Paul puts a lot of pressure on those Thessalonians. He begins his letter with a whole list of all the wondrous ways they are doing ministry. Of course, high on that list, is the fact that they are imitating Paul in their willingness to be persecuted and offer themselves as living examples to that end. Most clergy, these days, are probably glad that the prevailing world empire no longer has coliseums for throwing Christians, or anybody, into lions’ dens. If we did, it would probably further depress the rates of young people entering seminaries. But even without the lions, clergy have a difficult task.
Yes, Paul faced lots of issues around the care and feeding of congregations, but even he might be astounded at the expectations of today’s pastor. A 21st century reverend has got to be team leader, CEO, administrator, public relations expert, spiritual counselor, social worker, mediator and brilliant speaker, storyteller and an all-around great communicator. They should also be adept with children, babies and older members, and be both young and funny and experienced and wise! Sometimes pastor’s families feel the stress of being “on display,” and pastors are often expected to be always available.
The good news is that support and resources are a phone call away. Our UCC Conferences have developed programs providing opportunities for clergy to continue to grow and flourish in ministry. This is good for churches. This is good for all of us.
Back in 2000, the power of having “Communities of Practice” nurtured in corporate culture as extolled in the pages of the Harvard Business Review. Such communities provided places for creative employees to gather around topics of joint interest and learn from one another in an organized yet informal small group. It would be a place where ideas could be shared, people could risk in a safe and confidential setting, and interdepartmental cooperation could be fostered. This idea is currently at play in many of our UCC Conferences. Communities of Practice, a part of the Pastoral Excellence Program, are organized around kinds of ministry, and interests of pastor. Meetings are scheduled by the Conferences. More than simply support groups, these practice communities work at creating an attitude of discipline and ongoing education around the skills and knowledge needed to be an affective pastor in the 21st century.
For Paul’s world, there was risk to ministry. That risk was a risk of persecution. At least for today, our risk is that our clergy will get complacent and burn out from lack of challenge and constant availability. Communities of Practice are a way to support our ministry together.
Why don’t you ask your pastor if there is a Community of Practice in your Conference for them?