The Center for Ministry at Millsaps College is a partnership program between Millsaps College and the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Center for Ministry’s mission is to develop Christian leaders through lifelong learning. The Center’s Thriving in Ministry program will support, resource, and empower clergywomen toward thriving during a key season of professional transition: as they prepare for, or begin, their first pastorate as a solo or senior pastor. The program will include ecumenical peer groups, large-group retreats for mentored leadership learning and renewal, funds for personal wellness projects, and funds for clergy to engage either a clergy coach or a spiritual director.
Women remain less likely than men to lead the largest churches or to be senior pastors of mid-sized congregations; they are more likely to be associates; and they also receive less on average in compensation. The specific challenges clergywomen in leadership face are particularly concerning because they include a lack of opportunity for authenticity and membership in the larger clergy community, struggles in their relationships with significant others, challenges in attending to personal care and renewal, and difficulty in identifying role models and mentors, all of which the Flourishing in Ministry study (Notre Dame) identifies as extremely important for cultivating pastoral well-being. This makes the challenges women face as they prepare for or transition into leadership as solo or senior pastors all the more urgent, and all the more important, to address.
The program will be structured in three 15-month cohorts, each of which will include three to four peer groups of four to six people. Each activity in the program builds specifically on research around pastoral well-being, especially that put forth by the Flourishing in Ministry Project and the Duke Clergy Health Initiative.
The program will include the following components for each cohort:
Ecumenical peer groups: We will support self-designed ecumenical clergy peer groups for Southern clergywomen who are either preparing themselves for solo or senior pastoral leadership in the near future, or who are serving in their first solo or senior pastor position. The Center for Ministry’s program will resource these groups to meet regularly, in person or virtually, over the 15 month cohort period, to pursue self-designed study. Grant funding will be used to resource the group to participate in at least one retreat or conference of their choosing together, in addition to three retreats planned and facilitated through the Center for Ministry. These ecumenical peer groups will create an opportunity for pastors to nurture strong, positive relationships with other pastors, which are key to pastoral thriving. The composition of groups will also include one or more experienced clergywomen already effectively serving as senior and solo pastors. These more experienced clergywomen will gain the opportunity to cultivate their own lifelong learning, to receive continuing education credit, to spend time away on retreat and education, and resources to nurture their own thriving. They will also gain the rewarding experience of sharing their insight and wisdom with the less experienced members of their peer group.
Large-group retreats: In addition to peer mentorship, the Center’s Thriving in Ministry programming includes three retreats attended by all peer group participants. We will host three large-group retreats for peer group members to attend at the beginning, middle, and end of their 15 months together. These retreats ensure that participants will encounter important role models and mentors beyond the composition of their own peer group. These role models and mentors will be experienced senior and solo pastors, scholars, coaches, or consultants brought in as facilitators, preachers, teachers, panelists, and guest participants. These retreats are also where peer group members will connect with a larger body of clergy, expanding the sense of belongingness, and the opportunities to develop authentic friendships across both geographic and denominational lines. Finally, the retreats will include education and opportunities for reflection around personal and communal well-being. The final retreat each cohort participates in will be a pilgrimage experience, allowing participants to end their time in the program with a focus on spiritual practices, personal discernment, and renewal.
Restorative activities: We will provide funds to support clergy participants’ engagement in “restorative niches” and/or time away with “significant other(s)” who are important in their lives. Research indicates that participation in a “restorative niche” - something one does well, in which one can acquire a sense of mastery, and which one does for the joy of the thing itself - are highly beneficial in reducing burnout, exhaustion, and stress. Restorative niches might include activities such as piano lessons, a gym program, or an art class. Strong, positive relationships with individuals who are emotionally significant and invested in one’s life - family and friends - also fosters pastoral thriving. Providing funding and encouragement to support engagement with these activities and relationships is key to nurturing clergy, especially in seasons of transition when their pastoral identity is being discerned and developed anew.
Congregational training: We will provide congregational education and training to the church(es) or participating clergywomen who are in their first solo or senior pastor roles. Clergy face challenges not just from within themselves, but also from the larger systems in which they participate. This is why it is of key importance to educate and support not just clergywomen, but also the congregations in which they serve. Educating and training churches on human well-being, on the importance of pastoral well-being for effective pastoral leadership, and on best practices for supporting pastors and their families will increase the congregational impact of the mentoring, learning, and wellness formation clergywomen receive while program participants.
Spiritual Direction/Coaching: At the end of the 15-month participation period, we will provide clergywomen with funding toward future work with a spiritual director or coach, as they choose. This will support continued growth and learning, as well as the continuation of disciplines developed through participation in the Thriving in Ministry program.