We share the following resources in the hope that they may contain ideas for those interested in forming peer learning groups or in sponsoring continuing education events for pastors. This list has been compiled from suggestions made to the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence staff and is not intended to be exhaustive. SPE doesn’t necessarily agree with everything presented in these resources. Discernment is always needed.
We welcome other recommendations. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, using "For SPE Resource Page" in the subject line. Note that resources must be related to the topic of pastoral excellence.
The following articles come from a variety of non-CRC publications:
• "A Time for Lasts" by Bruce G. Epperly and Katherine Gould Epperly (published in the February 21, 2011 issue of the Alban Weekly). Much like the changing seasons, retirement for pastors can be a transformative time in which “new life springs… but not without the death of the old self and its habitual patterns.” This season is often accompanied by a mixture of emotions, from feelings of relief and a new sense of freedom to feelings of uncertainty and loss as pastors discern the next steps beyond congregational ministry. With the realization that they do not simply “do ministry” but rather are ministers, retirement brings a powerful reminder of how work shapes their personal identity. To read more, click here.
• "Compassion Fatigue" by David Ragsdale (published in the May 2012 issue of the Compass, a publication of QuietWaters Ministries). Increasingly burnout is becoming more prevalent among ministry leaders. The less well-known condition, Compassion Fatigue (CF) is equally serious. As leaders overextend themselves while failing to practice self-care, CF sets in and leaves them “worn out, cynical, and disillusioned.” As David Ragsdale writes, “The work of compassion taxes our mental, emotional and spiritual resources. Even the most emotionally resilient caring professional can end up experiencing a ‘caregiver crisis’.” To read more about the symptoms of CF and strategies to avoid it, click here.
• "Congregations Gone Wild" by G. Jeffrey MacDonald (published in the August 7, 2010 issue of The New York Times). Despite the need for pastors to rest and take time away from their work, recent studies show that many congregations are “consumer-driven,” placing increased pressure and demands on their pastors and clergy. Sadly, these demands have led pastors to switch their religious affiliation or, in the case of some, suffer burnout and leave the ministry altogether. On the flipside, when the pastor fails to meet such demands, congregants have gone elsewhere to fulfill their unmet spiritual needs. To read more, click here.
• "Finding Creative Ways of Renewal" by Lis Van Harten (published in the Fall 2012 issue of the APCE Advocate). For pastors and educators, renewal is vital to help combat the drain of an overfull, often stressful workload. Ways of finding renewal will vary greatly from person to person. Many pastors have experienced the joy of renewal through peer groups, in which pastors enjoy studying books, attending conferences together, sharing experiences, and engaging in a variety of other group activities. Renewal can also come through unintentional means, and sometimes it is the “simple act of people getting together to share life [that] brings renewal.” To read the full article, click here.
• "Overcoming Loneliness in Ministry" by Barbara J. Blodgett (published in the March 28, 2011 issue of the Alban Weekly). Many pastors experience loneliness—feeling they’re lone rangers—at some point in their ministry. Ironically, this loneliness isn’t usually caused by a lack of company. Rather, the loneliness stems from a desire for companionship with peers—other pastors who ‘do the same thing they do.’ Many pastors have found this companionship through pastor peer groups which provide opportunities to gather with other pastors. To read more about how peer groups can positively impact loneliness in ministry, click here.
• "Pastoral Excellence in an Impatient Age" by Neil Carlson (January 2013). Recognizing changes in the social position of pastors is a new issue for today’s church. Not only are pastors facing increasing social informality, but they’re also facing increasing expectations and responsibilities set by their congregations. As Neil Carlson writes, “Pastors are expected to bring a ‘non-anxious presence’ to the congregation, but most are caught in an anxiety-inducing vise of declining respect for their professional status and increased demand for managerial skills that ensure efficient delivery of services to members.” The result? Pastors who are “undernourished” and lacking the congregational support and resources necessary for effective ministry. To read more of Carlson’s article and how churches can begin to address this “chronic problem,” click here.
• "Pastors and Peer Groups" by Maria Mallory White (published in the September 2010 issue of Faith & Leadership). Across various denominations, pastor peer groups have long shown the benefits to pastors who experience the support and encouragement these groups offer. Recent studies have shown that congregations are also benefiting from pastor peer groups. A recent survey (which the CRC participated in) revealed a strong correlation between pastor involvement in a peer group and congregational growth and engagement in ministry both in and outside the church. To read more, click here.
• "Peer Power" by Christina Braudaway-Bauman (published in the January 11, 2012 issue of The Christian Century). What does a pastor peer group look like when it focuses on “pastoral excellence”? Pastors can be energized and strengthened through honest conversations and camaraderie can be built through sharing the challenges, stressors, and disappointments in ministry. As Christina Braudaway-Bauman writes, “The lesson emerging from every peer group project is that when clergy meet regularly in a ‘community of practice’ for intentional reflection on their ministry, they find that trust develops, anxieties diminish, and challenges turn into occasions for learning.” To read more, click here.
• "Self-care is not self-ish" by Kate Rugani (published in the August 2012 issue of Faith & Leadership). Amidst numerous daily tasks and responsibilities, pastors often put self-care at the bottom of their “to-do” list. While many understand the importance of caring for themselves, it can often be seen as “selfish” (whether by the pastor and/or the congregation) and therefore takes a backseat to other vocational responsibilities. To avoid feelings of pressure and guilt, it is important for pastors to set (and keep!) boundaries in their work that allow time to care for themselves and their families. To read more, click here.
• "Taking a Break from the Lord's Work" by Paul Vitello (published in the August 1, 2010 issue of The New York Times). Although pastors taking “time off” from their work can be a sensitive topic for some congregations, health studies show an alarming trend of pastors suffering from health problems at higher rates than most Americans. In response to these findings, several denominations have adopted new initiatives to ensure their pastors take vacations and time away for renewal. To read the article, click here.
• "The Dark Side of a Sabbatical" by Mark Miller-McLemore (published in the December 2010 issue of Faith & Leadership). An increasing number of pastors are adopting the practice of sabbaticals, which can be a great time of refreshment and growth for pastors and their congregations. However, as three congregations illustrate, there is a ‘dark side’ – or potential dangers – that can arise in pastoral sabbaticals. Whether it’s wrongful assumptions about sabbatical intentions, resentment from the congregation, or emotional tension between pastors and lay leaders, sabbaticals have the potential to create unexpected problems. To read some helpful tips on how to avoid sabbatical hazards, click here.
Badaracco, Joseph L. Jr. Leading Quietly. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Benner, David G. Sacred Companions. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Barnes, M. Craig. The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008.
Bullock, Richard and Richard Bruesehoff. Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning. Alban Institute, 2000.
Allen, David. Getting Things Done. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 2001.
Dawn, Marva. Keeping the Sabbath Wholly. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.
CTS has a number of excellence resources for pastors and ministry leaders.
• For online lectures, go to: http://calvinseminary.edu/resources/calendar/lecture-calendar/
Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS): CTS has a variety of conferences/seminars for pastors and ministry leaders. To see what's currently available, go to: http://calvinseminary.edu/academics/continuing-education/.
SPE/CTS Course, "The Theology and Practice of Pastoral Ministry": The central thesis of this course is that strong pastoral identity is the key to sustaining pastoral excellence. The course integrates this theological understanding with the basic practices of pastoral ministry: worship, preaching, teaching, evangelism, pastoral care, and congregational leadership. For information on upcoming courses, go to: http://calvinseminary.edu/academics/continuing-education/
FREE CONFERENCE: Several times a year Rocky Mountain Renewal offers 3-day seminars with various topics of interest to full-time pastors and full-time missionaries and their spouses. (Seminars for women in ministry are also offered.) They provide 4 meals, housing and a speaker for 4 sessions, all at no charge to you. For more information, visit www.rockymountainrenewal.org/seminars.asp.
The Ministry Resource Center of Calvin College has a collection of over 5,000 practical resources for all aspects of congregational ministry. They are available for busy pastors and other church leaders who don’t have the time to search through all the catalogues and visit the bookstores to find the best material for their ministry needs. Visit the Center’s web site at: www.calvin.edu/library/mrc/ or call 616-526-8731 or email email@example.com.
• The Pastors Roundtable is an interdenominational peer learning group program designed for an excellent experience with only 20 minutes of prep time for the leader and no homework for the rest of the participants. If you're interested in more information on this opportunity, click here or go to www.thepastorsroundtable.org.
Click here for information on developing a sabbatical policy, sample sabbatical policies, and sabbatical opportunities and resources.
Calvin College and Calvin Seminary have recently published the tenth edition of their "Resource Guide to Speakers and Programs."It contains a wealth of available resources. This booklet is available online.
To download the .pdf file for each SPE training tool, please click on the title shown below. Free hardcopies of each title are available through Faith Alive and they are shipped at no cost to you. Please click on the corresponding link next to each title to place an order.
• Closing Well, Continuing Strong (to order, please click here)
• Alban Institute
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