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.