Seeing ourselves

Posted May 07, 2015 | Pastoral Excellence Network


By Christina Braudaway-Bauman

Christina Braudaway-BaumanFor a dozen years now, I have been engaged in developing and nurturing clergy communities of practice, intentional small groups where pastors come together to support one another and to be engaged in learning aimed at strengthening their ministries. When these groups were launched, the hope was that they would provide important opportunities for pastors to meet with one another in truly meaningful ways that would also enable each person to grow in their practice of ministry. Along the way, clergy have offered testimony about how their participation in a group has made a difference to their lives and ministries.

One important gift of the regular, ongoing conversation has been a richer, more complex and more nuanced understanding of ministry. As one pastor reported to me, she was delighted to discover in her clergy group a multiplicity of viewpoints and approaches to ministry. Instead of feeling competitive or judged by the differences she found between herself and her pastoral colleagues, she was pleased, and even relieved, to know there is more than one good way to do ministry. She said, “I am reminded at each meeting of the diversity of the gifts that God gives to us, and how ‘my way’ is one way, and only one, along the path of service and discipleship. I am strengthened by this diversity, and, in a circular way, affirmed in my own path by others being authentic to their own.” There are many different gifts for ministry in the one Spirit. Lifting them up for each other, she said, “is one of the ways we strengthen the body of Christ.”

Another pastor reported how his group’s common experiences with the difficulties of ministry served to give him a larger perspective on a challenge he was facing. He wrote that it has served for him as a corrective, and then went on to say,

“Our group’s reflection has helped me see the bigger picture, to recognize that every church has difficulties as well as strengths. This larger perspective has helped me stay out of the wrangling of my congregation and not be swallowed up by a chronic complainer. I have come to appreciate and even love the most difficult person in my congregation. I can now hear him when he has something legitimate to say and let the rest go. He is still sometimes the thorn in my side, but the thorn no longer pierces me the way it used to. In fact, I now see him as my greatest teacher.”

When it becomes understood that the challenges of ministry are normative, that they exist in every church’s life, clergy don’t feel so alone in facing them and are less likely to be tight and anxious in grappling with them. As one pastor aptly put it, “We help one another hold things more lightly.”

Perhaps this is the reason why clergy report that one of the unexpected gifts of the groups has been laughter. Nearly every clergy community of practice with whom I have met over the years has told me how much humor is a part of their meetings and how helpful and healing it is to laugh together. It’s not that these pastors don’t take ministry seriously. They do. But when they come together to share stories and to hold one another in prayer, they find they are also able to step outside of their churches long enough to take another view. They see, for example, how absurdly small things in church life can sometimes take on a life of their own. In the conversation, however, in the sharing of common experience and in looking at situations through the fresh eyes of other ministers, difficulties that seemed monumental can shrink back down to a more appropriate size. In the midst of honest conversation with trusted colleagues and friends, pastors help one another see themselves and their congregations with the renewed vision they need to reenter their work with a lighter touch and a more joyous spirit.

Christina Braudaway-Bauman is the Director of the Pastoral Excellence Network and Pastor at Large of Wellesley Congregational Church (The Village Church), Wellesley, MA.

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