Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Approaching the final year, part 2: Gather the tools

The second thing you can do to prepare for an effective season of candidacy is to assess the tools you'll need for ministry.

You're already gathering some of these tools as a part of seminary education: the know-how to do many of the tasks that will be before you is key, of course, but even more important is having a catalog and library of information to go to when you need answers. The truth is, most seminary graduates don't so much remember a lot of what they were taught as they remember which class they learned a specific idea in, and we go to the materials from that class to get the particulars for the moment. Thus, taking good notes and becoming familiar with the textbooks for the classes you're taking is important-- not just for now while you're earning the grades, but for later when you'll need to reference that material again.

Furthermore, there are other resources you'll encounter during your time in seminary. One of my classmates quipped that, "Seminary is 50% bibliography," and he was pretty right about that. The book recommendations that your professors make in an aside in class, the titles written by guest lecturers and chapel speakers, the articles you reference for exegetical papers-- all are invaluable to your future ministry. A member of my congregation recently visited my office, and he commented about the number of books I have. This particular member works in a fairly mechanical service industry, so it only took him a moment to make a connection: "These are your tools, aren't they? You've got about as many tools in your toolbox as I do."

On a more mundane level, as yourself: what other "things" will I need for ministry? Depending on factors such as what demographic you anticipate ministering to, what role you will have, etc., you may identify any of the following (or other similar things):

  • Musical equipment. Do you play guitar or another instrument as a part of your ministry? If so, do you have the equipment you would need if you were to begin work in that area of ministry today? Maybe you need to upgrade your instrument, or fortify your equipment list with amplification, microphones, a more capable mixing board or effects panel, etc.

  • Computer hardware and software. Most of us use a computer to some degree (obviously if you're reading this off my blog then you use one for that!). Do you have a computer that will serve your needs in ministry? Does it have the software installed that you will need to serve your people? Many classmates of mine assumed that their churches would buy them a new computer when they accepted a position-- and some will, for sure, but others can't afford one right away. Consider whether you need to upgrade your hardware or software in preparation for your new ministry.

  • Clothing. I think this is one of the most overlooked areas for seminarians. Take a look in your closet; now, picture your pastor or the kind of ministry worker you sense a call to become, and think of the circumstances that they might find themselves in. Could you dress for all of those occasions with what you already have? Could you lead worship on Sunday morning, or teach a Wednesday evening study, or attend a Session meeting in the context you'll minister? Would you be appropriately dressed for the funerals you will attend, the visitation you'll perform, or the day-to-day events and activities? I'm convinced that any American pastor needs to have a suit, a sportcoat or blazer, a few ties and dress shirts, and pants and shoes to match-- not matter how casual you anticipate your circumstances will be.

  • Special Pastor stuff. Does your ecclesiastical tradition use vestments such as a pulpit robe or alb, stoles, or clerical collars? Are there other accoutrements that your pastor regularly utilizes? You may not even be aware of these-- or if you are, you might not realize just how many things you will need. Begin to ask questions of the pastors and/or ministry leaders in your church about what sorts of vestments and other tools you might be gathering. You may want your own pulpit Bible, a nice copy of your denomination's hymnal, or a bound copy of your denomination's book of order. You won't know what these are until you ask.

Okay-- so the take-away here is that you probably need to spend a lot of money to get all of these tools together! But if you're like most seminarians, this is one of the most financially-strapped seasons of your life. How can you possibly get all of the things you need?

I have a few suggestions here. There are other creative ways to do it, but these have worked for me and my friends:

  • Books: look for used book sales at libraries and at your seminary; often you'll find titles for free or very inexpensively. You might also utilize used book services online or second-hand bookstores locally.

  • Clothes: I don't know what it's like in your family, but my mother still loves to give me clothes for Christmas or my birthday. If you have a family member who gives clothes, ask them if you might make specific requests (you might tell them that it will serve your future ministry-- they may like knowing they are helping you gather your tools). There are good second-hand clothing stores in many towns and cities, too-- or check with your seminary to see if they have a clothing exchange.

  • Equipment (computer and other): 90% of the musical gear that I've owned has been second-hand, and a number of computers have been, too. There are many sources for used and refurbished equipment, both online and locally. For musical equipment, you might also check with some of the larger retailers (again, both "brick-and-mortar" and online) for "scratch-and-dent sales". Many computer manufacturers offer refurbished, open-box specials, and clearance items (Apple does this, and so does Dell). These make great Christmas and birthday gifts, too-- especially if you have a similarly-minded relative who you exchange gifts with.

  • Pastor stuff: short of finding a retiring pastor who will give or sell you his stuff, finding real "bargains" on these won't be easy. I know a couple of guys with hand-me-down robes, which is a big money-saver; but finding someone who is BOTH your size and willing to part with his robe is difficult. Shopping online may turn up bargains (as compared to buying from a local retailer) on stuff like stoles and other ready-made vestments. (UPDATE: I've just found that Murphy Robes offers a "factory outlet" section on their website.)

  • All of the above: hey-- you've got a big milestone coming up, right? You'll be graduating from seminary! Some of your family or close friends may want to give you a nice graduation gift that will serve you in your ministry. (Many will do the same for your ordination, by the way.) If you get nothing else from this, then I've given you something to think about when they ask what you might want for graduation/ordination presents.

One more thing; some of this will be tax-deductible, especially if you buy it in the same year that you begin your ministry. Save your receipts and ask a tax professional which expenses will serve you an extra duty on April 15.

1 comment:

aTravelingTim said...

The other day someone started asking me about deductive vs. inductive reasoning. With that on the brain, the next day I ended up perusing the wikipedia page on syllogisms . . . big wave of nostalgia as I remembered things like undistributed middles and universal affirmatives. Logic was one of my favorite subjects. It seems you're in Tennessee these days ... hope that transition and placement are going swimmingly!
Tim Yousaf