It is ironic, then, that vocational ministry – the work of expounding and modeling scripture for a living – can be a very lonely existence. There are many factors such as long hours, professional boundaries and laypeople’s hesitation to spend time designated for fun with someone who would certainly be a stern, judgy presence. (Ah, the assumptions others make about the clerical life…)
It takes a lot of effort for clergy to construct and tend their own circles of care. But it is necessary work if we as ministers want to stay healthy and in turn point those in our charge toward wholeness.
One way that CBF encourages connection among its clergy is through peer learning groups. Over one hundred PLGs nationwide offer mutual support and professional development to their members. The value of gathering regularly as colleagues is borne out both by research (see So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive by Penny Long Marler and D. Bruce Roberts, for example) and by anecdotes shared with CBF staff about career-saving interactions.
A monthly meeting cannot provide all the relationship a minister needs, however. And so CBF’s four peer learning group regional directors – Fran Patterson, Steve Graham, Layne Smith, and I – will be offering a workshop for ministers at General Assembly about creating networks of care. We will give information about finding or starting a peer learning group, certainly, but we will also cover the following:
- Why should I network? Isn’t that just for ministers trying to work their way up to the big pulpits? How do I get started networking?
- What non-peer professional support can I draw on (e.g., a coach, therapist, and/or spiritual director)? What’s the difference between these types of professionals? How do I find one that I click with?
- Where should I look for professional development opportunities? What kinds are most helpful? How do I pay for them?
- How can I find support within my ministry setting? Who are my go-to people for support and advocacy?
We will offer thoughts from our own experience as ministers and as resources to fellow clergy. We will also welcome participants to share their own wisdom. (A good workshop models its subject matter!)
Please join Fran, Steve, Layne, and myself at 2:45 pm on Thursday, June 18, at Cumberland B in the Hyatt Regency for “Creating Networks of Care.” It will be a lighthearted but meaty hour, and who knows, you might even encounter a potential friend or two you can add to your own circle.
Laura Stephens-Reed, an interim minister and a clergy coach, is Regional Director of CBF Peer Learning Groups in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.