peer learning groups

Plan now for next year’s continuing education

By Laura Stephens-Reed

For many pastors, the season for conferences and classes has come to a close for 2019. (After all, it’s time to buckle down for Advent planning.) Even so, now is a good time to have continuing education on the brain because:

  • It’s budget season! If you need an increase in your continuing education budget, now is the time to ask for it.
  • Many of next year’s continuing education opportunities have begun registration already, possibly at early-bird rates.
  • You will get more out of your continuing education in 2020 if you chart it out instead of go about it ad hoc.
  • Let’s be real, you need something to look forward to as the crunch of Advent and Christmas loom large.

How, then, might you go about making a plan for your continuing education in the coming year? Consider the following:

  • What would you like to learn? Maybe there’s a skill you need to develop. Maybe you have a strength you’d like to hone further. Don’t limit yourself; perhaps you have an interest that could speak to both personal and ministry interests, such as writing. If you’re contemplating the move into a different kind of ministry role, consider opportunities that would benefit your current and your future settings.
  • Look at the church calendar and your own. Some obligations are non-negotiable, whether they are ministry-related (e.g., special church observances, attendance at certain CBF gatherings) or personal (such as a child’s graduation). Working around those, mark off prime dates for traveling. Think about how you might tag continuing education onto the front or tail end of a vacation to give yourself more hard-earned time away.
  • Remember that ministry is about relationships, and not just with those in your own congregation and community. Where might you go to meet people who are different from you or who are doing things you or your congregation would like to do?
  • Continuing education budgets vary wildly by size of congregation, ministry position, and the value a church puts on its leaders continuing growth. If cross-country travel and big conferences and D.Min. programs are out of the question for you, get creative. Lots of organizations and institutions offer low-cost or free webinars. Make a book list and plan a reading week. Contract with a coach who will customize an approach to learning that suits your goals and schedule and meet with you by phone or online.
  • Other important concerns. Maybe you’re a parent with a young child, possibly even one that is still nursing. If that’s your situation, look for kid-friendly continuing education opportunities. (There are a few out there!) Or perhaps accessibility is a concern for you. Research options that are attentive to mobility, sight, or hearing needs.

Know that there are lots of good continuing education venues available. The big ones (e.g., Festival of Homiletics) aren’t the only ones. Ask your colleagues about what they’re considering. Even use a search engine. You never know what you might find!

Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.

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