventist church.  In the real world, not every teenager enjoys the benefits of an Adventist education. Here are some ways pastors can step in to help fill the gap.

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