A tapestry made from the pairing of Seminary and mentoring

Transition into Ministry Program

The Rev. Bill Gepford, pastor at Fremont First UMC in Nebraska, shares about the tools learned in Seminary and how those tools are shaped by an experienced mentor.

Seminary gave me a lot of tools.  But it took experience under a mentor pastor to start using the right tool at the right time.
Seminary gave me a lot of tools. 
I spent a semester on preaching, a semester on leadership, a semester on ecological healing and holistic evangelism (yes, that was a class), and a semester on the minor prophets - actually, I took four classes a semester for four years, so I took quite a bit more than that. 

  • I learned about the archeology of ancient and modern Palestine during an immersion to the Holy Land over Christmas of 2010. 
  • I learned to tear apart a Biblical text so that it might yield nourishment for my own soul, and those of my people. 
  • I learned about our Church doctrine and polity - which made watching general conference both more interesting, and more terrifying
  • I learned about self-care and was forced to walk a prayer labyrinth until something happened (spoilers: what I learned was that Prayer Labyrinths work best for other people). 
  • I learned different preaching
I learned more tools than I knew what to do with.
And that was the problem.  What do you do upon arriving at a new appointment?
  • Launch into a 6-month demographic exegesis of the congregation?
  • Start a sermon series on the minor prophets?
  • Take the advice of the first person who shows up bearing fruitcake?
  • Plant a garden for creation care?
  • Expound my Credo - a 30-page summary of my understanding of the Christian faith?
Seminary prepared me - roughly equally - for all of those.  It was my TiM mentor Pastor who helped me navigate those waters. 
It was Jim who pointed out that we should probably preach on Jesus roughly 10 times as often as we preach on Amos.  It's great that I learned some really intricate background details about 8th Century Israel...but my people were struggling just to keep their heads up in 21st Century America. 
It was Jim who modeled selfless, faithful leadership.  He knew he couldn't pour into others unless he was growing and resting himself.  He lived it, and I learned it far better than I could from any book. 
It was Jim who taught me where to put my energy - that if we don't set our own plans, they will be set for us, in ways that aren't best for us - and often do a disservice to those who need us most.  In other words, Jim taught me that sometimes you have to say No to people who don't believe you have the right to do that. 
I still write all of my sermons from the same desk that Jim gave me; he was staring down retirement, and it was time to start downsizing.  I have this beautiful desk in my home office, as a reminder of the decades of wisdom and care that he brought - and the two years he spent pouring into an over-caffeinated yet unrefined young pastor. 
I’m grateful for my Seminary education, and all the tools it brought.  But I’m equally grateful for the wise mentoring offered through the TiM program, which taught me when I should use those tools.