MLCI Blog

Designate a Day

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Carolyn Reed 211x300 Designate a Day

Carolyn

Clergy Health and Well-being: Designate a Day

–by Carolyn Reed, Associate Regional Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indiana
Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, M.Div., 1984

It seems so simple that it is silly to suggest. And yet, I know many ministers who do not regularly claim a “day off.”

I designated Fridays as my day off very early in my ministry. I don’t really recall why it was Friday. It just seemed like a good day for me. Mondays were spent catching up from Sundays and days in the middle of the week just didn’t feel “off” to me. So, I settled on Fridays. I have done this for the last thirty years in each of my ministry settings.

When serving as a congregational pastor, I knew I needed a day designated for time away from the work of ministry. Ministry is tiring—emotionally and spiritually. It is also demanding—of time and energy. As an introvert, I also need “down time” to just be by myself and refresh.

To be truthful, in some ways, I found this easier to do when I was serving a congregation and was also a mom of two young boys. Before they were in school, it meant a day spent just with them and when they didn’t have to go to daycare. It was easy to justify the time. Hey, I was a mom spending time with my sons.

As the boys got older, I used Fridays as a time to catch up on grocery shopping and other errands that were more easily accomplished alone. And, I enjoyed the time doing something that felt normal—just like other people!

Since my sons have become young adults and on their own, and I have moved into denominational work, I still have chosen Friday as my day to just have for myself. Being married to an educator has meant that I would have Fridays (except during the summers!) to myself. Husband at work and children not at home. Hours of quiet. Or doing things I just like doing by myself (still my preferred mode of grocery shopping!).

Here is what I have discovered: Having Fridays as my day away from ministry (at least most of the time) has given my life rhythm. Thursday nights are more relaxing for me because I know I will have the next day as my own. This rhythm has likely kept me sane in the midst of overwhelming demands on my time, emotions and energy. Ministry is challenging. We listen to and often take on the burdens and pain of others. We need space to refuel ourselves so we can get back at it.

The break, the pause, the recess is what keeps me going and keeps me able to function in as healthy ways as possible. It provides perspective.

And perhaps, a day off is a reminder that we are not superheroes after all, that we need and deserve a space that is our own, where we are not addressing the needs and desires of others. That fast-food chain’s slogan used to be “You deserve a break today.” You do. Give yourself the gift of day off. I do.

Running to Renew

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Kory 214x300 Running to Renew

Kory

Clergy Health and Well-being: Running to Renew
by Kory Wilcoxson, M. Div., Christian Theological Seminary, 2001, Senior Minister, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington, KY

I remember the first step. It was a slow, stuttering one, but a step nonetheless. I had been walking on our treadmill everyday for about six months as a way of getting exercise that was a bit more rigorous than typing sermons.

On this particular day, as a way of fighting the intense boredom of walking in place and getting nowhere, I remember thinking, “I wonder what would happen if I ran?” So I kicked the treadmill up to brisker pace and began running. After about a quarter-mile, I shut down the treadmill and stumbled upstairs, thinking, “Well, I’ll never do THAT again!” When my wife saw me, she had already dialed 9 and 1 before I could tell her that I was going to be OK.

I concluded that running on the treadmill was about as exciting as walking, only more pointless and painful.

But the next time I was on the treadmill, I did it again. This time, I ran a half-mile. After a few more times of that, I built up to a full mile. I felt like I’d just run a marathon! Once the winter weather cleared, I moved my running regimen outside and discovered that running wasn’t as boring as I thought it was. I could take in the local scenery, listen to music and podcasts, and even start mentally outlining my next sermon.

As I continued running, I found that it offered much more than exercise and distraction. It became a discipline. This was a revelation for me because I’ve always struggled with this part of my faith. From seminary forward, I’ve been told that a vibrant spiritual life consists of things like sitting quietly or praying internally or even – gasp! – spending time in silence. No can do. I’m an extrovert and my spirituality is lived out, not kept in. I am fed through dialogue and conversation, praying with others and faith in action.

Running became a natural spiritual activity for me. Not only was I getting exercise and de-stressing, I was discovering within myself a capacity for focus and conversation with God that I had always struggled to attain through more traditional disciplines. I was, as Paul exhorted, running the race that was set before me (Heb. 12), and I was discovering new ways to connect with God: through the beauty of the creation around me, through a renewed focus on the rhythms of my own body, and through an internal dialogue that, ironically, I could never hear when I was being still.

Being a goal-oriented person, I was also tapping into a new source of energy. As my runs grew longer, my overall energy for work grew stronger. I was more motivated to tackle ministry tasks, knowing that a good run was waiting for me at the end of the day. I figured if I could survive a three-mile run, I could handle a sermon on one of Paul’s thornier theological statements.

The race I was running in ministry and the race I was running on the road began to meld together, and an accomplishment in one race was fuel for the other.

I use an app on my iPhone to track my runs, which helps me measure my progress. I can look back and see the first time I ran five miles (January 6, 2012) and the point at which I passed the 1000-mile mark on this running endeavor (on my 295th run). Just as my spiritual journey is marked with significant benchmarks, so is my running journey.

Last week, I ran my first half-marathon. If you had told me three years ago that I was going to do that, I would have laughed. But if you had told me in college that I was going to be a minister, I would have had the same reaction.

Isn’t this gift called life such an amazing journey? Who knows where God is calling us to go? Wherever it is, I know this: it starts with a single step. Have you taken yours?

 

That Which Gives Life

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Brown Pic That Which Gives Life

Julie

Clergy Health and Well-being: That Which Gives Life
by Julie Richardson Brown, LTS Advancement Associate, M. Div., LTS, 2002

“Even Jesus, Julie, went up and away to the mountain to pray.”

She said it to me often during my first 5-10 years of ministry. Well-versed in scripture, she knew both the truth of the statement and how difficult it was for me to pay attention to that truth. I was, then, it seems, set on outdoing even the Energizer bunny.

But even Energizer batteries eventually wear out. It might take longer than any other battery on the market, but they do. And when that happens, you need either new batteries or a really good charger. Either way, what’s true for those Energizer batteries is true for us—for clergy—and we far too often neglect what’s true.

We cannot offer the life of love that God created us for, and that Jesus invited us into, without our own lives first being filled. And while there are many parts of ministry that are life-draining, there are also many that are life-giving. Sometimes getting a boost is as simple as spending your workday doing that which is life-giving.

What makes your heart sing? On the days when you feel like maybe it’s all for naught, do that one thing until you remember the melodies that led you to this call in the first place.

Sometimes, though, it’s okay—and even necessary—to walk away for a while. To spend some time doing things not directly related to your work so that you can keep doing the work. Sometimes you have to retreat—in whatever form that makes sense to you—so that you can return refreshed.

I know. I know how hard it is to walk away. I know how it can feel like the salvation of the entire world is resting on your shoulders. I know how difficult it can be to separate yourself from the cries of need. I know.

But y’all? We’re kidding ourselves if we think we really can’t be done without. Because we can. And what’s more, sometimes we need others to do without us so that we can all move forward together again one day.

This summer I’ve asked five Disciples pastors to reflect on how it is that they find life again, how it is that they reboot, recharge, and renew. They are involved in varying ministry contexts and have been at it a while—all of them. And they are still at it, engaged in vibrant ministries and ticking and thriving. I look forward to what they’ll have to say. And I invite you to check back every week or so, to learn from their reflections.

Blessings–now go do something that brings you life!

Mentors, Part 6

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being.

Kimberly Proctor White 199x300 Mentors, Part 6

Kimberley

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, 6
by Rev. Kimberley Proctor-White, M. Div., Lexington Theological Seminary, 2011

When I think of the word “mentor,” I think of someone who has the ability to teach people how to carry out certain gifts, talents, and potential that lie within them.

While the Bible does not use the word “mentor,” there are examples of how someone invested time, knowledge, and wisdom into another person in order for him/her to become all that God created him/her to be. As part of my testimony, I often share how I was raised in a very reserved church, in which women were taught how to be good wives, Sunday school teachers, and missionaries.  I cannot recall hearing that I could be anything besides those three things when it came to ministry. That was a man’s job, and I was to become like Eve was to Adam, a good helpmate to my husband.

But somewhere along the way, I felt like God was calling me to ministry.

Because of my background, I needed a lot of reassurance and confirmation to take this huge leap of faith. While watching TV one day, that confirmation came from a woman named Paula White, who is the pastor of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, FL. While Pastor Paula and I have never met, I have watched her TV ministry, attended her conferences, and truly consider her to be the first female to be a great influence for me in ministry. Not only is she a dynamic preacher and teacher, but she has helped me to realize how some areas in my life were so fragmented that it hindered me from moving forward in my God-given potential.

I mean, how could God use me when I did not feel worthy or confident enough to inspire anyone?

Pastor Paula taught me that everything I have experienced in life, good or bad, has a purpose.  People need to see that ministers are human and far from perfect. Because of her, I can share my tragedies and triumphs with confidence and boldness in ways that can save lives.

While in seminary, I really appreciated the love, support, and care that I received as a student minister at East Second Street Christian Church in Lexington, Ky. I was grateful for the leadership and laid-back personality of the Rev. Dr. Don Gillett. I always tease Pastor Gillett that I want to be like him when I grow up! He wears a lot of hats, yet he always made time to sit with me and allow me to just vent about the stresses of school, work, ministry, or whatever other difficulties I was facing. Not only would he provide great insight, but he knew how to lighten the mood with his big personality, contagious laugh, and his overall love for God and for God’s people. I was grateful for the example that he set, and for his support whenever I preached, led worship, taught the children, etc. Even after I graduated and moved away, we kept in touch. Because of him, I am reminded to always be myself, to remain humble, and that God will continue to be faithful to provide the support and encouragement I need to reach my goals.

And finally, I appreciate the ministry of Minister Damien Durr, who is the youth and young adult minister in our church. He truly understands what it means to meet people where they are. From him, I continue to learn that there are people who need God in such a strong way that they are not interested in debates or big theological words, or whether I have a degree at all. In other words, using my life experiences, I can do some things in ministry that textbooks could never teach me. I ask myself, “What can I do or say to keep someone from jumping off the ledge–literally or figuratively?” Minister Durr understands that we are living in a world in which people are not looking for complicated access to God, and those in leadership have a responsibility to lead the people to an authentic relationship with God.

As I continue to strive to become who God created me to be, I constantly reflect on the mentors I have had and their continual influence. I know that with God’s help, I can continue to be an extension of Christ’s hands and feet, and be a beacon of light and hope for every person on the path to self-discovery.

Mentors, Part 5: Wisdom Bearer Extraordinaire

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being.

Wayne Bell sm 240x300 Mentors, Part 5: Wisdom Bearer Extraordinaire

Dr. Wayne Bell

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 5: Wisdom Bearer Extraordinaire
by the Rev. Joanne VerBurg, retired Disciples pastor and LTS alum

It was 1974. It had been less than two years since we first said hello, yet the time had come to say goodbye.

I stood in the doorway of his office gazing at a man of grand stature, Dr. Wayne H. Bell.  After completing 14 years as Sr. Minister of Vine Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville, TN, Wayne was called to be the President of Lexington Theological Seminary. I couldn’t have been prouder, but was quick to let him know that I was already secretly plotting to somehow get even with him for leaving me so soon after I began serving Vine Street as the Minister of Education.

(I succeeded in “getting even” by enrolling at LTS a few years after he became President!)

I was new to ministry and new to the Disciples of Christ, and in our brief time together he had become my touchstone for any and all aspects of ministry. While confident in what I had learned and experienced about church programming from my educational pursuits, I quickly discovered that I had so much more to learn about ministry.

I knew from the first hello that he was going to be the best mentor in ministry anyone could ever have.

Wayne taught me about the importance of being “fully” prepared for any task in ministry. Right down to the most minute detail, he offered practical advice like remembering to look where you are about to sit, lest you sit down on a box of pencils and call too much attention to yourself!  Or make sure the words to the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution are taped to the back of the cross, knowing that the most familiar of words during Communion can escape your memory at any given moment. He was also quick to add how it isn’t necessary to know everything about the building, i.e. setting thermostats, how to fill the baptistery, how to run the dishwasher, etc.  When you know how to do these things other people let you do them!

It’s a huge understatement when I say I have learned so much by his example.

Wayne was, and continues to be, a wisdom-bearer, bearing witness to his love of God, his belief in Jesus the Christ and faithfulness to his teachings, and his commitment to the Disciples of Christ and its quest for not only Christian unity but for finding common ground within other faith traditions. Very much on the frontline of social justice issues, Wayne was found at the heart of the civil rights movement within the community, leading the congregation through those turbulent years, guided by faith, arriving at the understanding and belief that ALL people are welcome at the Table.

Early in my ministry I sought his wise counsel, something I continue to do to this very day.

Once I asked, “How does one discern when it’s time to leave a particular place of ministry?” He began by emphasizing the importance of first seeking God in prayer and meditation.  I then reminded him that I was one who looks for signs, physically or otherwise, and he indulged me.  “If you can get up most mornings, excited about some aspect of your ministry, then there is still work to be done there.  When you begin to lose that momentum, that excitement, perhaps the time had come to update your profile.  Regardless of whatever sign you receive, deep down, you WILL know…you will know….”

Another time, as I was weighing the pros and cons of long-term ministry, already being 12+ years in a former new church start, I again sought his advice.  He began by repeating his earlier wisdom related to knowing when  it’s time to go, and then added another layer of insight about the necessity of using the ensuing years for leadership development and congregational awareness of its mission and ministry.  Continuing to gain the trust of the congregation in response to one’s pastoral leadership helps to ensure the success and strength of these areas and enhances the overall health of the congregation, he reminded me.

Heeding his wisdom as I continued to serve Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the highly transient community of Cary, NC, for an additional 12 years, I was able to lay the groundwork for these nuggets of truth in leadership and congregational awareness of their mission and ministry. When I announced my retirement last August, one of my first conversations was with Wayne as he shared some helpful advice concerning interim ministry and my relationship with the Pension Fund.

The very day after cramming into my SUV the remnants of “stuff” the movers wouldn’t take, I headed down the highway toward my new retirement location at Christmount in Black Mountain, NC.  As I was driving, Wayne called and we talked for a long while.  His supportive words still ring in my ears, easing me into this thing called retirement.

I am grateful and will forever cherish his friendship, his loving and supportive spirit, his believing in me and preparing me to be a co-laborer in God’s Vineyard.

Mentors, Part 4: Motorcycles, Guitars and Gospel Music

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being.

 Mentors, Part 4: Motorcycles, Guitars and Gospel Music

Bill

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 4: Motorcycles, Guitars and Gospel Music
by Rev. Bill McDonald, M. Div., Lexington Theological Seminary, 1970

His 750cc Triumph was usually parked in the church basement. He wore turtlenecks three seasons of the year. And at about 11:00 PM many nights he would knock on my apartment door with guitar in hand, “Wanna play for a while?”

His rough complexion and unruly hair went unnoticed as soon as his smile slid from cheek to dimpled cheek, which then turned on the lights in his eyes. He ran off the worship bulletins on an ancient mimeograph in the parsonage basement and made the college-age class think it was fun to fold them while faith discussions rambled and roamed. He was a frequent and quick visitor. “That man can say more in five minutes than most people can say in an hour,” was the way one octogenarian described him to me.

He preached, directed the choir, sang with the Men’s Quartet, and was the Pied Piper of the youth program. One year he organized a fifth-grade ukelele band, tuning the ukes like guitar strings so the knowledge would be useful later on. He was the Campus Minister at Midway College and founded a Folksingers group to sing the songs of peace and love, much needed in the mid-1960’s. Everything he did was new and touched the times in which we lived, helping everyone interpret their place and see God’s face. His name was Rev. Roy Roberson and he was proud of the Rev. part. I was his Student Youth Associate and more importantly his protégé. And I soaked him up like a sponge.

When he stepped into the pulpit, he wasn’t afraid to smile and laugh and carried with him an air of confidence and strength. He preached by outline, laying the pages of type on the pulpit prior to the service. One Sunday he turned page three of a five-page outline only to discover that the last two were missing. For the rest of his life he accused me with a chuckle of swiping those pages. From Roy I learned to preach assertively, applying a heavy coating of humor and goodwill. I learned that the current culture, whatever else it may be, is not the enemy but is instead a resource, a channel through which faith can flow out and in. Following his example, I was never resentful about the heavy lifting of the ministry – the setting up of tables, the shoveling of snow off the steps, the unstopping of toilets, the whatever needed to be done. After all, God’s house belongs to all of us and all efforts in the church are holy moments of ministry and fellowship if we dive into them with energy and laughter. Though he loved being called Reverend Roy, he taught me to disdain the “ministerial image.” Just be yourself and be God’s servant and the image would take care of itself. People don’t want to see your best sport coat; they want to see that you care about them personally.

Though everybody ranked equally in Roy’s sphere of love and attention, the youth were a little more equal than anyone else. He showed me firsthand how traveling together as a youth group can broaden horizons while at the same time strengthening bonds and deepening faith. I spent thirty-five years of my ministry taking youth all over the US. When I connect with them now as adults on Facebook, it is those trips that dominate the discussions. Like Roy, I spent my ministry serving the towns in which my churches were located. “Your church pays your salary,” Roy would remind me, “but you are called to minister to your community.”

Everywhere I have lived, I have gathered musicians and singers around me, forming bands and quartets, folksinger groups and rock-n-rollers, loving the old gospel songs interpreted for a new age, using popular songs to bring out the joy in folks and help them glory in the One who is the Lord of Song. Taking on Roy’s nerve that allowed him to dive into any leadership position no matter how unprepared, I even directed the church choir for ten years – without being able to read music! It is as if my life unfolded from his. To this day, I never place my sermon notes on the pulpit before the service begins!

Sometimes I go by his grave in the Versailles Cemetery and place a toy motorcycle or a guitar pick on the headstone, still trying to give back for all that he gave to me. Maybe that was what my years of ministry were, an offering to God in gratitude for sending me a mentor, a guide, a living path.

Mentors, Part 3

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

 

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

 

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being. 

RussPeterman2 210x300 Mentors, Part 3

Russ

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 3
by Rev. Dr. Russ Peterman, Senior Minister, First Christian Church, Concord, CA, M. Div., San Fransisco Theological Seminary, 1995; D. Min. Columbia Theological Seminary, 2004

In 1985, during my junior year in high school, I was given a career aptitude inventory (don’t call it a test!), designed to point me in a helpful direction as I began to navigate the college application process. 

At that point I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but was shocked beyond words when the #2 career that came recommended to me from this inventory was CLERGY.  I had been to summer camp a few times, and participated in youth mission trips, was active in the youth ministry group and a regular on Sunday morning, but beyond that I had very little idea what ministry might entail.  While I didn’t really have any career path laid out, ministry had never crossed my mind.  My initial reaction was that this was, well, comical.

I still remember with incredible vividness the following Sunday when I stopped my minister, Dr. Richard Wing, between services and told him, trying to hold back laughter, the results of this inventory.  He didn’t seem shocked at all.  With clarity and conviction, he responded, “I don’t think that’s funny.  I’ve seen those gifts in you for a long time.”

Thirty years later Dick is still an incredible mentor to me. He’s helped me discern major life decisions, and walked with me through difficult times.  Even now from a distance, he continues to inspire, challenge, affirm, and listen. Despite the fact that as the minister to a large congregation he’s incredibly busy and the demand for his time is high, he’s told me – and shown me – that he’s never more than a phone call away.

Over the years I’ve had others that have served as mentors for me.  People who have helped me navigate through seasons in my life and ministry, and helped me dream and dig a little deeper and reach a little higher.  People without whom I’d be lost, or would have given up long ago.  Some of them are clergy colleagues; some are not.  All of them are worth their weight in rubies. 

The congregation I currently serve has long had a connection with the local seminary and takes seriously its ministry to the wider Church to help prepare future leaders.  Each year we welcome a new pastoral intern and try to help prepare them for this crazy thing that we call ministry.  I have come to love my role mentoring them during this formative time, helping them discover and clarify their gifts for ministry.  It’s an incredible gift for me to be able to inspire, challenge, affirm and listen, just as others have done for me.  In addition, they ask really great questions that force me to think theologically about what we do and why.  This work keeps me fresh as I hear about all that they are learning in the seminary classroom. 

Part of my greatest concern in regards to the future of the church is that we are not encouraging the calls to ministry of the best and brightest candidates.  We’ve seen the seminary enrollment figures; we’ve read how the Millennials are fleeing the church en masse.  We’ve also heard the staggering figures about how around 50% of seminary graduates leave the ministry within the first five years after graduation.  We all know the drill and most of us have ideas and theories as to why all of this is. 

But I think the hard truth that many of us in the trenches don’t want to admit is that some (most?) of it falls on us.  

  • Are we helping young people see the God-given gifts within them?
  • Are we encouraging them to bring those gifts to the surface and share them with the world? 
  • Are we modeling for them helpful, healthy boundaries and practices as pastors, serving with joy and passion, in such a way that inspires other to wonder if they could do what we do? 
  • Do we see that new, young pastor at the church down the street as competition or as a colleague? 

My life is an embarrassment of riches in part because people noticed in me gifts that I hadn’t discovered within myself.  And then they cared enough to journey alongside through some of the important and difficult moments, offering support and encouragement, challenging when necessary, nurturing when needed. 

I’m grateful. And pray that somewhere along the way, I’ve been the same sort of help and support to others.


    

 

Mentors, Part 2

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being. 

Nancy McCranie crossed arms 300x200 Mentors, Part 2

Nancy

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 2
by Nancy Chester McCranie, M. Div., 1987, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Ilene was actually my mentor for five years before either of us realized it.

I first met her in the spring of 1977 when I was a senior in high school.   For several years my parents hosted a dinner in our home one evening a month.  In addition to a dozen or so of the more open-minded parishioners from Dad’s congregation, a large Church of Christ in Austin, Texas, a special guest from the theological community was invited to come share their faith journey.  I would often sit tucked back in a corner, fascinated by these heart-felt stories.  We’d hosted a priest, a rabbi, ministers from all the mainline denominations, at least one Pentecostal, a few seminary professors, a pastoral counselor, and a chaplain. And, except for one feisty nun, all of them had been men.  Until Ilene. 

She was in her early 30’s, vivacious, articulate, and brilliant; a former school teacher and the mother of two daughters.  Currently a senior M.Div. student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, she talked about her call to ministry; about studying Greek, pastoral care, and preaching; about her hopes for the future.  It was as if a magic unicorn had suddenly appeared in our living room.  A woman minister?!?  I had never even imagined such a thing.  So transfixed was I by her story, I almost forgot to breathe.

Maybe the Church of Christ will be ready to accept women in ministry by the time I’m ready, I thought to myself naively.

Life moved on and I moved with it.  After high school I attended Abilene Christian University and studied Communications.  The fall of my senior year I was home visiting on the same weekend that Ilene was a return guest at the monthly pot-luck.  Now serving as associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church, when she began to speak I felt myself mesmerized once more.  That’s it!  I wanted to shout.  I’m not supposed to be a news reporter; I’m supposed to be a pastor, a minister, a teacher. 

From where I stood, however, there was no path from here to there.  

About a year and a half later I was on an evening walk with my dad, a most perceptive man who was always tuned in to the stirrings of my heart, when he asked me this:

Nancy, If you could be anything in the world, what would it be?  (Long pause.)

Anything?!? I asked.

Yes, he said, anything.  No limits.

(Deep breath.)  I would be a minister, I said quietly. It feels like that’s what I’m supposed to do.  It’s just that I’m not sure I can be enough like a man to be a good minister.

God isn’t calling you to be a man, Nancy, he said gently, God is calling you to be you.     

And right then and there, in those grace-filled words, a path forward opened up.

With the unwavering support of my parents, I enrolled that fall as a full-time student at Austin Seminary.  Beyond excited, I was like a muggle who suddenly found herself at Hogwarts.  Can this really be happening?!?  I thought over and over again.  And even though Ilene was the official mentor for a group of us women seminary students, I secretly thought of her as my mentor, my magic unicorn.  So, during my first year in seminary when I was invited to serve as Youth Coordinator at First Presbyterian Church, I jumped at the chance.  No matter that I had no aptitude or interest in working with teens.  Being in close proximity to Ilene, leading worship alongside her, watching her teach and preach with such passion, joy, and humor, I began to find my own voice, my own strength, my own rhythm.

Throughout the years, Ilene has graciously lent her support, advice, and friendship when I have needed it.  She has been there at important moments:  standing by my side as I was presented as a candidate for ministry on the floor of presbytery; preaching at my ordination; taking my fretful calls when, as a new pastor, I was uncertain or frustrated; officiating my wedding.  Hers was, in large part, a gift of imagination; helping me imagine who I could become and what my ministry might look like. And when I’ve come to bends in the road, helping me re-imagine what might be next.

The simple words thank you hardly seem adequate for such a life-giving, life-changing gift. 

Mentors, Part 1

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being. 

Brown Pic Mentors, Part 1

Julie, M. Div., LTS, 2002

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 1
by Julie Richardson Brown, Advancement Associate, Lexington Theological Seminary

I’d known from the moment the idea took root that it would be a tough sell. So I’d spent weeks plotting my plan of attack. What can I say, I’d think to myself as I scribbled potential talking points, that will make them say yes?

What I wanted is for a particular adult Sunday School class to serve as mentors (of a sort) to a group of middle schoolers. This class was made up of generally stable and successful baby boomers, most of them with children grown and gone, a few with a high school senior or college sophomore. Many of them were now caring for aging parents. A handful were already grandparents themselves. They were focused on and invested in all kinds of things, but those things weren’t youth ministry. One had even said to me when I’d first arrived at that church, “Don’t ask me to do anything with the youth. I’ve done that. I’ve served my time.”

Ok. Whatever. We’ll see.

Why them?

If you’re asking that, it is a valid question. They weren’t the young and hip and fun youth sponsors who kept things moving on Sunday nights. They weren’t even cool youth parents that the other kids didn’t mind having around. And most of them were pretty unknown to our 6th-8th graders at the time. Still…I was convinced that they were exactly who I needed to remind a ragtag bunch of middle schoolers how much God loved them, how much potential they had, how much their church cared.

You see, that Sunday School bunch—they knew things. They knew things that mattered. They knew that life doesn’t always work like we plan. They knew that sometimes marriages fall apart and children die and tragedy strikes and jobs get lost and addictions take over lives. They knew these things.

And they also knew it was possible to survive these things. I knew their stories. And I believed that our kiddos needed to know, “Life can sucker punch you with terrible force. And it can also call you back into all its loveliness—into its very self—again.”

In the end, I put away all my fancy talking points. I scrapped the big speech. And I told them the truth, “I need you. I need you because you know things that I don’t know yet, but that our kids need to know. So help me. Help me surround them with love and guidance and witness to the truth that there is, always, on the other side of darkness, bright lovely beauty waiting.”

And wouldn’t you know it? More than a few of them said, “Yes.”

This is why mentoring matters—in work, in growing up, in just being, it matters. Even when we are at our very best, there’s so much we don’t know, and if we’re wise, we’ll find someone who can perhaps show us the way. Knowing that someone else out there has a stake in our success simply because he or she has invested his or her life into ours—this can make all the difference.

I’ve known it in my own life—teachers, church members, professors, colleagues—who have said, “I’ll help you.” And they did. And still do. And I wouldn’t be even a smidgen of the person I am without them.

Who has helped you along the way? Who has made a difference in your work or your relationships? Who has helped shape your heart and your way of being?

These people—these mentors—these are who we celebrate in this blog space for the next few weeks. And in doing so, may we be reminded of how connected we all really are. And practice gratitude for the shoulders of others that we all stand on.

What I Wish I’d Known, Part 4

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This third installment of the blog series, begun March 5th, asked three distinct Disciples pastors to reflect on what they wish they’d known upon graduating from Seminary and being ordained. In addition, LTS Advancement Associate Julie Richardson Brown kicked off the series.

Sullivan 200x300 What I Wish Id Known, Part 4

Jack

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 4
–by Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr., Regional Minister and President of the The Pennsylvania Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), M. Div., Lexington Theological Seminary

From the sacred time that President Emeritus Dr. Wayne H. Bell recruited me, to the awesome moment he handed me my diploma, I have cherished my LTS education.  As I enrolled to become a Christian social justice activist and graduated as a “pastorally-focused” Christian social justice activist, LTS equipped me to do congregational and wider-church ministry, and to be a leader among leaders, and servant among servants.  I ended my brisk, three-year LTS education in “cup runneth over” status!  Knowing I did not possess all knowledge, somehow, I often functioned as if I did.

What I wish I had known when I graduated: People Care About What You Know, When They Know That You Care.

While at seminary, I was consumed by the work of revered Black Liberation Theologian, Dr. James H. Cone, as presented in classes with Dr. William R. Barr.   I became convinced that ideas Dr. Cone expressed about the Black experience in America, justice, righteousness, and the church’s work were PRECISELY what all churches, particularly my first post-seminary pastorate needed to hear.  So, off to Jefferson City, Missouri I went to assume two part-time posts:  associate regional minister, and pastor of an African American congregation.

Quickly surveying the city’s social/racial justice issues, I was confident in Dr. Cone’s perspectives, analyses, and call to justice ministry, and was fueled to preach, teach, live, and breathe liberation!  Feeling “theologically correct,”  I waited for what I thought would be quick, well-received changes to the congregation’s direction.  Amazingly, after much preaching and teaching, and anticipation of change, I heard crickets chirping:  no action!

To be sure, many congregants (I do not like the term “members” but that is for another blog!) appreciated my sermons, even the longer ones!  Each week, folks would say to me, “I enjoyed your sermon.”  Also, several of the folks responded well to my weekly Bible study classes.  However, none of this translated into fast, important church changes.  All of this took place during my first year with this congregation!  (Sound familiar?)

During this period of “no change,” I visited with congregants’ homes, hospital rooms, and workplaces.  They invited me into their realms during moments of momentous celebration, and when the unspeakable weight of pain seemed more than they could bear.  The elders and I delivered communion to the homebound, and I made weekly visits to Elder Green’s house to enjoy her homemade potato biscuits.

During year two, this reality hit me:  Change had occurred.  Congregants and I grew closer to each other.  Congregants moved from intellectual understandings of me as their pastor to trusting/loving acceptance of me as their pastor.  This level of change became the portal through which God would embolden the congregation and me to give leadership and service together, in partnership with other churches, that would shatter some glass ceilings, dismantle of a few racial barriers, and formulate and deepen interracial partnerships.

When did this happen?  It happened during the moments when congregants realized I cared about them, that I valued things they thought were important (the pre-Easter fashion show), and that I loved them.  To be sure, they loved me, too!  Their love helped me grow.  They were patient with me as I matured, became a more attentive shepherd, and developed into a community leader and activist.  Congregants even loved me after I cut my three-inch Afro and adopted a more conservative haircut!

I am not sure if the awesome folks I pastored ever remembered who Dr. James H. Cone was, but they did begin to care about some of his ideas and even act on them through the ministry and leadership of this pastor who they knew cared for them, and loved them, to the glory of God.