In a series of visits to pastors in 2000-01 conducted by denominational staff and board members, the following were identified as things that drain pastoral energy: negative attitudes, unhealthy exercise of power, lack of numeric and spiritual growth, apathy, unrealistic and/or unclear expectations, gender barriers in placement (difficulty for women), and ambiguity of the pastor's role.
In the midst of the questions and challenges there were also signs of health and hope. Pastors spoke of those things that energized them: renewal, energy, and hope through spiritual nurturing and personal development; preparation for and leading worship; seeing the difference their ministry makes in the lives of people; congregations taking new initiatives; ministry growing out of a sense of vision; and denominational gatherings--Annual Conference and National Youth Conference.
Information, ideas, and insights from these visits, ecumenical studies, and other sources were used as the foundation for the proposal for the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) program, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. SPE was begun by the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership in 2004. In 2008, a survey was distributed as part of the assessment process for the ongoing SPE program.
The Brethren Academy and its ministry partners, the Church of the Brethren and Bethany Theological Seminary, with input from the district executive ministers, undertook this Pastoral Study Project. Its purpose was to better understand the needs, concerns, and effectiveness of pastors. Christian Community Inc. conducted the survey, compiled the information, and analyzed the results.
Steve Clapp, director of Christian Community, Inc., stated that the study revealed:
- Overall clergy morale in the denomination is higher than reflected in previous studies.
- There are reasons to be concerned about our congregations relative to membership/attendance, hospitality, and stewardship matters.
- Clergy rate their effectiveness relatively high in preaching, worship leadership, pastoral care, and knowledge of the Bible and theology. They do not give themselves high ratings in handling conflict, stewardship, work as change agents, evangelism and church growth, or dealing with sexuality issues.
- Clergy have a close connection with their districts but do not feel as connected with church entities beyond the local level.
- The majority of pastors felt that ministry has been a blessing to their lives, but a significant minority note that it has not been a blessing to their spouses or children.
- Most rate their physical health as good or excellent, but a significant number do not exercise on a regular basis and do not have the healthiest eating habits.
- The SPE program has had a positive impact on those who participated in the two tracks (Vital Pastors and Advanced Foundations of Church Leadership) and on the denomination as a whole.
The academy, Bethany Seminary, Office of Ministry, districts, denominational agencies, and groups of pastors will review and discuss the Study Project to determine future direction and programing for addressing pastoral needs and continuing education.
Contact director Julie M. Hostetter at firstname.lastname@example.org to share feedback and suggestions as the academy continues its work to support pastors.
-- Julie M. Hostetter is director of the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership. This article first appeared in the academy's newsletter "The Scroll."
Source: 8/13/2009 Newsline