FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Lilly Endowment research to be explored in November 2-4 conference
EVANSTON, ILLINOIS, August 2, 2010—Groundbreaking research on enhancing the health, happiness and ministerial success of clergy and other church professionals will be unveiled for the first time to a broad audience on November 2-4 when Seabury Western and Bexley Hall seminaries sponsor Sustaining Excellence in Ministry: Accountability, Friendship & Hope in Peer Groups, a conference on the Lilly Endowment’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellent (SPE) project at the Procter Center in London, Ohio.
Janet Maykus and Bruce Roberts, who helped evaluate Lilly’s ambitious eight-year effort to promote the effectiveness and vocational satisfaction of parish clergy through peer groups, will discuss the enormous potential such groups have demonstrated to transform participants’ ministries and to foster congregational growth.
“We will be looking at some of the findings from the study, but it is not going to be a wonky numbers and facts sort of thing,” said Maykus, an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.), who recently served as principal of the College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. “It will be a more interactive sort of programs and one where the participants will be able to go away with a plan for their institutions to put together some sort of peer learning program for clergy and for lay leaders.”
Participants in the conference will learn “some of what draws someone to a peer group, what got them to join, what got them to stay, how much things like this cost,” Maykus added. “We will talk about the difference between facilitated programs and un-facilitated programs, the difference between having a facilitator who serves as a coach, as opposed to a spiritual director, or trained clergy peer.”
Participants will also explore the implications of the SPE study for theological education and formation.
The Lilly Endowment funded the SPE project in response to research in the 1990s indicating that, Protestant clergy had some of the highest incidences of stress-related illnesses and deaths of any profession in the U.S. The project was informed by the idea that by gathering regularly in peer groups, clergy and other church professionals might find ways to support one another, hold one another accountable, and help one another to grow.
A study conducted by Maykus and others bore out the wisdom of the peer-group approach. Clergy who participated regularly in a peer group were more likely to be happy in their work and to be leading growing congregations than those who do not.
“When we began the research, I really wondered: Does this make a difference?” Maykus said. “But I have been struck by the power that a little time away from work, and a little time among people who have similar commitments had in invigorating and transforming the participants. “I was also surprised by the correlations between participation in clergy peer groups and congregational growth.”
The study is especially significant because the SPE project supported some 2,400 peer groups supported by 63 granting institutions, making it one of the largest pastoral enrichment experiments in the history of the American church. Representing nearly every Christian tradition, these peer groups gathered for biblical study, theological reflection, spiritual renewal and the development of sustained friendships and opportunities for support.
“SPE peer groups that renew their members’ ministries provide a stimulating mix of the practical, the intellectual, and the spiritual along with a certain amount of “holding each others’ feet to the fire” in terms of accountability,” Maykus and her colleagues wrote in their report. “As with most peer-learning approaches, the wisdom and experience of the group itself is a key resource as is a good facilitator or leader. Peer group participants share ideas, trouble-shoot ministry problems, and provide pastoral feedback. They also explore new ideas and approaches to ministry. A balance is evident here: the kind of group that renews a pastoral leader’s ministry appears to be about half, personal support, and about half, ministry enrichment.”
The report also examines the tantalizing link between pastoral renewal and congregational growth. “We found that congregations with pastoral leaders who participated in peer groups were significantly more likely to promote a ‘culture of involvement’ that actively assimilates newcomers and fully involves members in leadership,” the researchers wrote.
“Further, congregations with pastoral leaders in a peer group support an active youth ministry that also is integrated into the life of the church. … Such congregations are more likely to have a youth program, including a youth minister or director, youth conferences, and camps. They are much more likely to include youth in planning and leadership.”
Robert Reber, dean and president of Bexley Hall Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, was a key advisor on the project, and Bexley Hall is co-sponsoring the November conference with Seabury Western Seminary in Evanston, Ill. The two Episcopal seminaries recently instituted a partnership for lifelong learning that focuses on examining contemporary issues and finding new ways of living of living faithfully.
“The findings of this massive study have extraordinary relevance for lifelong learning and the ongoing education of clergy and laity,” Reber said. “All of us in the life of the church can learn much about what sustains people in ministry and the effectiveness of different peer group models by immersing ourselves in this information.”
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Bexley Hall Seminary offers the M.Div. in partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary and seeks partnership with others to educate and form clergy and laity to explore the meaning of the Gospel, provide leadership for the Church, and to share in Christ's work in the world. It provides an ethos rooted in Anglican thought and life and respectful of diverse traditions in theology, liturgy and spirituality. Learn more at www.bexley.edu.