ben.wills.jpgThere’s something extremely special about getting to immediately put into practice what we learn here at Candler. After all, the contextual education emphasis at Candler was one of the main reasons that I was drawn to the school. Through Candler’s Teaching Parish program, I have been blessed with not just one, but two nurturing environments where I can learn and practice the ministry to which I feel called. In my time at Candler, I have learned just as much, if not more, an hour down the road at Pleasant Valley UMC in Monroe, Georgia, as I have in the hallowed halls of Candler’s Rita Anne Rollins Building. There are some things you just can’t learn or experience in the classroom.

Nothing in the classroom can prepare you for your first charge conference, or the eight-hour meeting needed to finalize end of year reports. The classroom can’t prepare you to mediate arguments over carpet colors, bulletin layouts, which way to serve Communion, or when to have the chicken BBQ fundraiser. On a more serious note, in the classroom, you can’t walk with a family through the process of death, grief, and learning how to do life again in their loved one’s absence. In the classroom, you can’t offer prayers of hope and healing beside a hospital bed or with the person suffering from addiction.

In the classroom, you also cannot fully encapsulate the joys of God’s work in the world. You can’t capture the joy that comes with taking part in a baptism for the first time. You can’t understand the honor of sharing the bread and wine with four generations from the same family gathered at the Lord’s Table.  The classroom can’t prepare you for the love freely given in the forms of dinners, kind words, yardwork, care packages, and smiles. It can’t prepare you for the deep conversations on the porch over a glass of sweet tea or the lifelong friendships formed. It can’t prepare you for the BIG impact a small church can make in their community and in your own heart.

The parish is a classroom all its own and I am blessed to learn all that it has to offer. As most Candler students can attest, being a master’s student isn’t always easy. Being a pastor isn’t always easy either. But being a student and a pastor can be downright hectic. In the midst of the busyness of this season of life—as many of us simultaneously write papers and sermons, read for classes and Bible studies, prep for funerals while juggling finals—I have found it is far too easy to take for granted the great privilege I’ve been given as a student-pastor.

Being a student-pastor is like a lot of good theology….it embraces both the “now” and the “yet to come.” For now, I’m in a season of preparation, learning, and even sometimes failing. Even in the midst of failures and learning, I and many other students at Candler are given the precious privilege of being lead-followers of Christ. What we do now not only serves the Kingdom of God in the present, but also prepares us for our future ministry, so that we might be even more equipped to join God’s great work in the world.

In the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the peace and the chaos, my goal has become simple: Live, Love, and Learn. This semester, my prayer for myself and for all student-pastors is that we might embrace this great privilege. I pray we are able to fully embrace this season of life that God has placed us in. I pray that Jesus might help us to fully love God, love our people, and love the community they inhabit. I pray that we might give ourselves permission to learn and even to fail, soaking in every opportunity and experience as it comes our way.

Live, Love, Learn—that’s what Teaching Parish has meant to me. That is my prayer for each of us as we continue in another great year of ministry and learning together. 

Want to learn more about Teaching Parish? Click here.