MLCI Blog

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.

 

What I Wish I’d Known, 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 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.

Jose 200x300 What I Wish Id Known, Part 3

Jose

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 3
–by José F. Morales Jr., Executive Regional Minister Central Rocky Mountain Region

I graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, an academic institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Sitting in the Regional Office of the Central Rocky Mountain Region, seeking to be faithful to this present call, I could not do all that I do as pastor, executive, and (dare I say) “church bureaucrat” without the training and formation I received at McCormick.

With this said, I do believe there are things that can only be fully appreciated “after the fact.” There are lessons that take root in our being only after some time in the hustle and bustle of ministry, only after ministerial crud has dirtied our fingernails.  Good thing we have mentors and tutors, saints and sages, who can prepare us both to confront the future trials of service and to savor the past (or present) treasures of seminary.

Recognizing that I am neither sage nor saintly, I will nonetheless share one thing (among the many things) I now know that I wish I’d known when I graduated from seminary. And it is simply this: That antiquated (and/or boring) church history stuff of seminary is much more relevant to the Church and ministry today than we may think.

The pastor, above all else, is a theologian and mystic, who sojourns with people desiring to discern the Divine in their midst, to “see” God at the mill and at home. Fortunately for us, we’re not the first ones to engage in the spiritual discipline of discernment.  You see, those discussions about the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD and about the historic factors that gave rise to feminism’s “hermeneutic of suspicion”… that was the Church–the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12.1)–discerning, probing, and yearning for a sense of the Spirit in their midst.  For when one looks behind the social, cultural and political curtain of these events, exchanges, and encounters in the Church historic, one sees a people seeking to be faithful, seeking to discern God’s movement, God’s presence, God’s wisdom.

Since accepting this call to Regional ministry, I have forged a renewed kinship with those in the past who were called to a similar ministry of oversight, like Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage, and Timothy I, that brilliant patriarch of the Church of the East. And whether we agree with their conclusions or not, these past attempts at discernment can shape us, form us, and guides us as we engage with our communities in discerning God’s word of us today.  For I recognize that discernment is never ahistorical; rather, it requires that we converse with the traditions of the past and the proclivities of today.

In ways subtle yet sublime, grappling with the controversies and conversations of the Church throughout time has actually honed me to be an engaged and expectant discerner, which is what the best mystics and theologians do.

Have you thanked your history professor lately?

 

 

 

What I Wish I’d Known, 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 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.

IMG 20140127 185605 300x300 What I Wish Id Known, Part 2

Courtney

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 2
–by Courtney Richards, one of the pastors at Harvard Avenue Christian Church, Tulsa, OK

“Mama gives you money, go to Sunday School/You trade yours for candy after church was through….”

The always-great Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” sets me groovin’, anywhere I am, anytime I hear it. And this line always makes me laugh, because really – what kid doesn’t want to pocket their offering money and make it a thank-offering to the M&M/Mars gods instead?

When I graduated from seminary … 

I wish I’d known that learning, retaining, and living are three entirely different things.

Ministry isn’t about quoting theologians, citing historical events, or grandeloquent preaching or perfect chapter-and-verse recall. Sometimes, it’s about knowing where to look things up. (You know it’s true. Don’t act like you remember everything you learned in 90ish hours of grad school. Seriously. Don’t) Like galleries and museums, newsreaders and headline feeds, ministry is curating: taking what you read, wrote, saw, heard – and what you read, write, see, hear – and connecting the dots with the people you serve, teach, preach to, worship with, care for.

I wish I’d known that I was as talented as I am.

Before this sounds too ‘me in ten years, that’s my hero’ acceptance speech-ish: I spent the first week (let’s be honest, the first … ok, a long time) of seminary convinced that I was entirely too stupid to be there. How did all of these people know all of these things on the first day?! Didn’t the semester just start? Oh. They’ve already been here a year, two, several. You can do these classes in various orders. A-ha! Ministry? Much the same. There are people around who’ve been doing it; doesn’t mean my first year, fifth year, 15th year, I’m not still bringing some serious gifts to the table. And it’s okay to think so.

I wish I’d known that BuzzFeed was going to be a thing. 

For the love of all things holy, I wish someone had told me that the secret to life is found in random quantified lists – 13 ideas for the care and feeding of teenagers; 19 things to ask before you take your next job; 37 places to visit before you die; 43 changes to make before your 43rd birthday. That would have saved me so much time.

There’s no silver bullet. There’s no one size fits all. There’s no secret compartment, magic spell, special sauce, hidden key, or encrypted file. There is the God who loves you … this call on your life and spirit … the people with whom you serve … and the mission and witness of living life in the world. Feed THAT buzz.

I wish I’d known that the people who got you through seminary are the ones who will keep you in ministry.

There’s this stretch when you first start ministry, right out of seminary, where you feel oddly invincible and desperately terrified all at the same time. Like you can say all the words and do all the things, as long as no one asks you to say or do anything different. And it’s in those moments that the people who saw you sit in the floor of your student apartment and lose your absolute mind are the very same people who are going to tell you that the board chair does NOT think you’re an idiot, that you will baptize your first student without losing them to the undertow, and that it’s endearing when your voice cracks when you decide it’s a bold move to preach from Song of Solomon. They’ll also buy you a beer at General Assembly, be a reference when you go to Search & Call, and lay a hand on your shoulder to pray at your installation. They will matter in a way you never could have known.

I wish I’d known that sometimes you’ll still want to hold on to the gift you’ve been carrying and trade it in for something else.

Even for as wonderful as ministry is – has nothing reminded you lately? have you not reminded yourself? how miraculous it is to be invited into people’s lives, to be the one they feel safe asking questions (even the hard ones), to see that light go on behind their eyes when they hear a text for the first time again, to discern and ask and encourage and even cajole and then to see God’s faithful flourish and take flight – sometimes it’s hard, and tiring, and you’ll want to just sit and keep your thoughts and your gifts to yourself, and trade your offering for candy and call it a day. But I hope you won’t.

Because the biggest thing I wish I’d known is that saying yes to a God who knows me and calls me anyway, every day, all the time, is the very best thing I could have ever possibly done.

 

What I Wish I’d Known, 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 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.

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 1
–by Julie Richardson Brown, Advancement Associate, Lexington Theological Seminary, M.Div., 2002, LTS

I wish I’d known that perfection is a myth, that I’d make more mistakes than I care to–or even could–count in that first year of fulltime ministry and in the years since. I wish I’d known sooner how to say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it. And I wish I’d known that despite my mistakes (and perhaps even because of them) I was still doing good work.

I wish I’d known how to write, balance and then live into with mutual lay/clergy accountability a church budget. At the same time, I wish I’d had more courage to speak up when the numbers on the page didn’t match my vision of what it means to share God’s love with others. “I know you have an opinion,” a kind and gracious church elder once said to me, “why don’t you share it?” “I’m afraid to,” I said, knowing even as I said the words that they were a holdover from a sophomore-year mathematics teacher who said to me, “You’re never going to get this, are you?”

I wish I’d stood my ground more. Too many times I didn’t. There are more than a few conversations and instances that occasionally play through in my memory, with me offering up alternate endings and different dialogue as perhaps my own way of learning, growing, and maybe even forgiving.

I wish I’d known that when a mentor said to me, “Julie, you’ll never please everyone,” he was right. I wish I’d believed him instead of approaching ministry as a task in which everyone’s needs must be met, and everyone’s idea must be heard, and everyone’s disagreement must be registered as valid. There’s a very fine line between a prophetic sixteen year-old and one who just wants to tell you how to do your job. One’s own ego is often the last to find a healthy nuance upon that fine line.

I wish I’d known that despite my many gifts (and we all, truly, have many gifts, y’all), I, simply by having life and breath as a child of God, am, myself, a gift. And the best and truest offering is of that very self—not my fancy tricks or programs, supposed vast knowledge or particular skillset.

This work will break your heart in two, shattering your soul some days. Other days it will put that same heart back together and repair the very soul you were sure it had destroyed. I wish I’d known this, too, and then perhaps those days when I could not give anymore, when I felt as if there was no point to the work I was doing, might not have seemed such Leviathans.

These days, I believe that the kind of unconditional love as preached by Jesus and as manifested in God’s love for all Creation is both the very thread that holds this planet Earth together, and the very thread that we’ve let unravel into the chaos of factions and friction, finger-pointing and blame-casting, greed and anxiety.

It is an evil, unjust and scary world that we live in. It is also a beautiful and humbling one. In the face of this dichotomy I believe that generosity of spirit and resources both makes the world go ‘round, and keeps the Church relevant. And I believe that the Gospel—teaching it, living it, preaching it, sharing it—matters.

I wish I’d known how grateful I would one day be. For the lessons learned and the lives shared and the glimpses of grace and strange turns of mercy that have brought me here to this place, in this time, ready to do this work. And, so, that said, perhaps the one other thing I wish I’d known is that rarely do we end up where we originally thought we would.

But generally we end up exactly where we need to be.