Core convictions of transition into ministry

Posted Mar 01, 2013 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Christina Braudaway-Bauman


For the last ten years, much of my ministry has focused on helping new pastors get a strong start in ministry. At the Wellesley Congregational Church (UCC) in Wellesley, Mass., I coordinated a Pastoral Residency Program. Every two years in this church, we call two new seminary graduates to serve among us full time as new pastors in their first call. Over the course of their two year term, they experience and exercise leadership in every area of the congregation’s life while they also focus intentionally on developing leadership capacities for ministry and receive the guidance and support of experienced pastoral mentors. 

While I enjoy working with new clergy in the middle of a congregation’s life—up close in the greenhouse—I have also appreciated working out in the field, across the Massachusetts Conference UCC, to develop a peer learning group program for all new UCC pastors. In the New Clergy Group Program, groups of three to five new pastors meet monthly for the first three years of their ministry with a more seasoned pastor who serves generously as the group’s facilitator and host.  In all, over the course of ten years, more than 150 new clergy in Massachusetts have participated in a New Clergy Group. A few years ago, we expanded, creating New Clergy Groups in Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and in recent months, in Maine. 

Both of these programs—the pastoral residency and the new clergy groups—are   initiatives launched originally as part of the Lilly Endowment’s Transition into Ministry Program.  They are just two of now more than forty projects across the country based in congregations, seminaries, ecumenical organizations, and middle judicatories, representing ten different Christian denominations.  All of these efforts aimed at helping new pastors develop the practices and perspectives which will sustain them for a lifetime of effective ministry in the church.

A number of core convictions have shaped and been confirmed over and over again in the Transition into Ministry Programs. Each one highlights how critical the first years of ministry are in forming excellent pastoral leaders. These convictions continue to inform the work of the Pastoral Excellence Network. They include:

  • A recognition that pastoral ministry can only be fully learned by being immersed in the practice of ministry, by inhabiting the role of a pastor. Seminary education is important and foundational, but much that is essential to pastoral leadership cannot be learned in a classroom. The first few years of ministry make classroom learning come to life.

  • An affirmation of the significant role of mentors, both those who have many more years in ministry and those at a similar stage of development. New pastors find great comfort in being able to turn for wise counsel to trusted seasoned colleagues and also to pastoral peers with whom they can learn from shared experience and shared insight.

  • An appreciation for the central role of the first call congregation in the process of pastoral formation. Congregations imbued with hospitality and grace form pastors who understand excellent ministry as a communal practice. First call churches who offer genuine encouragement to new pastors, who open themselves to new ideas, and who forgive the missteps inevitably made, grow pastors who love them and who see God at work in their life together. Together, they thrive in ministry.

 
The congregations involved in these programs have recognized and relished the rich opportunities available to them working with new pastors.

The experienced pastors who serve in mentoring roles in both the residency and peer group programs have found their own calling renewed as they look through the fresh eyes of new colleagues.

Because of the Transition into Ministry Program, there is now a significant cadre of young pastors, including some in ministry for as many as ten years, whose entire tenure has been immersed in a commitment to pastoral excellence, and who cannot imagine doing this work without regular consultation with colleagues. 

Because of the Transition into Ministry Program, hundreds of new pastors are thriving in ministry.

One of the bold goals of the Pastoral Excellence Network is to help make similar opportunities for support and guidance available to new pastors everywhere

Christina Braudaway-Bauman is the director of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry.  To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

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