What is the long-term value of learning goals for ministry?
This week’s episode of Three Minute Ministry Mentor considers how learning goals can help us bring the fears that may hinder our learning into the light of day. Big goals can be scary, but they don’t need to be paralyzing.
Let me tell you about my first formal ministry learning goals.
Doris Borchert. She was my first field education professor in seminary. And she insisted that one of my learning goals in my very first field education be related to spiritual formation. Or at least that’s the way I remember it. Whether she insisted, or I decided to make spiritual formation one of my goals, either way it made a lasting change in my life and my practice of ministry.
In the spring of my first year of seminary, I took the class required of all new students called spiritual formation. My professor for that class was Dan Aleshire. Lucky, right? He asked us to read Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. I was intrigued and enthusiastic to read about 12 spiritual practices for individuals and communities of faith.
I tried to make meditation my practice. I sat in the floor of my crowded office in my apartment in East Louisville. I tried staring out the window into the azul of the early morning sky. I tried closing my eyes. I tried sitting cross-legged. I tried keeping my back straight.
It turned out I could do none of these things for any longer than about seven minutes. My hips hurt. My back hurt. My neck hurt. Everything seem to burn in misery.
I was not ready for the practice. I can look back now, and know for sure. At the time, I was just sad at my ineptitude. Critical of my inability to do something that seemed so simple. With compassion I can see now that I didn’t have a community of practice, and I didn’t have a lot of instruction.
As the spring semester came to an end and I was preparing myself for a summer of field education, I needed a spiritual formation goal. Clearly it was not going to be meditation. (That came later, and you can read about it here.)
Instead I chose journaling. I committed myself to writing in my journal every day while on my field ed assignment. It was a spiritual discipline, so in the prayer journal, I could write things that happened, feelings, letters to God, questions, doubts, and anything happening in my field education, especially the new things I was learning.
I also committed myself to do a “journal review.” The purpose of the review was to assess how I was doing, what I had learned, and how I was growing. Because I made it part of my field ed requirements, the accountability was built in enough to help me reach my stated goals.
I was more ready for the practice of journaling, because I was already a writer. That summer I published my first article for a church-related magazine. And I was also already a diary keeper from my childhood and youth. This was a spiritual practice that I was called to and ready to receive.
Journaling itself, if done consistently, has its own positive results. Especially if one takes time to review what has been written. We can begin to see the patterns of our lives, the consistent doubts and questions, and the stories that shape us.
Learning ministry and learning a spiritual practice are very similar. They both need a sense of how they are learned through experience and over time. Neither practice simply arrives in our lives fully formed.
I learned a lot about myself that summer. And part of the reason I can say so with confidence… is that I have a written record.
Thus began a very long spiritual practice of journaling. Even the first draft of this blog began with a handwritten entry in my journal. It all started with a book and a learning goal. And two teachers with the wisdom to assign that book, and to insist on learning goals. I am fortunate that I received their wisdom, insight and sense that the practice of ministry also needs to include attending to spiritual formation.
I am grateful.
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