Do any of these situations sound familiar, Church?
- Your seasoned pastor is beloved by the congregation. And he hasn’t attended a continuing education event or enrichment conference in decades (although he annually attends a gathering of colleagues where they relax and share what’s going on in their lives.)
- Your new pastor is an impressive young leader. And she scoffs at the idea of getting a coach/spiritual director/mentor because it feels patronizing and she wants to prove herself as Ready to Pastor as a new seminary graduate.
- Your pastor is stuck and six years from retirement. Sermons are lackluster. Leadership feels phoned in. Members quietly quit. You wonder to yourself what the future holds if things continue to feel so uninspiring.
I’ve written many times about how all pastors (and humans?) need a team of supporters who keep us honest and fresh. And some nod and agree while not taking any action.
Preachers (even the great ones): when was the last time you took a preaching class?
Teachers (even the experienced ones): when was the last time you learned creative ways to teach the Bible?
Pastoral caregivers (even the gifted ones): when was the last time someone assessed your bedside manner?
Administrators (yes, you have to do some of this too, pastors): have you simply given up or are you willing to improve your organizational chops?
We who work with pastors and congregations require certain things. In my Presbytery, we require annual statistical reports from the elders. We consider two weeks of continuing education to be the minimum offered to all clergy. We require all pastors to take both Anti-Racism Training and Healthy Boundaries Training every three years – and if they don’t they find themselves not in “good standing” (i.e. clergy timeout.)
But we don’t require our pastors to have a mentor or ever take continuing education. And – siblings in Christ – it shows.
According to this month’s Harvard Business Review “New research finds that mentorship programs can indeed produce valuable gains—for employees and their firms—but only when they are mandatory. That’s because if mentoring is optional, the people most in need of it tend to decline the opportunity.“
All of us get bogged down in the minutia of ministry. The emails overwhelm us. The zoom meetings may or may not be necessary. Our daily plans are disrupted by drop-in visits or unexpected crises or family needs. And yet creative juices don’t flow by themselves. We need sparks, improv, jolts and nudges. We need stare-into-space time.
This discipline is at least as essential as prayer, healthy food and exercise.
Beloved clergy colleagues: please believe me when I say you need feedback. All of us need someone who loves us to say, “You seem to be unhappy/distracted/unfulfilled/done with this.” And we need to listen.
It’s a mature spiritual leader who knows when to seek renewal, training, and enrichment. If you don’t want to do it for yourselves, do it for the people God loves.