EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post is submitted as part of the experience of Rev.William Brown as a member of the inaugural Ministry Life Choices Initiative Clergy Peer Group. This MLCI Clergy Peer Group was launched in January of 2016 as a way of creating intentional, supportive, peer-led space for recent LTS graduates to share ministry and life together. The six group participants and their facilitator have made covenant to journey together for 18 months, and will regularly offer reflections on their time together.
Ministry. Ministry! MINISTRY!!!
It started so simply. How different can it be from other professions I have experienced? As I have now entered my fifth year of ministry, I am humbled by the massive amount of work and the importance of my role in the church and in the community.
As a former teacher, I could talk to a multitude of colleagues for support and understanding within seconds by just walking down the hallway, but as a pastor, the ministry island is real. Not only are you on an island, the island is in the middle of a complicated sea of churches and networks. I am grateful for the multitude of ministry experiences I had as laity, the pastoral role-models throughout the years, and the incredible depth and sincerity of my seminary education. But, a pastor needs significant peer support while living the life of a minister. Ministry is not a normal job and clergy peer groups are necessary for the individual and for the church as a whole.
Within your own congregation, no one truly knows the immense amount of mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional output that goes on each and every day. It is very difficult to just clock out during certain times within a week. As a pastor, I am always “on” with the demands of the position and when I come together with other clergy, it always takes some time to realize that these are safe people because they understand exactly what I am going through. Clergy peer groups are a must for creating space where an isolated minister can come together with others in the profession for the common good of the clergy community and for the individual ministers, personally and professionally. If clergy peer relationships are not strong, I miss out on the support I truly need and I have to stay in the pastoral, “in-control” mode. Clergy peer groups must develop life-giving relationships where pastors are supported in ways they do not experience on their island of isolation. I have learned that this does take significant effort to be connected to the Christianity land mass when island-living might be easier for the short-term. Clergy peer relationships are critical, so that the walls can come down and a pastor can share the experiences of the profession and of his/her life. Ministry provides for fantastic relationships and Divine moments, and clergy peer groups provide a safe place to share these experiences and unpack them to prepare for the ministry road ahead.
The key is to create a safe place for connection and sharing. Pastors need a place to cry, a place to laugh, a place to be authentic, a place to reflect, and a place to just be. Pastors need support more than the average person because of the extraordinary demands that ministry entails. The lack of clergy peer groups indicate a broken church and a missed opportunity to share the Gospel that this world desperately needs. The lack of clergy peer groups results in poor leadership and more islands. Christianity needs to be a connected land mass and clergy peer relationships are the land-bridges that connect us for leading and living.
I am grateful for multiple in-person clergy peer relationships, such as my regional cluster group and my Lake area colleagues. I am also grateful for the online clergy peer relationships that I have forged on Facebook and through video conferencing. I am also very grateful for the Ministry Life Choices Initiative Clergy Peer Group that I am participating in over the next 18 months through Lexington Theological Seminary.
Clergy peer groups of various forms are CRITICAL for my well-being, my professional development, and my spiritual journey!
–Rev. William R. Brown, Communinity Christian Church (DOC), Camdenton, MO, MDiv, LTS, 2015
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 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.