Rip cord, reset button, and ripple effect

Posted Jul 17, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network


By Lawrence Peers

Ripples on waterI heard a collective sigh of recognition when reading these words from Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoir, Leaving Church, in which she narrates her reasons for leaving parish ministry:

With just seven days in a week, where is the time to be a good preacher, teacher, pastor, prophet, celebrant, prayer, writer, foot washer, administrator, community activist, clergy colleague, student of scripture, and wholesome exemplar of the gospel?" (45-46)

We have all asked the question “Where is the time?” lots of times!

Then I went from sigh to sting when I saw Brown Taylor’s phrase, “exhausted my spiritual savings.” Indeed, the crux of the matter is not just “where is the time” to meet conflicting demands. The challenge is also staying spiritually vital in the midst of doing ministry.

Rip cord or reset button

Sometimes because of the demands of ministry we can occasionally imagine pulling a rip cord—“leaving church.” Most often, our quest is actually for a reset button, for ways to realign ourselves, redirect our energies and efforts, or renew our call.

Across many faith traditions, that “reset button” has become available to an increasing number of clergy through various ways within the Pastoral Excellence Network:

• An experienced minister finds a clergy peer group to help him navigate a particular crisis in his ministry.
• A new clergy person discovers that the pastoral residency that launched her into ministry continues to provide an ongoing foundation for her emerging ministry.
• Clergy talk to clergy coaches, attend retreats or study programs, or carve out sabbaticals.

All of these have helped individual clergy personally, professionally, and spiritually thrive in ministry.

Something more

However, helping individual ministers find ways to thrive in their ministry is only a partial response. Beyond all of our individual efforts is the larger question: How do we together cultivate a thriving ministry?

So much of what contributes to the depletion of the spirit, the erosion of the call, the sense of isolation, and the irrelevance of ministry are our collective, unexamined assumptions and our routine approaches and outworn expectations about ministry.

We must shift the culture of ministry by recomposing our understanding of what ministry means and how ministry is done. One shift would be to shift the perspective from “my ministry” to “our ministry.” The subsequent practices of “sharing” the ministry and not only “doing ministry” helps to create a new culture of ministry.

A reflection: A ripple effect

Some lazy day this summer, I hope you have a chance to throw some stones into a pond, see some waves approaching a shore, or a cool breeze rustling the leaves of a shady tree. Keep an attentive eye on these subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—movements.

The various efforts of pastoral excellence—across and within many faith traditions—is also composed of subtle and not so subtle movements that together are redefining our understanding of what ministry is and can become.

Join us in these reflections and share your thoughts below:

1. How do we together “create a ministry that thrives?”
2. What assumptions about ministry, if we were to recompose them, would have the most impact (“ripple effect”) on the well-being, relevance, and impact of ministry as a calling in our time?
3. What practices or assumptions about ministry do we actually need to leave behind as we enter this new era of the church and this time within our world? What would that “leaving” then help to bring forth?

PEN Talk: Join us for a discussion of the themes in this blog with Larry Peers, Director of Learning of the Pastoral Excellence Network, on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, at 2 pm (Eastern). To access the conference call and/or web chat information:

The image displayed in this post is "ripples by Dick Pountain, on Flickr" and is used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Lawrence Peers is the director of learning 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



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