Light-Generating Heat for Pastoral Formation

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in their work with executives and managerial leadership asked their clients to reflect on their careers and identify the events that have had a strong impact on their own development. The data from this research has identified five general clusters. We will look at these over the next five articles.

The first cluster (in no particular order—in fact they identified that culture influences the ranking of each cluster for a leader) centers on the experience of challenging assignments. Now, as a pastor, this is a significant part of the pastoral landscape. Pastors face challenging assignments all the time. Whether it be the crucial conversation with a head elder, a significant upcoming board meeting, or a particular challenge in the local school—pastors consistently face the heat of a challenging assignment.

For some pastors, one opportunity for development will involve stepping into roles that are more oblique to pastoral ministry. These roles can include serving on an educational board or serving in some fashion on a conference, union, or division committee. These kinds of wider experiences will provide opportunities for gaining different perspectives. A corollary to this can also be a youth or young adult pastor who shifts out of this role into a senior pastor position. The transition from a specific function ministry to a full-function ministry will provide plenty of opportunities for learning and growth.

Acting as a change agent by introducing change or transformative experiences into the life of the congregation will provide another opportunity for the pastor to experience a challenging assignment. While pastors do not introduce change for the sake of change, pastors can walk into those change transitions and moments as learning opportunities about themselves and their congregation. One of the best and most intense ways of engaging in this kind of process can be through the Doctor of Ministry program at Andrews University where the expectation is that the pastor will be a change agent in the local congregation.

Chances are during the lifelong engagement with pastoral ministry, the pastor will find themself in the throes of a transition from one district to another. This can be a crucial moment because it can assist the pastor in reflecting and understanding how they respond to change, to those moments of transition—those times where they are saying goodbye to the past while moving into the future. Living between these two points on the transitional compass can bring much to the forefront of how a person lives in the moment of tension.

One challenging experience for a pastor is to remember and practice the art of leading up (to those who they have direct influence in the conference office), to those who are pastoral colleagues and work together in areas within a conference or at camp meeting, and then to live and lead in their local congregational context. This 360-experience will bring to the developing pastor the recognition that to lead at each of these levels may require a different set of skills. To adapt to each of these without losing a sense of direction and identity will stretch the pastor.

In a recent teaching assignment for the Doctor of Ministry program, the group (which included conference officers and ministerial directors) identified that one of the most desired characteristics needed for pastors today is the capacity for cross-cultural ministry. If you serve in the context of a multi-cultural context, this laboratory of the human spectrum provides an ongoing challenge. In other words, pastor, you are in a powerfully unique context for development—make full use of it. Learning the values, practices, customs, and behaviors of those various cultures can develop in the person in unimaginable ways.

So, pastor, what is your particular upcoming challenging assignment in the next month? How do you prepare yourself for this challenge? What contributes to better preparation? What distracts from that preparation? To assist as you reflect on your ministry, look at the grid below to assist you in your own development through these challenging ministry experiences.

Ministry Assignment
Oblique Assignment Assignments pastors engage in that take them away from direct ministry to the local church—i.e., conference, union, or division committee.
Change Agent Assignment Activities taking the pastor as the initiator of a new initiative into the local congregation.
The 360 Assignment The art of influencing people who surround the pastor at various levels of contact.
Pastoral Transitions Assignment The movement of a pastor from one district to another or from one assignment to another.
Cross-cultural Assignment Pastor who leads in a context where a multiplicity of cultures exist in that environment (including a multi-generational congregation).

John Grys is vice president for pastoral ministries in the Illinois Conference