By Ashleigh Bugg
For pastors and ministers, especially those just starting their careers, ministry can be a lonely place.
“Isolation is a real thing, and it happens everywhere,” said Courtney Stamey, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi. “You can be in Atlanta, Chicago or a very populated place; but you get so stuck in your routine, that you kind of become like a stick floating down the river.”
For a year, Stamey has taken part in CBF Fellows, a two-year program for ministers in their first call. Members meet six times in person and virtually at other times throughout the year. Each minister is provided with a professional coach.
“Really, what it’s about is supporting and encouraging, and providing connection to ministers,” Stamey explained. “CBF Fellows provides a chance to step on the bank, and to get some perspective, and talk with people who just get it.”
Through the Fellows program, Stamey feels she is able to reach out to people who are going through similar situations, everything from finding van rental insurance to dealing with flooding in church buildings to knowing what to do when people pass away. She has a support system she can go to for advice.
“We also pray for each other. Many of us have had pretty momentous things happen,” Stamey said.
“The biggest thing is being able to take a step back, and ask those questions, like what God desires for my congregation, for my community. We ask a lot of questions.”
For Stamey, CBF Fellows offers her much needed perspective. She is able to gain the tools, skills and relationships she needs to work through ministerial burnout.
“The week after I come back from a Fellows gathering, my sermons are better, my ideas are better, I’m more able to engage in difficult conversations, because I’ve had that rest and energy and perspective,” she said.
The current CBF Fellows cohort comprises 16 members from various backgrounds and areas of the country. It is made up equally of women and men and hosts ministers serving in different fields. Some are senior or associate pastors, and one member works at a nonprofit. They hail from Texas, Georgia, New York, Missouri, Mississippi and North Carolina. The program is in its fourth cohort and is currently receiving applications for its fifth.
Stamey originally heard about CBF Fellows while in seminary but decided not to pursue it at first.
“I said ‘no’, I’m still trying to figure it out, I don’t know if I will to be going into church work,” she said.
When two years passed and the next cohort opened up, she decided to apply.
“I was finishing up my pastoral residency, feeling called into congregational work and I knew that I was going to need help,” Stamey said. “I was going to need people to walk through this process with me.”
CBF Fellows members are typically younger, many in their late 20s and early 30s. Stamey affirms that the program has been beneficial for those starting out.
“I’m 29 and a senior pastor in Mississippi,” she said. “To have some of the skills that reflect leadership, especially in the particular area where I’m serving, is invaluable.”
Throughout her work with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the CBF Fellows program, Stamey hopes to lead her congregation
“In Mississippi in particular, one of our issues is racial justice,” Stamey said. “We are thinking about how we can make Mississippi a more equitable place for all people.”
This includes working with local CBF ministries like Delta Hands for Hope as well as aiding CBF initiatives on the Texas-Mexico border by partnering with groups like Fellowship Southwest.
“In some ways, the cooperation with CBF shapes us, and I hope that we shape CBF too,” Stamey said.
“Courtney is one of the more than 80 ministers serving in a dynamic CBF congregation supported by the CBF Fellows program,” said Joshua Speight, manager of Leadership Development for CBF and director of the CBF Fellows program. “CBF Fellows walks alongside each minister like Courtney and Northside Baptist so that they continue to thrive and be what God would have them to be in the world. The goal is for ministers like Courtney to see themselves in congregational ministry for 30 to 40 years.”
For those who are interested in joining CBF Fellows, Stamey has one piece of advice: “Do it,” she said. “Talk with someone who has experienced Fellows before. We’re the fourth cohort. There are a lot of people who have gone through it and would be happy to share their experience with you.”
She added that the program offers needed support especially for those serving smaller congregations or those with fewer resources.
“It’s awesome for a smaller church or one that doesn’t have continuing education funds,” she said. “It helps support ministerial development without being a financial burden on the church.”
For pastors just starting their first call, Stamey advises to apply at www.cbf.net/cbf-fellows for the next cohort, which will begin at the 2020 General Assembly in Atlanta, Ga. The application deadline is tomorrow, December 31.
“Even if you’re worried that you’re not the right fit or you have some concerns, apply for it,” Stamey said. “And if you do it, invest yourself fully.”
Learn more about Courtney Stamey, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., and the CBF Fellows program, watch the video below.
This article appeared in the Winter 2019-20 issue of fellowship! magazine, the quarterly publication of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Read online here and subscribe for free to fellowship! and CBF’s weekly e-newsletter fellowship! weekly at www.cbf.net/subscribe.