Starting Out in Ministry: Two Essential Areas for Development
What skills do candidates for ministry already have and what are they lacking? Because these are future congregational leaders, we believe this information is critical for the work of seminaries and denominations in guiding their development. Our research at North Central Ministry Development Center sheds some light on this question.
At our center, we have developed a competency model that measures the skills and developmental needs of candidates for ministry across ten domains. We typically work with candidates for ministry at two points. Almost all denominations require a candidate assessment at the start of a person’s ministerial training (Phase I); and several denominations require a second candidate assessment after the person has received training and served a congregation for a significant period of time (Phase II). Given these two phases, we’re able to track what are the strengths and developmental needs before a person enters ministry and after an individual has served in ministry for a number of years. Surprisingly, the data appear remarkably similar at both points.
Here’s the good news. Among the ten competency areas, these two appear as well-developed skills in both brand new and experienced candidates for ministry: Relationship Building (quality of personal relationships, awareness of impact on others, empathy) and Leadership Potential (ability to both claim authority and share it). By the time candidates meet with us a second time, 78% are judged to have superior relationship building skills and 70% exhibit significant leadership potential as top strengths.
What about developmental areas? Our research suggests these two areas are highly critical: Conflict Management (ability to be both collaborative and courageous) and Self-Awareness (self-insight about strengths and limitations). And here’s the interesting thing. Both become more acute as developmental areas by Phase II after a candidate has served in ministry for a significant portion of time.
What’s happening? We believe that actual ministry experience can be an unsettling experience for many candidates, and they come to question themselves. This can be quite healthy and developmentally necessary. When we see them at Phase II, they are in the midst of reassessing their strengths and limitations, and they have come to realize the need for better conflict management skills. Our data show that over two-thirds would benefit from focused training in conflict management and over half would be helped by taking proactive steps to increase self-awareness, such as through coaching and counseling. To enhance ministry effectiveness, we believe the development of these two skills to be essential. Although some candidates for ministry may resist the idea of coaching or counseling, the research in emotional intelligence identifies self-awareness as foundational in people’s ability to manage emotions and maintain emotional well-being.
At NCMDC, we offer coaching, counseling, and intensive two-day leadership programs to assist seminarians, clergy, and others in ministry. We would welcome the opportunity to talk with you about specific ways we can help your seminarians and clergy with the development of conflict management and leadership skills, as well as the deeper work of self-awareness.