I’ve been pastoring full-time for almost 15 years and every day I am still struck by the beauty and complexity of journeying alongside people in the ups and downs of real life. I never set out to be in ministry; my master’s degree is in management and organizational development, and if you would have asked me 20 years ago what my vocation would “pastor” would be the last thing I would have said. Yet, it’s been a wonderful ride, and I am thankful for a vocation that deeply resonates with my heart and soul.

I personally believe there are lots of ways to pastor and that whether people have the title or role in any kind of organized group or not makes no difference. Pastoring is a gift, not a position.

What is sad to me, though, is how often seminary training teaches a lot of things that leaders really don’t need to know and misses the things we do. Each and every week I joke about wild and wacky things we do in the trenches of life at The Refuge and say, “Yep, #thingstheydontteachyouinseminary.”

This past summer the interns from a local ministry to young people who live outside came to hang out at The Refuge to learn a little. This is what I shared with them—Things They Don’t Teach You in Seminary That You Really Need to Know.

We expanded on it in person, but here’s the basic framework we processed together:

1/ Vulnerability is everything. This is probably one of the most fundamental things that gets missed in traditional training.  The lack of focus on deep relational health, the lay-clergy divide, the “I can’t share my real feelings with my congregation,” the “I need to keep it together for them” messages miss what is most important for a life in the kingdom of God—our humanness.

2/ The 12 steps aren’t just for alcoholics and addicts. For me, the 12 steps are a framework for healthy living that are often dismissed by churches because they don’t sound scriptural enough. Nothing could be further from the truth; they are a path of humility, spiritual transformation, and healing that change lives, families, and groups. If every ministry leader were a part of 12 step recovery our churches and organizations would be radically different.

3/ The basic skill of friendship. Oh, it makes me so sad how few people are taught the basic skill of friendship, especially across genders. Yes, it’s vulnerable and scary. Yes, we will stumble and bumble, but goodness gracious, Christians need to get better at the basic skill of long-term equal friendship, men with men, women with women, men with women.

4/ The difference between “To”, “For”, and “With.” These three prepositions matter; most everything in the world is built upon “To” and “For” relationships, where we do things to people (which is patriarchal and creates oppression) or for people (which is matriarchal and creates codependence). With relationships, where no one is above or below another, is incarnational and creates true transformation. It seems overly simple but it’s difficult to do, especially in a world that primarily teaches us to be over or under others.

5/ Sexism and racism and classism are embedded into almost everything we’ve learned and seen, and it’s our job to change that (which might mean losing our jobs). As leaders and cultivators of change, we must recognize the deep grooves of sexism, racism, and classism and do what we can to change them. This usually involves sacrifice, rocking the boat, upsetting the status quo, sometimes losing our jobs.

6/ Typical measures just won’t work when it comes to people, real life, and kingdom transformation. We will look like losers, and that’s a good thing.  Measures like budgets, buildings, and butts in seats aren’t measures in the kingdom of God. Man mucked all that up and it has left so many leaders feeling lonely and ashamed instead of able to celebrate.

7/ There are a lot of “worldly” agencies that know a helluva lot more than we do; make friends with them and let them be our teachers. Local domestic violence shelters, Health and Human Services, school counselors and teachers are just a few. Folks from these organizations know much more than the church does about real people’s needs, yet we often think we are the ones who have a leg up. One of the most important things we can do is learn how to learn from them and practice collaborating, supporting, submitting.

8/ Every situation is unique. There are no formulas. You will end up doing things you said you’d never do (that’s a good sign). When I hear about blanket rules and particular boundaries I immediately bristle. Each and every situation is unique and we have got to learn how to adapt to each particular situation, be willing to do what’s needed, and sometimes sacrifice some of what we think is “right” for the sake of someone else.

9/ People need more than Jesus. Belief in Jesus is nothing to be mocked, but it doesn’t necessarily pay the rent or buy groceries or make us learn how to handle conflict better. Helping people learn life skills and journeying far beyond head knowledge about God is desperately needed!

10/ Self-care is not selfish, and leaders need more than Jesus, too. There is so much misperception about self-care. It’s much more than candles and massages. It’s about pacing ourselves, resting, taking good care of our souls. Whether we live in the privileged suburbs or in the slums of India, we must learn how to take good care of ourselves or we will not last. We will burn-out and blow up our families, our passions, the good. Self-care is more than retreats with God now and then for spiritual refreshment; it’s about pacing, boundaries, safe spaces to process, and tangible support.

There are so many other ones to add to this list, but this was a starting point.

What would you add?


Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

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