By Laura Stephens-Reed
Are you a minister struggling to navigate the tensions in your ministry setting at this critical juncture in Christian, Baptist, and American life? If so, this morning Brian McLaren offered a framework for choosing your own adventure in these complicated times.
At the Peer Learning Group breakfast the highly-regarded theologian, author, and activist pointed out that the fork in the road lends us options for how we will approach our work:
- Offend no one. Preach and teach on “safe” topics. McLaren noted that in the process we will discover new ways to offend people every week.
- Go where the wind blows. Listen to what the people in your care want to hear, then echo it from the pulpit. McLaren warned that there is grave danger in this approach, as our constituents are being tugged by opposing forces – not all of which are in line with the Gospel.
- Push the congregation. Prod your parishioners on the core issues of the dignity of all people, stewardship of the planet, caring for the poor, and ushering in peace. (McLaren said you should not choose this adventure if job security is your top priority, though he encouraged church planters to consider this approach.)
- Lead by anxiety. Share your concerns about the fissures in our culture with your church. After you have surfaced the tensions, discuss with your members what a faithful, corporate response looks like.
McLaren promoted peer learning groups as an excellent space for thinking through what each of these options looks like, discussing what each PLG member is learning by choosing that particular adventure, and bringing together ministers who are hearing different voices in the congregation and community. In doing so, PLG members can help one another face their choices wisely and can offer support and encouragement to clergy who are weary from conflict.
As a clergyperson and a clergy spouse, I found McLaren’s reframing of the ministering amidst the polarities helpful. I do have options. I need to be intentional and honest about the one I choose. I am not alone in navigating the pastoral path. And the Gospel provides hope that despite the deep tensions, our future is not predetermined.
In addition to Brian McLaren’s words of challenge and encouragement, the 85 people gathered also received a hot-off-the-press PLG brochure with the definition of a peer learning group, examples of groups, tips for starting and ending your PLG, and frequently asked questions. (This brochure is available for all General Assembly participants to pick up in the Gathering Place.) Attendees also heard from the representative of a PLG that applied for the financial literacy grant available through CBF’s Ministerial Excellence Initiative: Allan Smith shared what his group learned by picking the brain of a financial guru with a ministerial background. (Check out the MEI if you want to make sure you are taking all your clergy tax breaks, saving enough for emergencies, and planning well for retirement.)
It was a great morning in Regency Ballroom V! If you weren’t able to make it, attend worship tonight to hear Brian McLaren preach, email firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain peer learning group information, and/or visit the Ministerial Excellence Initiative website to find out how to increase your financial literacy.
Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.