New initiative aims to make the transition from pupil to pulpit easier for Brittany McDonald-Null

COLUMBIA, Mo.— When embarking on a chosen career, the early months and years can be a whirlwind of chaos. The pressures to succeed, to fit in and to establish your own voice can take a toll. Imagine how daunting it must be for seminary graduates to begin vocational ministry, often in an unfamiliar town and in front of an unfamiliar congregation. Burnout is common, as roughly 40 percent of pastors quit ministry within the first five years.

To combat this trend, churches nationwide are beginning to consider pastoral residencies. The Serving Team at First Baptist Church in Columbia began exploring the idea of such a program in February 2015. After two years of planning and securing the necessary funding, First Baptist Church invited recent seminary graduates to apply for a two-year pastoral residency. An intensive and exhaustive interview process led them to Brittany McDonald-Null, whom the church will help transition into her pastoral career.

Brittany will be immersed in the full experience of pastoral life and practical ministry at First Baptist Church. Having spent the past eight years in the arid expanse of west Texas—she graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene in May 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a Master’s in Divinity—Brittany is enjoying the shift in scenery.

“Coming from a place where there aren’t really any trees or grass, this has been a wonderful change,” Brittany said. “First Baptist Church has been an incredibly welcoming family, and I love how I’ve already witnessed people coming together to worship ecumenically. To see children serving and women serving… it’s just not a context that I’m used to. It’s great to see equality actually represented in this church, much like the Gospels teach us.”

The plan is to give Brittany support, guidance and on-the-job experience as she learns to be a pastor. Up to 96 percent of ministers who go through a pastoral residency stay in ministry.

“I have had the good fortune of having good mentors,” says First Baptist Church pastor Carol McEntyre. “While I did not participate in a pastoral residency, I had the benefit of serving in large churches early in my ministry that had seasoned members on staff who served as mentors. These relationships were informal, but the knowledge, advice, emotional support and modeling they shared with me was transformative.”

In October 2016, First Baptist Church received an award of $25,000 from Indianapolis-based Pastoral Excellency Network to supplement their own financial investment in the pastoral residency program. It is First Baptist Church’s goal to raise funds to eventually endow the program and make a lasting impact over time.

“By mentoring young pastors, we have a chance to keep great leaders in the church,” McEntyre says. “What an incredible way to serve God by shaping those who will lead God’s church for years to come.”

Founded in 1823, First Baptist Church is a historic, vibrant community of faith located in the heart of downtown Columbia. Carol McEntyre has served as Pastor since 2012.