The Colleague Program is designed to aid newly ordained pastors and other salaried leaders in the ministry of the church in making the transition from theological training to public ministry.
The objectives are: To offer a structured program in which leaders entering new roles in the church:
- Experience the support of the judicatory.
- Enter the Supportive framework of a colleague group composed of a colleague leader and three or more other persons during their period of adjustment to new roles.
- Discover the value of colleague group interaction as part of a continuing support system.
- Develop early the practical knowledge that preparation for ministry is a continuing process.
- Receive help in identifying and dealing with a changed role in the church from member or student to salaried leader.
Rationale for the Colleague Program
Most persons assuming new roles in ministry enter their first call or assignment and equip themselves faithfully and creditably in that ministry. Nevertheless, most such leaders can recall, from their own early days in ministry, things it would have been helpful to know, difficulties they might have avoided, and ways of handling matters that could have made their transition into ministry more effective and less stressful.
According to two ecumenical agencies concerned with ministry, much of the stress of the early years of ministry arises from lack of clarity about one’s role. Coming to a clear understanding of their role is one of the chief tasks of persons new in ministry. Role confusion in ministry arises from three main sources: role ambiguity, role conflict, and role overload.
An unavoidable feature of the early years of ministry, role ambiguity has to do with confusion within the new minister's own perception of the role he or she should be filling in ministry. The mental picture probably mixes experience of ministry as a child with that of a growing young person, adding college and seminary experiences and stories of what others have seen in ministry-all of these models competing for place in that person's image of ministry.
Further, the role depends in part on the setting in which ministry is offered. None of the competing models exactly matches the setting into which this person is now entering. Yet there persists the unexamined assumption that one should achieve the same results as others, no matter how different the circumstances.
When all of the competing expectations of parishioners become clear, role conflict occurs. Every parishioner has a different set of priorities for the pastor or other salaried church worker. This confusion of expectations from the outside thus is added to the conflicting pressures already embedded in the new minister's mind.
The result of these competing models of ministry impinging on the church professional who not only wants to do it all, but wants to modify it to fit his or her current assignment, as well, is role overload. Clearly, no one person can do all that this combination of internal and external urgings demands.
It is probably unfair to expect those who prepare persons for ministry to prevent ministers from feeling this kind of stress. It is virtually impossible to learn how to manage the ministerial role in an academic setting. Seminary or graduate education offer an intellectual framework and an understanding of why role confusion occurs, but one cannot truly learn how to manage time and energy until one is already in the role, trying to balance the avalanche of immediate demands and expectations.
Help in managing new roles
Preparing for ministry has something in common with learning to swim. In a classroom setting one can learn some things about the principles of breathing and the variety of strokes, but one does not learn to swim until one is personally and fully immersed in the water, facing the desperate task of simultaneously staying up and making headway in that chilly, wet environment.
Similarly, certain things about ministry can be learned only after the weight of that authority has settled on one's shoulders. Internship or field work provides an introduction to the experience, but Alban Institute's Boundary Study found, working with newly ordained clergy, that there was a quantum leap between seminary internship and ordained pastor. Second-career students, too, reported that all their years as a lay volunteer in the church did not adequately prepare them for the situation they faced following ordination.
Although many clergy and laity make the unexamined assumption that at ordination (or its professional equivalent) persons are now prepared for ministry, in actual fact they have completed only the academic portion of their work. What is now required is a readiness to discover how to manage themselves in a complex and demanding role. One of the most effective ways of discovering that role is through disciplined reflection, together with others in ministry, on their day to day experiences, perplexities, and questions.
The Colleague Program is designed for use by judicatories to supply that setting for disciplined reflection as persons new in public ministry search for greater clarity about their roles. It presents an opportunity to achieve this clarity by entering into a covenant with a group of others to embark on this essential voyage of discovery in their continuing, lifelong preparation for ministry.