Monday, June 24, 2013

Clinical Evangelical Education (CPE for evangelical conversations)

On my short list of projects to accomplish in my 40s is to develop a program for the ELCA that is like CPE, except it is Clinical Evangelical Education. Ten weeks (400 hours) of immersive work being in evangelical conversations and writing verbatims and discussing the conversation and evangelical ministry in small supervised groups. We can call it CEE, and perhaps it can be the alternative to CPE for those called to mission and evangelism more than shepherding and chaplaincy.

For those unfamiliar with CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), it is a formative and highly immersive model for training pastors and church leaders in Christian care-giving. It is often hosted in clinical (hospital) contexts. 

Clinical Pastoral Education is an experiential education program that gives the opportunity for trainees to provide pastoral care and then to reflect on that care in consultation with peers and supervisors. Through this action-reflection model of learning, the trainees develop pastoral skill and competency. The program is very rigorous and requires commitment to 400 hours of ministry during each unit. Hours of ministry may be completed in a variety of settings. Often hospital chaplains complete four ore more units in order to be certified as chaplains.

The goal of CPE is to provide the learner the opportunity to develop pastoral competency and to foster the learner's own self-awareness as a pastoral care-giver. Tools that are used for learning are: didactics seminars, case study seminars, interpersonal relationships group seminars and individual supervision sessions.

As a Lutheran, I never had the opportunity to receive this kind of training geared towards "evangelical conversations." I cherish my CPE experience, and wouldn't trade it for anything. I learned so much about myself and about care-giving in clinical settings. 

There is just something about peer supervision, opportunities to workshop the conversations we have with each other, and I have never been in a program unit focused on the kinds of conversations I have quite regularly now as a pastor, sitting down over coffee with people who are trying to decide whether to affiliate with the church, how to reflect on new faith arising in their minds and hearts, struggling with past experiences of abusive faith communities, and more. 

I wrestle with the "how-to" of evangelism. Just like my first day in CPE, when I had to wrestle with my emotions before entering the first hospital room (I was scared out of my mind), I find certain kinds of evangelism equally frightening or nervous-making. What is it like to go door-to-door evangelizing? Should you? If you do, what kind of conversation should you host? If not door-to-door where, and how? All of these kinds of questions would be great in the CEE context.

I know I would benefit greatly from being in an action-reflection context to workshop such conversations in order to be a better and more faithful witness and evangelist. I bet a lot of people would benefit from this model.

I recently posted the CEE idea in an ELCA clergy group, and here was one response:

"The inward looking personal growth stuff of CPE was sometimes painful, always challenging and ultimately life changing. We have to be able to understand our reactions and emotions. I'm so thankful for the CPE experience. Applying the model to evangelism is genius. What are we afraid of and unsure of when it comes to mightily evangelizing?"

I have begun to look around for programs like CEE, and honestly, I have not found any. This is where you come in, dear reader. Do you know of already existing CEE programs? Is it the kind of experience from which you would benefit, either as a pastoral leader or as a ready evangelist? Is it a project worth pursuing, and if so, who will do it? Are you in?

I do know some non-Lutheran organizations have great evangelism training, like Cru and Intervarsity, and it is likely we could learn from them. But, to be somewhat blunt, I have often experienced these communities, though faithful in many ways, to have a bit more of a scientific approach to evangelism, whereas Lutherans, when they have one, have more of an artistic approach.

Having said that, one of my biggest concerns is that Lutherans have no approach to evangelism at all, or a very weak one. So even though we may differ on some particulars, we can mutually learn from each other, and I'd love to learn what kinds of programs like CEE denominations or individual churches are hosting.


  1. Anonymous7:48 PM

    Love the idea. I think there are plenty of logistical and theological challenges, such as the definition and purpose of evangelism, how do we make these conversations happen, etc. I believe it to be a worthy task, and I am happy to participate in the conversation!

  2. Great question and excellent idea!

  3. love the idea... and wondering: is there something that movements like Via de Cristo, Cursillo, Walk to Emmaus could offer to the conversation and imagining of the 'how to'? They are about the strongest Evanglistic experience I had as a common Lutheran (pre seminary for sure!).

  4. I'm one who also wouldn't trade my CPE experience! It was powerfully formative! So this is a great idea. A couple of years ago, I was talking with someone about one of the key components of community organizing--the one-on-one conversation. It really begins by attending to the relationship between two people and assumes that BOTH have a story worth tell, BOTH have a story worth hearing. It seems like this might be something that CEE could attend to--giving participants a chance to practice speaking and attentive listening.