27 June 2008

On the downslope.

Hard to believe, but I (along with many classmates in other churches) am already on the downslope of my field ed summer. Last Sunday marked the midpoint of my ten-week term in Indianapolis. After this Sunday, I will only have four full weeks remaining.

My experiences this summer can be divided into learning by doing and learning by observing. I recall the summer I spent in Chicago during college, working with community organizers at The Resurrection Project; that was mostly learning by observation. By contrast, my summer running a free lunch program for kids at Wesley UMC in Norfolk, VA was entirely learning by doing. This summer has been a mixed bag, which I think is great.

The most exciting thing I have done/will be doing is a reasonable amount of preaching and teaching. There was the junior high VBS class and last week's children's message. I'll be doing the children's message again this week, and potentially in future weeks. I will only get to preach once, on July 20; I'll post that sermon once I've delivered it. The thing I am most excited about is the four-week 'Bible 101' adult Sunday School class that I am starting this Sunday. The idea is to provide an opportunity for folks with less familiarity with the Bible to get 'back to basics' in an environment where they don't have to worry about being the one who asks a stupid question. The first week's topic is "Where Did the Bible Come From?" I may do a brief summary post after each class; we'll see.

On the other hand, there is a lot that I've learned by observation. The biggest thing I would put in this category is what I've learned by watching my senior pastor navigate group settings and contentious meetings. What jumps out at me is what he doesn't say. I cannot recount to you the number of occasions where, if I were running a given meeting, I think that I would've interrupted the group conversation to say something. "What I think X means to say is this..." "That's a well-made point, but unfortunately, it is not at all Christian." "Here's what we're going to do, and I will tell you why." He doesn't say those kinds of things. I have strong impulses to correct people and to ensure the efficient progress of group discussions. I thought the pastor was able to restrain those impulses, but it turns out he doesn't really have them. We had a really fruitful conversation this week about how he has found that by observing several minimal guidelines (e.g. don't let anyone malign another person), he is able to let such conversations run their course and reach a more productive outcome than if he were simply to tell people what to think from the get-go. In short, I'm learning something about leadership from him.

The main area where I haven't been able to learn as much as I'd hoped is pastoral care. Because of the confidential nature of pastoral care, and the requisite levels of comfort and relationship, I just haven't had many opportunities to observe my colleagues in action. That's too bad, because this is also the part of ministry that is most foreign to my experience. I have a few plans that should help me gain some more exposure over the next four weeks, but if I am serious about learning pastoral care by doing, it seems pretty clear that I may have to do a CPE internship at some point.

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