mhCdhr4As pastors, we are admonished to keep learning after our formal theological education ends. Are we on our own to find the money and the time for our pastoral growth? This week’s question wonders how to get congregational support for attending continuing education events.

Dear Matriarchs,

There seem to be two kinds of pastors in the world: pastors whose congregations support them to attend continuing education events and those (like me) whose congregations don’t, or won’t. Money is tight and, to them, continuing education seems like an unaffordable luxury rather than food for my ministry.

My question is: How can I lead this change in our congregation? What do you all do to get your leaders’ support for your continuing education experiences?

I look forward to your advice.

Signed,
Life-Long Learner

Our Matriarchs share your longing for learning. Thank you Karla, Martha, Jennifer and Tracy for your wisdom in on this one:  

Wow.  This is a hard one. Time for continuing education, and funding has always been negotiated as a part of my full-time calls, based on what my denomination suggests.   To be honest, there hasn’t ever been a whole lot set aside, but when I cobble con-ed and pastoral expense funding, I am able to do at least one event yearly.  Then, I usually have a little over a week left that I take for reading and retreat, even if it is at home.   I know this is definitely a lucky thing for me.    What I am wondering is if you have an annual review time, is there a way to negotiate a few hundred dollars for con-ed?   I know that it is hard to get raises in this day and age, but a tiny amount of $250-$500 might be something they could afford, especially if you showed them some research into how beneficial continuing education is—and if you can back that up from your judicatory or denomination, maybe that would help.   In my particular association (I am UCC) we are asked to report what con-ed opportunities we have participated in—it’s definitely a priority!   I have also noticed that some denominations have these great programs for young clergy (I have no idea what your situation is, I know that I don’t qualify for the young clergy bracket) and even seasoned clergy through their national office or even pension boards.  If you happen to be UCC and part of the pension/health plan, I highly recommend checking this out.  

At the least, I would negotiate time. I can not emphasize enough how much it means to my mental and spiritual health knowing that I have two weeks annually dedicated to my professional growth and grounding.   

Peace and blessings to you as you navigate this!

Rev. Karla Miller
Minister for Community Life
Old North Church Marblehead

Dear Life-Long Learner,

I hear your frustration. The first thing I learned about continuing education is that if it’s not negotiated into a covenant agreement or terms of call, it is very hard to add it later. Denominational bodies usually have recommendations, if not requirements, for continuing education time, and bringing those to the table when we negotiate the terms of our agreement is the best way to assure we will get the time and support. Depending on your denomination, you may want to consult with the Bishop, D.S., Presbytery Executive, Conference Minister, or comparable contact person, or the local/regional Committee on Ministry to learn what they recommend and ask how this has been handled in your area. 

My last interim position was half-time, and I lined out the package in a way that included Continuing Ed funds. It made no difference to the church how the dollars allotted for me were spent as long as it fell within their budget. 

To go back and add money for it, you might want to tell your finance or budget committee that opportunities for learning and professional development are important for pastors, that the denomination recommends X time and Y funds. If the amount feels shocking for their budget, perhaps it could be phased in over two fiscal years.

I didn’t take good advantage of continuing ed time or funds until I had been in ministry for a few years, but since then I have made the most of it – and it has made more of me and my ministry. Blessings to you in the attempt to make more out of less; may God open the hearts, minds, and purse-strings of your church leaders. 

Faithfully,
Martha Spong (marthaspong.com)
Executive Director, RevGalBlogPals

What a beautiful thing, that you are a life-long learner! I serve in the PC(USA), which typically requires congregations to including time and money for continuing education. Some congregations permit carrying over continuing education money from year to year to allow pastors to accrue enough money to do something a little more expensive or involved. 

If you’re trying to build a culture of supporting continuing education, it might be effective to work with those who establish the budget with a request for a reasonable amount and ask that the money can be carried over, if you wish to attend something at a distance. 

I’d also look for some offerings that were less expensive that genuinely interest you and share your enthusiasm and a sense of how participating will enhance your ministry with them. See if they’ll pay half, for starters, and offer a report, especially highlighting what you learned and its impact. Beginning to participate may allow them to ramp up gently to regular support of continuing education.

All the best to you,

Jennifer Burns Lewis
Anorientationofheart.blogspot.com

Dear Life-Long Learner,

While I have been lucky to seldom be in this position, I have know many who have been.  It’s difficult to communicate about this, particularly when everything is boiled down to dollars.

I start with the more legalistic approach, though it is not necessarily the one I might take.  In my own denomination, PCUSA, it is part of our terms of call that we have study leave time.  It is also mandated that there be money provided.  Many times, as in my current position, it is not enough, but there should be some funds.  If this is the case in your denomination, you might remind them of this covenantal obligation.  It is part of what they committed to you when they called you.

Another approach is to approach it from the professional obligation side.  Many professions are expected to keep up with current trends and changes in their field by completely continuing education each year – teachers, doctors, physicians, lawyers. It is a professional necessity so that you can keep up with current “trends” in churches and ministry. It is an “investment” in your professional development. The problem with this approach is that it reduces the purpose of continuing ed/study leave to gaining skills, which we understand is not it’s only purpose.

The theological approach is probably my personal preference.  We are the spiritual leaders.  Just as folks in the pews come to learn and worship and be refreshed and get “refilled/refueled,” so pastors need the same thing.  Study leave is not just about learning, it is about being.  Being quiet, being fed, being one who is receiving and not always giving, so to speak.  God calls us to care for ourselves, body, spirit, and mind, and study leave allows pastors to do that.

Finally, the key to this is to be open and transparent.  Keep them informed about what you will do.  A conference, a retreat?  Related to worship? Education?  Evangelism?  Offer to share some of what you learned when you return.  The more you communicate and share, the easier it will become.

Blessings as you continue to help lead this change.

Rev. Tracy Spencer-Brown
Andrews Presbyterian Church

* * * * *
Thank you, Matriarchs! Your responses are going to help a lot of RevGals add continuing education to their professional development plan. I look forward to seeing many of you at our next RevGal Big Event: The Enneagram for Women in Church Leadership: Check it out!

How about you, dear reader? What advice would you give this Rev? How have you gotten support for your own continuing education? Please comment below.

Do you want something more for your ministry and/or your congregation? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com. You will get the wise advice of our Matriarchs and all kinds of helpful input from a community of thousands of Revs. Priceless!


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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2 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Getting Support for Continuing Education

  1. When I, too, raised this question a couple of months ago, I was in negotiations with a congregation and the CE question became part of a general discussion about benefits, vacation time, and days off. It became quite unpleasant ~ it’s a hard conversation to have with people who don’t know you at all and who are unfamiliar with the standard terms of call. They came to see me as interested in myself rather than them, which tells me that we all handled it badly. But, as I told my last interim congregation when they were preparing to call a pastor, “Generosity to your pastor will come back to you a hundredfold; if she feels nurtured by you, she will extend herself in every possible way to serve you.”

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  2. It is good to meet with others but sometimes there are free on-line courses – in the UK the Open University has some. I do some for fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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