A guest post by Nelson Grimm, director of field education and associate professor of applied theology
Field education provides a unique opportunity for students to develop their skills and abilities in ministry. Because of the potential for learning through doing, students need to be careful in the placement they choose. A good placement will:
Help Clarify Vocational Goals
A good placement provides opportunities for students to explore their sense of calling. Some may feel called to a particular type of ministry e.g. youth ministry, music, pastoral care provider, administration, etc. and look for very specific opportunities to ‘test the waters’ to find confirmation that this is the direction to pursue. Sometimes students complete a semester of field education and discover that the experience was not at all like what they had expected and can look in new directions without feeling guilty or that they had somehow failed. Others may want a more generalist approach and want a placement that allows them to have a wide variety of experiences. Often this approach enables them to discover new abilities and interests.
Provide Opportunities for Observation
Depending on a person’s background and experience, one of the gifts of field education is the ability to observe. Observing provides the student with some sense of what is involved in ministry without having to shoulder all the responsibility. I still shake my head in disbelief when I remember the first official board meeting I concluded in my first pastorate. I had never before even observed an official board meeting, let alone provide leadership for one! Another anxious moment was the first time I was asked to prepare for and conduct a funeral. At that point in my life I had only been to couple of funerals and never talked with anyone about what a pastor should do. A good field education placement will provide opportunities for the student to observe a wide variety of ministerial functions and to ask questions about the details of each.
Assist in Developing Leadership
While students should have the opportunity to observe, they also need the opportunity to develop leadership skills and abilities. Students are expected to function as a leader within some area of ministry. It may be a class you teach, or a small group you facilitate, or a choir you lead, or a mission trip you plan. Regardless of the area of ministry, a good placement will challenge you to grow in your abilities to plan, recruit, train, and support others around you. The challenge needs to be big enough to capture your imagination and to bring out the best within you. A good field education placement allows you to be creative and responsible while still having the safety net of capable supervision.
A guest post from Dr. Nelson Grimm, director of field education at Northeastern Seminary:
- Apply ministry principles to the context of life
I will never forget when a student told me “Field education changed my life!” The student used her field education assignment to explore ministry options and found a perfect fit. In many ways, field education is a chance for you to test-drive ministry and to gain the insight necessary to make good decisions. It is the rich and effective bridge between the understanding and analysis that occurs in the classroom and the thoughtful and appropriate application that transforms both you and those to whom you minister.
- Discover how God has gifted you
As you prepare for more effective service within God’s kingdom, the field education setting helps you ask (and answer) questions like: How has God shaped you for life? What are your abilities and strengths? What experiences have you had that have been most rewarding? What societal needs challenge your heart the most? As you are able to test various ministry contexts, you are better able to confirm your sense of fit with your anticipated vocation and to develop skills and confidence. And when this “testing” is done alongside seasoned mentors, those who understand the nuances of the individual and communal aspects of their unique ministry context, the discernment process is further strengthened.
- Do something new—or do something in a new way
Perhaps you will, for the first time in your life, work on a new program for the disenfranchised “30-somethings” population, or preach a sermon, or develop a community service ministry, or engage in visitation at a hospital. Or maybe for you, field education is not be about doing something new, but about doing something in a new way. I recall a student who had been a pastor for many years before coming to seminary. When he came to discuss his field education focus, he indicated that he had done it all, that his twenty-plus years of pastoral ministry provided him with all sorts of experiences. I agreed; he had experienced the wide range of pastoral responsibilities, so I challenged him to think of what he could do in a new way. He chose to work on his preaching and designed a rigorous program including soliciting feedback from parishioners and videotaping sermons that he reviewed later with his mentor. Within weeks, parishioners were commenting on how much his preaching had changed. He moved away from overused words and awkward mannerisms. He improved his eye contact with people and structured his sermons more simply. Whether you are very new to ministry or you bring multiple years of experience, field education provides the opportunity for exploration and growth all within your context for living.
- Build a network of colleagues and resources
As with many placement programs like field education, you establish professional and collegial relationships that you can draw from as a resource long after you’ve completed seminary. Not only can placements lead to permanent employment, but because there is a propensity to become isolated in midst of a demanding ministry, these connections can become central, serving to sustain efforts, provide perspective, and re-energize visions. Ministry collaborations and vocational learning provide ongoing enrichment.
Dr. Nelson Grimm email@example.com
Director of Field Education, Associate Professor of Applied Theology