Clergy peer support online

Posted Mar 02, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Verity A. Jones


Best practices: During February, March, and April, 2012 the New Media Project bloggers are looking intentionally at new media “best practices.” Join the conversation: What are the new media best practices in your church or organization? What are some other examples of how communities engage in new media well? Tell us in the comments below.

Sixty-one and counting. That’s the number of clergy networks using social media that we’ve been able to identify since last summer when the New Media Project started compiling a list. We are doing so in order to better understand how widespread the use of social media is for clergy networks and what role the online tools used by networks might play in the flourishing of pastoral ministry. Some are closed Facebook groups, others are open listservs or Google groups of pastors in particular denominations. Most of them have been self-identified to us by members of the networks.

Much has been written recently about the challenges of doing ministry in isolation (explore this recent article and related features from Faith & Leadership). Intentional peer support groups are emerging across the country, many of which have been supported by Lilly Endowment Inc. through its Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative. And the research is connecting this support to church growth, healthier pastors, and more mission-oriented communities of faith (see this report from Austin Presbyterian Seminary).

What are some of the best online practices in clergy networks for peer support and pastoral development that we’ve seen?

The Young Clergy Women Project (TYCWP), an online network of more than 600 clergywomen under the age of 40, has responded in a variety of ways to the stated needs of their members. Here are some great ones:
  • Lenten lectionary Bible Study or Covenant groups organized around a liturgical season that meet via email or an online chat room. Susie Schafer, one of the early members of TYCWP, says, “We would hold live chats on Google chat to just say, ‘Hey, anyone who wants to chat with a young clergywoman, there will be a moderator online to invite people in at 2:00 pm Eastern time on Wednesday the tenth.’ I ran a lectionary Bible study that way for about a year.… It was anywhere from three to five people a week.… We would share our sermon ideas and do Bible study online. It was a really nice community.”
  • Posting vocational questions on the closed Facebook group. TYCWP members have shared advice on everything from advocating for maternity leave in their congregations to how to find a publisher for a new book idea.
  • Live chats on Scribblar. One example is the chat about Christmas stress hosted by TYCWP last November (advertised via Twitter).
  • Opportunities to write a for a public e-zine on topics particularly relevant to young clergy women. Fidelia’s Sisters columns include Moms in Ministry, The Jesus Review, and the Single Rev’s Guide to Life.
Several different social networking sites are useful for clergy peer support work. One clergy network of youth ministers created a circle on Google +. They use the “hangout” feature once a month for group video conferencing (up to nine people) free of charge and share resources and advice every day.

Some of the best ideas I’ve heard come from pastors looking after their own flock. Consider how these might apply to clergy peer support groups as well:
  • Members of a support network create a Facebook list so that they can easily survey each others’ Facebook statuses, thereby keeping up with what might be going on…and catching family crises like the death of a sibling or celebrations like a child’s birth.
  • Or consider praying for those in the group by reading each other’s Facebook statuses. This I heard from Schaefer of the Young Clergy Women Project: “I have a friend who stopped posting Facebook statuses and reads them as her prayer journal instead…like that’s her prayer time as she reads X number of statuses. I have another friend who starts all of her Facebook statuses with her prayer list, like ‘Elaine is praying for blah, blah, blah, period,’ and then her status update, ‘great morning at church. I can’t wait for the picnic.’”
What are the best online practices you know for clergy peer support?

Verity A. Jonesis the project director of the New Media Project, and a Research Fellow at Union Theological Seminary.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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