Taking charge of your own learning

Posted Jun 27, 2013 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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by Larry Dill


Larry DillThird in a series of blog posts by the authors of So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive.

In the raw aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, this thank-you note came across my desk:

I just wanted you to know that when the news of Newtown came on Friday, we were broken like everybody else. As we got our feet under us we realized preaching on Sunday would be a challenge. Our ICE group began to group text. As we shared ideas our sermons began to take shape. Without our group we would have been a bunch of lone rangers trying to put together thoughts for Sunday morning. Instead, because of the Holy Spirit and each other we brought words of hope and comfort to our hurting and broken congregations. Thank you to the Institute for Clergy Excellence. You truly make a difference. 

Authentic narratives pour into the Institute for Clergy Excellence (ICE) describing transformational experiences made possible when clergy in peer groups take charge of their own learning. 

Since 2002 The Institute has centered its mission on providing a teaching/learning environment in which clergy can claim their own agency for self-directed renewal. We trust pastoral leaders to know what they need to learn in order to thrive in ministry. Over the past ten years we have proved that, in peer groups with process facilitation, these leaders can discover ways to meet these needs.

Here are some of our key principles (illustrated by testimonials):

Self-selected groups—Group formation by invitation is one of the first signs of agency to our participants. Self-selected clergy peers have great power to multiply learning, to hold each other accountable to learning goals, and to find joy in ministry.

If we hadn’t chosen one another, we might not be able to put up with each other. Let me say this as a Baptist from the South. If I’d been selected by someone else to be in a group, I probably would have been stereotyped as a very conservative person, which I’m not, and put in the wrong group. That would have been an utter failure for me.

Design their own learning strategy—Once formed, groups choose the subject to be studied and then set out to design a three-year learning plan. This preparation phase lasts six months to a year. Often groups say this time of team building and sharing ideas is one of the highlights of the total experience.

I don’t have words to express. Seminary was great but this was so much better. This group is made up of people I love who support me. The whole process of how to work in a group, how to make decisions, how not to compromise to come to a better conclusion; it’s like being in a family and it’s the most valuable experience I’ve had in ministry to date.

Study together over time holding one another accountable to the learnings—The one-shot conference or workshop model of continuing education is limited in its ability to cause deep change in clergy habits and practices. Significant change occurs over time, with a plan and structure for accountability. 

I have attended many training events. Too often I would take notes, and make a few plans to implement what I learned. When I returned home, I would quickly return to the daily demands of family and ministry and not implement anything. The peer group learning environment creates a place not only to learn new skills, but also includes the accountability to implement the skills. Old habits and patterns of behavior do not change easily. I found that I am better able to make changes when I have a peer group to encourage and nudge me.

Our evaluations show that energy increases, ingenuity flourishes, courage builds, and commitment strengthens among pastoral leaders who claim agency for self-directed renewal in our peer groups.

Larry Dill is the executive director of the Institute for Clergy Excellence (ICE), a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) project based in Huntsville, Alabama. Prior to 2003, Larry served as a United Methodist pastor of rural, suburban, new church, urban transitional, and large membership congregations.

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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