Growing in, Exploring, the Calling to Ministry
Undergrads Taste Church Leadership Role
Last summer under the Ministry Inquiry Program and this semester as part of a “church leadership” class, pastors in Mennonite congregations are taking undergraduates under their wings, serving as mentors for these students.
The summer program involved pastors as widely dispersed as those at First Mennonite Church in Denver, Colo., and Whitestone Mennonite in Hesston, Kan. Five EMU students spent 11 weeks undertaking such church duties as preaching, helping with vacation Bible school, leading youth activities and visiting elderly members of the congregation.
“An essential part of the church’s ministry is encouraging and equipping people to discern and respond to God’s call to ministry,” said Mark Schloneger ’05, pastor at Springdale Mennonite in Waynesboro, Va. “In a congregational setting, this means providing a space for those who are exploring the call to ministry.”
A spring ‘07 program, organized by Bible and religion professor Heidi Miller Yoder, involves linking 17 students, divided into small groups, with four Harrisonburg-area church leaders.
The students are shadowing their mentors, observing them in their church settings, and meeting with them on a regular basis.
After her first meeting with four students from the church leadership class, Shalom Mennonite pastor Emily North noted that her group was all female and “they seemed curious about what it was like to be a woman in a leadership role in a Mennonite church.
“Some of them are clearly thinking about what it might mean for them to be called to be in ministry.”
That’s what happened to Brian Martin, 43, of East Earl, Pa.
As a leader in a largely entrepreneurial congregation, Martin’s sales job had taught him much. He knew how to be organized, communicate well, and keep careful accounting records.
But three years ago Martin found himself with increasing responsibility as a deacon in a 620-member Mennonite congregation. He was willing to respond to the call, but he had no pastoral ministry training.
He sought help in STEP – the Study and Training for Effective Pastoral Ministry Program – at Eastern Mennonite University’s Lancaster site.
“I wanted to continue to grow and nurture my own knowledge and understanding of pastoral ministry and I had a desire to serve the church,” said Martin.
STEP is designed for pastors and church leaders who, like Martin, do not have an undergraduate degree. Martin, a father of four who loves hunting, reading, and bike-riding, decided to move from his 20 years in sales and construction into ministry because “I was sensing a real call,” he said.
Last year Martin became the first full-time pastor in Weaverland Mennonite’s 284-year history.
'Relevant and real'
“The most valuable part of the STEP program is that what we are being taught is relevant and real in our lives,” said Martin. “I spend much of my time doing pastoral care in the congregation.”
When people are dealing with traumatic issues, “I used to go into these settings feeling like I needed to be the answer-man, even when I didn’t have any answers.
“I have learned to rest in the mystery of God working through me, even when I don’t have answers. I have learned that God is always present – it is my job to make him visible.”
The STEP program runs on a cohort model. A group of students begins together and meets one Saturday a month for nine months a year until they complete the program over three years.
“Students reach a deep level of familiarity and trust with each other,” said Mark Wenger, director of the STEP program. “They give feedback to each other’s preaching, teaching and pastoral care case studies. They disagree with each other and pray together about life experiences. The cohort model helps to turn the classroom into a learning community.”
(For another EMU program that uses the cohort model, read about the Adult Degree Completion Program.)
STEP operates in partnership between Lancaster Mennonite Conference and EMU. For more information, visit www.emu.edu/lancaster/seminary/step.
– Laura Lehman Amstutz, MDiv ‘06