Ashland Theological Seminary awarded PEN catalyst grant

Oct 15, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network


Church planters ensure the healthy growth of new churches, but who ensures the healthy growth of church planters? The Pastoral Excellence Network is pleased to award a Catalyst Grant to Ashland Theological Seminary (ATS) to promote healthy practices in the training of church planters through the New Church Start Academy (NCSA) of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church (FCUMC).

Dan Jackson, Director of New Church Development FCUMC, graduated from Ashland’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program in 2006. According to Jackson, “It re-grounded my relationship with Jesus and ... released me to become an authentic leader, both before my congregation and before Christ.” When Jackson envisioned NCSA, he wanted to transfer the blessing.

As Matthew Lewis, Director for Excellence in Leadership at Ashland Theological Seminary, points out, more than a decade of Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiatives has demonstrated the power of clergy peer learning groups which include a clear component of soul care. They help keep leaders connected to Jesus, one another, and their calling in healthy ways.

“It was critical to begin the New Church Start Academy with a Christ-centered focus through these kind of focused peer groups. I strongly believe that if we do not help our pastors establish strong, deep and authentic relationships with Jesus, they cannot develop strong churches, nor can they endure the challenges of starting churches,” said Jackson.

On August 25, 2014, 23 pastors of new faith communities in the FCUMC gathered for the first of four three-day training events. This first training event focused primarily on creating healthy clergy peer groups and instilling a spiritual direction paradigm into their DNA.

Each group was assigned a spiritual mentor to help process the material and normalize healthy, mutual soul care among participants. “It is unique and powerful that a denominational group would invest in their clergy this way,” said Bryan Swash, a spiritual mentor in the program.

Vicki Podjasek, a former church planter and a spiritual mentor, said, “I’ve enjoyed seeing the bonding that’s going on through deep life sharing.” She added that these relationships forged in the presence of Christ will become an ongoing resource for personal strength for the years ahead.

Participant Devin Brown, Director of Discipleship and Evangelism at Ebenezer UMC, Miami, said the training was unique. Rather than focusing on the systems of church planting, it focused on things like taking Sabbath and caring for our families while doing ministry.

ATS and NCSA envision this being the first of many cohorts to train church planters not only in the mechanics of planting a church, but in methods of remaining spiritually vital in ministry. The Pastoral Excellence Network is excited to see the genesis of programs which seek to foster practices for sustained clergy health and excellence.

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