Clergy coaching when “this changes everything”

Posted Oct 23, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Lawrence Peers


DoorNaomi Klein concludes her recent book, This Changes Everything, by sharing her discussion with a friend about what she should ask a world leader she was going to be meeting. The friend said, “Ask him: History knocked on your door; did you answer?” Klein concludes, “That’s a good question, for all of us.”

As I think about the work that many of us are engaged in to provide learning and support to clergy at every season of ministry, I have been deepening my commitment and reconfiguring some of my perspectives in light of, well, history knocking.

Our work has shown that clearly clergy want generative opportunities to hone their practice, to craft new responses to some of what is emerging in their ministries. Moreover, clergy crave a “holding environment” to explore the challenges and the aspirations of their call. Clergy also know that we require the mutual accountability that can often occur in coaching, communities of practice, and other ongoing opportunities for learning and support with colleagues.

Clergy coaching is one of those disciplines that focuses on helping clergy leaders cope with, endure, and move through some of the challenges they find in their ministry settings. Skillful clergy coaching often opens up new perspectives that help clergy develop new practices that can lead to new (sometimes transformative) results.

But, given the time that we are in—in the wider world, and in the religious world—is it enough to just get by or get through whatever challenge we face? Is it enough to just experience the support and the challenges that others can offer us? That’s what I’ve been wondering.

Can we stand alongside?

Clergy coaching and clergy groups require that we take the risk of going to the edge of our own knowing. We need to cultivate resilience that allows us not to wither, but to stand alongside others who are responding to the cries of our Whole Earth, to the growing gaps between rich and poor, and to the diminishment of Spirit that accompanies many of the personal, cultural, and global challenges of our time.

Where we have previously been concerned about the silos that exist in many congregations, which inhibit creative collaboration; now, I believe, we also need to be concerned about living in a silo-ed world.

How can we as religious leaders find our way beyond isolationism that diminishes the religious voice when what we need is more Spirit, the construction of a global ethic, and an ever greater compassion?

For the sake of what?

Our focus as clergy leaders will always be on the primary tasks of leading and serving in our ministry settings. In coaching clergy, I often have said that clergy need the “green room” that these coaching conversations provide. We all need a place to step off the stage from time to time and consider what we don’t know, what we are aiming toward, and how we are being called, kicking and screaming sometimes, into the next steps of our ministry.

Now, our time calls us toward a larger stage. Many of us are already preparing ourselves to think and act more expansively as religious leaders engaged in deep changes through collaborative partnerships across organizations, beyond our typical silos.

I have a new question to ask in coaching:

History is knocking at the door. As religious leaders, how will we respond?

We invite new and experienced clergy coaches to join us in Marriottsville, MD, on November 17–19, 2014, for Clergy Coaching for Change and Resilient Leadership.

The image displayed in this post is "Church Door Brent Knoll Church Somerset by Les Halnes, on Flickr" and is used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing (CC BY 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 wsordillo@cts.edu.

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