Most of our ministry is done on the dance floor

Posted Oct 16, 2015 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Lawrence Peers

It is true, most of our ministry is done on the dance floor.

Many of us will recognize “the dance floor” as the metaphor used by Ron Heifetz and his colleagues to describe how, as leaders, we often get caught up in the “dance of activity.” A quick glance at our calendars may be the only evidence we need to prove that we are often engaged in back to back meetings, unexpected pastoral crises, sermon writing, and committee meetings. This “dance of activity” is both energizing and draining, inspiring and dispiriting.

There is a well-documented tendency in our culture to over-schedule, over-commit and overextend ourselves such that our calendars tell us what we “need” to do next—rather than an internal, cultivated sense of “call.” There is a chorus among clergy and among many in our pews: “How did I get so busy?”

This is one of the reasons we need to engage in clergy communities of practice—peer learning groups that provide us with a regular opportunity to step out of the “dance of activity”—if only for a few hours a month—so that we can regain a broader perspective, reset our priorities and hone our ministerial responses in the company of colleagues. Heifetz called this intentional, reflective time “balcony time.”

Although we are often lured into thinking we are leading when we are “so busy,” the real work of leadership which is capable of responding to emerging and meaningful challenges requires this “balcony time” as well.

We’ve all experienced clergy groups that become “moan and groan” groups, groups that gather at the virtual water cooler, doling out advice like passing around popcorn. It is not just taking time apart from the “dance activity”—it is what we do when we gather as colleagues that makes that “balcony time,” significant.

The Pastoral Excellence Network, in our Peer Power: Cultivating Clergy Communities of Practice trainings, and in other ways, has been teaching how clergy peer groups can provide intentional opportunities for meaningful support, practice-based learning and mutually agreed upon accountability. We share some of the wisdom and practices of the many programs across faith traditions that have been part of this pastoral excellence movement.

Of course, the reason to take “balcony time” is so that we can understand the patterns within our leadership and ministry setting, name the significant challenges in our setting that call forth a response from us, gather wisdom from the group and pray for the Spirit’s guidance.  We know that taking this time is a stopping place for re-engaging the activities of our ministry in some qualitatively different way.

Oftentimes, with the help of the clergy group, we create a “practice field” within our ministry, where we experiment for a designated period of time or try something new with the intention of learning and adapting from that learning. A clergy group then can help us learn from our experiences in this “practice field” as we continually hone our responses.

It’s true that most of our ministry will always be done on the “dance floor.”  Yet, what we do in ministry can be informed and inspired by the “balcony time” we take with clergy colleagues and the “practice fields” we intentionally create within our ministries.

You may find this resource on Three Dimensions of Clergy Communities of Practice useful.

Lawrence Peers is the Director of Learning, Pastoral Excellence Network.

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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