Fifty Things I Did Not Learn in Seminary

This blog was first posted on October 15, 2007. While I learned a lot about the Bible, theology and ethics at Yale Divinity School, I received little wisdom about the more practical side of ministry. The blog was modeled after the Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s popular “50 Ways” series, which provides effective strategies for building strength in areas of ministry that are vital to church growth. While the tips in the “50 Ways” series are most helpful for pastors, they simply do not address many of the situations we encounter every day. Hence …

50 Things I Did Not Learn in Seminary

1. How to drive the fifteen passenger church van without causing it to shake and shimmy

2. How to turn on the sound system in the sanctuary when no one shows up to run it

3. How to dance liturgically without making a fool of myself

4. How to gather up enough courage to jump off a cliff into the Boundary Waters of Minnesota with our youth group (I couldn’t do it)


5. How to play basketball at church camp with all men and not get hurt

6. How to provide pastoral support for someone calling collect from the jail

7. How to respond to a male parishioner whose only comment going through the line after the worship service is, “Nice shoes!”

8. How to react when my toddler daughter escapes from the nursery on Sunday morning, runs down the aisle and jumps onto my lap in the chancel

9. How to give my son the evil eye when he’s making paper airplanes in the front pew while I’m preaching

10. How to rely on Holy Spirit power when the electrical power goes out right before worship on Pentecost/Confirmation Sunday

11. How to choose between a church board meeting and my son’s soccer game

12. How to do a children’s sermon well enough so that every question I ask doesn’t have “Jesus” for an answer

13. How to make it up to Mrs. Jones when I repeatedly call her by the wrong first name

14. How to make sure parishioners don’t notice that I’m wearing two different color shoes


15. How to deflect attention from the fact that I have a huge hole and run in my hose on Sunday morning

16. How to proceed when the grandmother of the bride collapses in the middle of the wedding service

17. How to keep a straight face when the person providing special music has no clue how to sing

18. How to respond when my own child is sent home from youth group

19. How to recover gracefully when I trip on my robe in front of five hundred people

20. How to referee a feud between two irate mothers, both of whom are blindly defending their own fighting children

21. How to resist the temptation to throw my computer in the trash when I’ve just lost Sunday’s sermon and have to start over

22. How to find any practical use for the Greek class I took in seminary

23. How to get a good night’s sleep the night before I preach

24. How to have a life outside the church

25. How to keep a promise when a woman asks me right before she dies to take care of her cat, and we already have four cats who have no intention of welcoming Muffin into their kingdom

26. How to find a good home for a fruitcake that arrives each Christmas as a gift from a parishioner


27. How to tactfully end rambling by persons making reports during worship

28. How to be in four places at one time

29. How to stay sane when I leave for church before the sun comes up and return home after the sun goes down

30. How to sit still when I’m on my ninth meeting of the day and I haven’t had dinner yet

31. How to keep the church financially afloat when, on the second, third and fourth Sundays in my first pastorate, worship is canceled because of blizzards

32. How to receive love from a congregation instead of always insisting on being the giver

33. How to smile more

34. How to hold my tongue

35. How to avoid learning how to run the church dishwasher

36. How to conquer my fear of scary elevators, especially in churches and hospitals

37. How to approach a church member for a large financial gift

38. How to read a budget report

39. How to change my style of ministry in different settings

40. How to be an agent of grace in the middle of worship wars

41. How to shoo bats out of the sanctuary

42. How to encourage a congregation to move beyond “How Great Thou Art”

43. How to hold people accountable for their behavior in a pastoral way

44. How not to make inappropriate comments when my mic is live

45. How to avoid passing parishioners in the car while driving too fast on the way to church because I’m late

46. How to ensure that I greet people at coffee hour and not unintentionally ignore others and thus hurt their feelings

47. How to politely avoid wearing earrings that a bride gave me to wear for a wedding, earrings that matched what she and the bridesmaids were wearing

48. How to get anything done when I receive a hundred emails in a day

49. How to explain the fact that my son got lost on the CROP Walk

50. How, when I don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words

Thank God for grace!


8 thoughts on “Fifty Things I Did Not Learn in Seminary

  1. This is hilarious , Laurie. Sure hope you got my words of joy about you being elected Bishop. Our Laurie as we are saying. he he. love you so much Bunny

  2. Thank you, Laurie, for being HUMAN !!! BTW……#12 – Aren’t ALL answers “JESUS”? And #21- our neighbor took his computer out to his back yard and SHOT it with a 22 rifle !!!

    Love you! Suzi

  3. As a surviver of a leap off of a West Virginia cliff, your number four may have been a very wise decision. All the way down I kept thinking is this how I want my children to remember me. Of course that was preceded by, “OH NOOOO!” My ten year old daughter greeted me with, “I can’t believe you did that.” I think she was really scolding me.
    Number 32 is difficult also, but it is one of the most unselfish characteristics Christians can share. If we all were only comfortable giving love, who would be the joyful receivers? I believe that receiving love graciously is an important facet of our faith. It truly sets the tone for future interactions.
    Laurie, Thank you for all beautiful pearls of wisdom each week!

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