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MMBB’s Thriving in Ministry Initiative: A Look Back at the First Year

June 01, 2020

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In 2019, MMBB hosted a series of colloquia for pastoral leaders under the auspices of the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving In Ministry Program. After being awarded the grant in 2018, MMBB has just completed our first year of program implementation.

Our program, Bridges: Colloquia for Cultivating Ministry, is designed to bring together pastors who are more seasoned and who have excelled in ministry with emerging pastors and those transitioning in ministry. The Bridges program aims to foster higher levels of well-being and organically create on-going relationships that can also serve as mentorships. Through these colloquia, the program also seeks to:

  1. build a better sense of connection among pastors with one another (addressing the challenge of isolation in the pastorate)
  2. increase knowledge around financial wellness and financial literacy
  3. assist pastoral leaders with the challenges of church leadership and management
  4. help create community among pastoral leaders and a safe space to develop trust, and
  5. encourage deeper commitment and wellness during ministry that will enhance the understanding of their call and future in ministry.

Through the vision of Dr. John F. Mandt, Sr., MMBB has offered a colloquium-style program to American Baptist Churches USA ministers for over 30 years, bringing pastors together to share best-practices, common challenges and engage in fellowship and learning. The Thriving In Ministry Program Grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. gives us the opportunity to broaden the impact of that colloquium model by including others with whom we partner. Each of these colloquia provide the chance for pastors to teach and learn from one another around the realities of the career and ministry challenges they are facing.

Over the course of 2019, MMBB held 5 (five) cohorts with over 100 pastoral leaders taking part in the Bridges: Colloquia for Cultivating Ministry program. The cohorts, segmented according to cultural and gender diversity, included The African American Leadership Conference, The Women Pastors Colloquium, The Latino/a Pastors Colloquium, The Asian Pastors Colloquium and the original Colloquium (which was established in 1985). Colloquia participants were diverse in terms of racial ethnicity, geographic makeup, church demographic, pastoral experience, age and denominational affiliation. Our long experience with the colloquium model has taught us that increased levels of well-being take place when there is attention to gender and cultural realities within the context of the faith community.

The curriculum of the Bridges program addresses several issues that are common for most pastoral leaders with sessions on personal wellness, ministry-life balance, personal relationship building between married couples, enhancing personal faith and spiritual practice and avoiding isolation through connections and networking. These sessions provide important tools to encourage personal wellbeing among pastoral leaders. In addition, the cohorts are designed to assist pastoral leaders in their understanding of financial wellness and financial literacy. Sessions are offered on debt management and compensation as well as financial and retirement planning. These topics aim to improve financial knowledge and effective administration in churches to help to build stronger congregations that are prepared to adapt in the ever-changing church landscape.

We are learning that there is a real need for the Bridges program. Pastors in each of these colloquiums struggle to navigate work-life balance, endure feelings of isolation as well as feelings of mistrust and competition among their colleagues in ministry. The colloquium gatherings allow them the opportunity to form lasting and sustaining relationships as well as share pastoral and life experiences.

Agenda content emerges organically to address issues relevant to the cultural and ministry context of the participants. For example, fewer Latino churches are being planted. Fewer people are accepting the call to ministry to serve as pastors. More than ever, Latino pastors are experiencing burn-out, health problems, and leaving the ministry altogether. African American pastors often have to explain to church leadership the components of fair compensation. African American women pastors struggle with churches for respect and recognition of their call to ministry and, very often, do not gain a pastoral call until middle age even though they bring considerable skills to pastoral leadership. Asian pastors strive to integrate complex issues of faith with tangible expressions in practice and addressed several issues including the challenges of navigating generational differences in ethnic churches. In the traditional Colloquium pastors address challenges around church multi-staff management and adapting to current trends in ministry such as worship styles and patterns of financial stewardship.

Every cohort gathering also includes time for spontaneous interaction and communication that is critical to establishing mentoring relationships. This is often a time of vibrant exchange and deepening connections. Feedback from participants has been thoughtful and enthusiastic. One minister from the Asian Pastors Colloquium remarked:

“It was very worthwhile having an Asian American-focused gathering. It was a safe space for our particular stories, concerns, and hopes to be shared. The several non-American Baptist clergy in the mix really added valuable additional perspectives and made for better discussion than if we had been all American Baptist.”

A participant from the African American Leadership Conference shared:

“When I arrived in Orlando 3 years ago I had all the external signs of success…serving a certain size church with a certain social media presence in a certain large metropolitan city, making a certain amount of money, months from becoming debt free, candidating for several established churches…but there was an underside. Nobody knew that I needed AALC more than AALC needed me.”

We are grateful for this first year of success for Bridges: Colloquia for Cultivating Ministry with the generous support of the Lilly Endowment, Inc. and MMBB, which is committed to offering a respite and extending support to pastoral leaders so they can make a positive and meaningful difference for the future of the Church.

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