The Spiritual Leader Development Commission has been exploring the best ways to support our clergy in their work for a few years. One of the realities in our presbytery is that the majority of our churches in the presbytery are pastored by solo pastors, sometimes in communities that are more isolated from other churches in the presbytery.
A 2013 study by the Flourishing in Ministry Project points to the unique stresses on many solo pastors who are expected to be what the study calls expert-generalists—the congregation expects that they bring expertise in all aspects of church life, from preaching and pastoral care to budgets and property issues. These expectations can lead to discouragement for the pastor and eventually to burnout as the pastor tries to live into the congregation’s expectations, both spoken and unspoken. Many pastors find themselves disengaging from ministry as their sense of failure grows or angry with members of their congregation because of the seemingly endless demands. Pastors can feel like performers as they try to be the pastor the church seems to want, rather than living into their true sense of call and gifting.
On top of that, many churches are reluctant to try new things or make changes that could help their congregation thrive. Often when a pastor is called, he or she meets resistance from a congregation deeply entrenched in the way they’ve always done things. Navigating change in such an environment can feel like swimming against the tide while being hit by waves of relational conflict. Pastors are not trained in seminary to address these challenges. As author and retired PC(USA) pastor Robert Harris writes, “A new seminary graduate typically has little insight into congregational systems and the business of running a congregation.” Harris goes on to say that it’s not just new graduates who have this problem. Seasoned clergy can find themselves in situations beyond their experience as they take a new call and move to a different congregation.
Which gets back to the question, why coaching? Coaching provides a way to come along side a pastor who is capable in her or his job and also faces challenges beyond their gift set. A coach doesn’t come to the relationship as an expert but simply helps the pastor see the challenge from different perspectives and explore possibilities for solutions. The coach knows that the pastor is creative and resourceful and has the capacity to find the best way forward. In this way, coaching can be tailored to address the current, unique challenges each pastor is navigating.
Spiritual Leader Development already provides scholarship funding for pastors seeking coaching and this fall we will launch a new initiative to introduce group coaching. A cohort of pastors, CLPs, and interns will meet monthly by social media to explore creative solutions with colleagues and coaches and build relationships with others in the presbytery. The cohort will be using curriculum materials created by the Chris Holmes Coaching Group called the Academy for Artful Living. If you are interested in learning more about coaching, contact Debbie Schmidt, Associate for Spiritual Leader Development: firstname.lastname@example.org.