We become what we practice

Posted Sep 05, 2013 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Lawrence Peers


Larry PeersPastors have always gathered together in professional associations—sometimes to do the business of the church and sometimes for professional development and collegiality. All of us have edifying and not-so-edifying stories about these gatherings. We may have dreaded these gatherings because of the posturing that can occur. Or, we may have flocked to these meetings to find colleagues and friends who inform or support our ministry vocation.

Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) programs and Transition into Ministry (TiM) programs developed over the last ten years have launched intentional clergy peer learning groups in a variety of forms across many faith traditions.

One thing that transcends the variety of programs is key practices that are embodied in many of these groups. Taken together these practices are defining an emerging culture of pastors coming together for colleagueship, significant learning, and transformed ministries. These practices include:

1. Taking “balcony time” to reflect upon ministry in order to re-engage with broader perspectives and deeper commitments.
2. Sharing the stories of our spiritual journeys as we connect who we are with what we do as pastors.
3. Creating safe spaces for honest conversations that may lead to times of reckoning, confession, and renewal.
4. Engaging in spiritual practices, worship, or studying religious texts together as a way to feed our spirits without having to be “on” as a religious leader.
5. Agreeing to learn together as a way to challenge ourselves to experiment and intentionally innovate in our thinking and in our actions.
6. Participating in a disciplined conversation that enables us to “see” our ministries and the world with new eyes and to construct new actions to embody our ministries.
7. Holding wonder in each other’s presence, asking curious and poignant questions, and being willing to explore the edges of our own knowing.
8. Practicing hospitality and befriending one another.
9. Holding each other accountable over time and learning how to give feedback graciously.
10. Discerning what we want to learn and how we want to learn it.

Understanding practice

What is “practice”? We may have haunting childhood memories of music lessons, baseball pitches, vocabulary lists, or mathematics assignments displaying our inadequacies rather than our talents. Or, we may have picked up a prayer or exercise practice only to drop it days later. We have often been reassured or chided by the adage that “Practice makes perfect.”

In these pastoral excellence programs, we have come to understand “practice” in other ways. Clergy have come to recognize that it matters what we practice—since we become the practices that we do. We gather not for ourselves alone, but for the sake of cultivating practices, like those in the list above, that also can inform our leadership presence in both a church and a world that need something new, healing and liberating. In this way, clergy groups can be greenhouses for the soul.

Reflect upon your own clergy group:

1. Which of the practices above implicitly or explicitly define who you are as a clergy group?
2. What would you add to the list above?
3. What practices serve the deeper purposes of spiritual, professional, or personal renewal or engaged action in the world? What practices limit these possibilities?
4. What commitments, if you were to make them, would make the most difference to your clergy group moving forward?

Share your reflections here.

Lawrence Peers is the director of learning of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

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