I just returned from the final official gathering of my time in the Company of New Pastors, a wonderful program that brings candidates for ministry together into cohort groups that extend into the first four years following graduation from Seminary. The retention rate for ministers in the first five years of ministry is awful. Around 1/3 of ministers leave the ministry in the first 5 years, never to return to the vocation. Maybe it is wise discernment; maybe it is something else. At any rate, the Company of New Pastors and other programs have been established to try to reverse that trend, to provide the kind of support and nurture that sustains pastoral excellence through the early years and beyond.
CNP does this particularly with an emphasis on daily prayer and Scripture reading, continued theological engagement, and participation in cohort/covenant groups, which include two seasoned pastoral mentors. This program has been incredibly helpful to me in many ways, and I am profoundly grateful for the gift. It has been life-giving and life-sustaining, and our group gatherings a really critical part of my support network in my first four years of ministry. Participation in this group, along with regular engagement in continuing education, opportunities for my own spiritual nourishment and time for worship have all been crucial for me as a church leader, and as a disciple of Christ. What a privilege it is to go to a preaching conference for a week, for example, where I am able to worship and hear excellent sermons morning, noon, and night! What a joy to have time set aside for my continued education and spiritual development. It is a gift that I do not take for granted. My denomination requires churches to offer a minimum of 2 weeks of paid continuing education time away, and some amount of money to support it. Not every church or denomination requires this, and even among colleagues, I know of many who rarely use this time. What a lost opportunity to continue to be rooted and fed in the vine of Jesus Christ, to grow in the life of the faith to which we have been called in virtue of our baptisms, and to gird ourselves for the particular services of ministry to which we are called.
And yet... When we talk about empowering or training non-pastoral church leaders (Elders, Deacons, non-ordained individuals), how often do we think about spiritual nurture, time set aside from the business to which we are called to be refreshed and drink from the well of living water? How many leaders in our church see their "jobs" as custodians, managers, volunteer coordinators, non-profit agency board members, etc..., rather than as true spiritual leaders?
How do we help to cultivate the spiritual lives of all church leaders? What does your church do well (or do poorly)? What kind of difference have you seen with churches that prioritize spiritual formation for all church leaders?
In January I will be facilitating a spiritual retreat for a group of Elders from a church outside of Atlanta. Their desire is not to do any visioning, taking care of business, or anything like that; they want a retreat specifically focused on spiritual formation. What would you include or want to see included in such a retreat?
Feel free to converse in the comments below, or contact me directly (tweet me if you need contact information).