A Syllabus for the First Five Years

In the summer of 2023 the MRC sent a survey out to its mentoring community regarding the first five years of ministry. The results of this survey showed that there are common areas for growth and learning during the early pivotal period of ministry. Friendship, spiritual direction, understanding finances, personal and professional boundaries, mental health, and leadership are all areas that participants identified for growth. In the way that seminary courses often provide syllabi for different classes and subjects, the MRC considered how it might offer a similar syllabus for the first five years of ministry.

In order to respond to this need, the MRC collaborated with Katie Selby (ECS MDiv, 2012) and Christopher Smith at the Englewood Review of Books (ERB) to provide a list of resources about several of the crucial topics identified in the survey. Below you will find a list of books and more that offer a starting point for studying these themes. These resources address issues of importance for ministers at any stage of their career, but were curated with special attention to those starting out.


Friendships play a vital role in our ability to find joy and be authentic in ministry. Intentionally connecting with mentors, church members, and peers is vital to thriving in ministry.

Deepest Belonging by Kara Root 

The communal practice of a monthly Sabbath with the whole church and coming alongside a church member who was dying helped pastor Kara Root form deeper relationships in the church. 

Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors by Marian Wright Edelman

Edelman’s collection of mentoring stories from parents, teachers, friends, children, and scholars demonstrates how mentoring does not move in one direction and we owe our growth to a diverse set of mentors.

Conversation guides to deepen friendships: 

Pastoral Imagination: Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life by Eileen R. Campbell Reed. 

9 Conversations to Have With a Mentor About Pastoral Identity

This conversational guide follows along with Who God Says You Are: A Christian Understanding to Identity by Klyne Snodgrass.

5 Cups of Coffee by Rev. Ashlee Alley.

This is a simple guide for spiritual conversations that can be used in a mentoring. 

Conversation Guide for Closing a Mentoring Relationship

This one page exercise is to help you and your mentor honor the time shared and reflect on the impact of the mentoring relationship regardless of length. 


Caring for yourself means finding practices to help you take a step back, reevaluate boundaries, and practice better discernment.

ERB Mental Health Reading Guide

This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley

Riley’s humanity is both relatable and poetic– and echoes the resurrection of Jesus. ERB Feature Review

The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices by Casper Ter Kuile

Casper helps us connect moments of transcendence with our everyday practices, demonstrating how rituals shape and form our imagination. 

Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris.

Often called the “afternoon demon,” acedia is how Christian tradition has long recognized “restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair” that we struggle with today. Norris helps us see the difference between spiritual slothfulness and depression.


Learning how to make decisions, set goals, and conflict well with others helps you lead with humility and in collaboration with others.

Leadership, God’s Agency & Disruptions by Mark Lau Branson & Alan Roxburgh

Branson and Roxburgh review leadership styles and practices, holding that God is still the main agent, capable of disrupting the systems and our “best practices.” ERB Review

Churches and the Crisis of Decline by Andrew Root

ERB list of Roots books: Root’s research offers a healthy theological perspective on how the church can follow the Spirit and not just look to always innovate. Root was the speaker for the 2023 Ross-Smith Lectures at Emmanuel Christian Seminary. You can find these lectures here on Emmanuel’s YouTube channel.

How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going by Susan Beaumont

Beaumont offers practical advice and steps for leaders working in liminal spaces of transition or crisis. 

Creating Cultures of Belonging: Cultivating Organizations Where Women and Men Thrive by Beth Birmingahm and Eeva Sallinen Simard

Creating a culture where both men and women can thrive means incorporating policies and guidelines that allow for a diverse staff. Birmingham and Simard center new policies for churches and Christian non-profits in the belief that we all bear the image of God. 

Introduction to Christian Ethics: Conflict, Faith, and Human Life by Ellen Ott Marshall

Marshall offers wisdom on how to engage conflict from a grounded posture of humility and grace. Marshall was the speaker for 2021 Ross-Smith Lecture Series in Pastoral Care at Emmanuel Christian Seminary. You can find her lectures here on Emmanuel’s YouTube channel.

The Vulnerable Pastor by Mandy Smith

ERB Interview with Smith

Resources about Women Leading in Ministry:

All My Knotted-Up Life by Beth Moore 

Moore narrates her journey that began thoroughly-Baptist, and guides us with grace and vulnerability through her own questioning and struggle as a woman in the church. 

Women Who Do: Female Disciples in the Gospels by Holly Carey 

MRC Book Review


Connecting our own ongoing discipleship with an authentic faith that aligns with our values is an important part to thriving in ministry.

12 Books on Sabbath from the ERB

You are What You Love by James K. Smith  ERB Feature Review

Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird

Laird offers us a way to step out of a formula and find an entry into quieting our mind and healing our wounds through prayer. 

Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church by Barbara Holmes

Holmes roots contemplative practices with the African church and provides us all with an understanding of how silence and prayer can happen in church and is communal. 

God’s Voice Within by Mark Thibodeaux. 

A wonderful introduction to Ignatian prayer practices and vocational discernment. 

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans. 

Evans offers a fresh perspective on how to read scripture and teach from the Bible in a way that draws ourselves closer to trusting God’s word. 


Being a faithful steward of our finances and a helpful collaborator on church budgets allows us to flourish in ministry.

Two website resources to help you navigate personal finances and savings with retirement:

Ministry and Money by Janet and Philip Jamieson

The Jamiesons offer a helpful guide to understanding church finances from their years of working with churches and teaching seminarians.

Money and Possessions Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church by Walter Brueggemann

When it comes to money, the first job of a preacher is to help people understand that money can be a useful servant, but it is a dangerous master. Brueggeman offers a helpful summary of what scripture teaches about money.