Thriving in Ministry

Beginning in March 2017 David Gortner, my faculty colleague, and I began conducting interviews about Thriving in Ministry.  Our questions were part of a planning grant process for the Lilly Endowment, Inc. One of the questions was what are the marks of a clergy person who is thriving and thereby supports of vitality of the congregation that she or he serves?  Another one of the questions was what are the ways clergy do not thrive?  While these are only two of a panel of questions to which 30 church leaders gave their perspectives, themes did emerge.  The planning grant lead to an implementation grant which we are launching at VTS: Thriving in Ministry. 

Thriving in Ministry serves as a catalyst to bring together groups of clergy for peer learning.  The program offers a self assessment for clergy to identify what they want and need to learn leading deeper than a collegial support group.  The Thriving program will also train a peer group facilitators to support the learning process of the group, to help identify places of challenge and places of success, to serve as a coordinator to maintain the groups meeting times and gathering, and to bring the group in-depth case studies that will stretch leadership practices.  A trained mentors is available to any individual in a group who seeks further support to learn new practices in her or his ministry context.

This is a short summary of a program that we on the Thriving Team anticipate will open new paths for clergy to learn deeply with and from one another.  You can contact us at (David Gortner), (Carol Pinkham Oak), or (Imani Kane).

If you are wondering what Thriving in Ministry could look like, here are the Marks of Thriving in Ministry we learned from the planning grant:

  • Balance of vulnerability and thick skin
  • Navigate conflict with courage and direct engagement
    • Does the clergy person have conversation and emotional tools for this?
  • Deeply grounded spiritual practices that sustain and strengthen them
  • Inhabit and trust their own courage to lead their faith communities with clarity of mission
  • Discern the context of a congregation.
  • Recognize and are not intimidated by the natural dynamics of power and influence in communities
  • Freely facilitate shared leadership by inviting lay leaders to be effective team members for the congregation’s vitality
  • Sustain and strengthen themselves through networks of support, learning, and accountability
  • Know how to ask for help and then apply the suggestions – both hear and heed.
  • Show readiness to learn and grow personally as well as spiritually
  • Intentionally invite challenge as well as support in conversation with one another and other spiritual leaders
  • Proactively seek out ways to learn what they do not know
  • Develop skills that they recognizing (or supporters help them recognize) that are lacking
  • Share a broader, deeper pastoral identity that extends beyond merely “feeling like a pastor/priest” or only loving the core expected religious functions to a passionate embrace of those charges of pastoral management, leadership, and mission

Clearly these are skills, capacities, and habits that are learned, taught, or caught throughout a life-time of ministry. They become part of our ministries through a continuous, intentional cycle of selection, action, and practice (know as Deliberative Practice). And, these marks of thriving can grow in an environment trust where they can be ‘”caught’ from both peers and guides who mutually assume roles of coach, mentor, instructor, and colleague.


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