Transition into Ministry

The Revs. David King D’04 and Amy Grizzle D’05, like other recent seminary graduates, write and preach sermons. They teach Bible studies and other classes. They visit the sick in hospitals and homes. They perform weddings. They conduct funerals.

But unlike most of their classmates in parish ministry, they’re neither solo pastors nor associate pastors. Instead, they’re a whole new creature, one that offers great promise for transforming the way pastors are educated and prepared for ministry.

Both King and Grizzle are pastoral residents, basically post-seminary pastors who are continuing their education and training in a congregational setting, with supervision and support from lay and clergy mentors. Like medical residencies, which transition young physicians from medical school to medical practice, pastoral residencies are a bridge from seminary to the practice of pastoral ministry.

“My Duke education was second to none, but the chance to build on that and learn in a local church, to learn by doing, was very important to me,” says King. “It’s a great way to test your pastoral skills, especially worship and pastoral care. It’s a bridge that provides avenues for success to long-term ministry.”

King and Grizzle are serving residencies at Wilshire Baptist Church , a Dallas congregation with an average Sunday attendance of 1,200 to 1,400. The Rev. George Mason, senior pastor, created the program in 2002. With grant support from Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Transition into Ministry Program, coordinated by the Fund for Theological Education, the program has expanded. Wilshire Baptist is currently one of 15 congregations in the nation with the two-year pastoral residency programs.

Mason said the program offers seminary graduates a safe and supportive place to practice ministry, hone their skills, take risks, and make the inevitable mistake.

“This is a great confidence builder,” says Mason, who serves on the divinity school’s Board of Visitors. “New pastors want to be effective, but you can’t do that without practice. Unfortunately, in many churches, members have only so much forgiveness for someone just out of seminary.”

At Wilshire, members fully understand that these young pastors are literally “practicing” ministry, taking two years to grow in their craft and sharpen their edges.

Wilshire’s four pastoral residents serve a two-year rotation, spending time in every aspect of the church’s life including worship, discipleship, fellowship, witness, ministry and stewardship. Each resident is assigned a lay mentoring team of five to six congregation members who covenant to be present whenever the resident is preaching, teaching or engaged in some other public aspect of ministry. This team meets regularly to provide feedback and encouragement for the resident. Each is assigned a host family, which provides invitations to Sunday lunch, holiday dinners and a “home away from home.”

The residents work closely with the church’s pastoral staff. In addition to receiving supervision and feedback, they attend two weekly seminars, one on preaching, led by Mason, and another on pastoral theology.

“This has been one of the best experiences of my life,” says Amy Grizzle. “It has been absolutely incredible. I have been enabled, empowered and equipped to do pastoral ministry, to preach and teach and visit in the hospital. And I didn’t feel like I had to prove myself first, like many of my colleagues have to do.”

One of the best parts of the program has been working and being with the other pastoral residents. Together, the four form their own pastoral peer group.

“They are true friends and colleagues who challenge me and value me as a woman and as a minister,” she says.

Both King and Grizzle turned down job offers as pastor or associate pastor to take the two-year residencies.

“It’s been worth it,” says Grizzle. “Wilshire has given me a new vision of church and shown me what a healthy Baptist congregation can be like.”

The program has had seven residents in its four years. Of those, three have been Duke graduates. The Rev. Jake Hall D’03 completed the program last year and now pastors a church in Atlanta. Blake Kendrick D’06 will become the fourth Duke graduate when he enters the residency program in August.

— Bob Wells