We invited guest blogger, Darrell Yoder, to The Pastor’s Soul to share a great resource on ministry resilience from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.
A Conference on Resilience
As a conference planner, sometimes you choose the topic, and sometimes the topic chooses you. In 2019, we were coming off a series of events that engaged some of the most challenging and divisive topics facing the church: LGBT+ perspectives, justice, unity, racism, immigration, #metoo, and more. Our goal with the Talking Points program at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary is to provide space where pastors, ministry leaders, and other Christians can reflect deeply on hard questions from a biblical and theological perspective. These events in 2017, 2018, and 2019 were especially hard, but equally rewarding.
After those events, with the help of a grant from the Lilly Endowment, we shifted gears to care for pastoral and ministry leaders themselves. We wanted to encourage and support the overall health of pastors as they seek to lead the church. Not only in the big, controversial issues of the day but also in the mundane and often unseen work of leading a church. Shifting gears, we decided to talk about pastoral wellbeing, resilience, and how the Cross of Jesus Christ is central to enduring the ebbs and flows of ministry. We planned a conference on the theme: “Resilience: Finding Wholeness in Ministry By Way of the Cross.”
Resilience goes online
Then, the pandemic hit. Our topic became even more relevant—even providential. It was clear. This topic chose us.
Our conference was scheduled for March 17, 2020, which was just four days after the State of Michigan closed all gatherings of large groups. At first, I was frustrated (and a little numb) after all the work that went into planning the conference. Within a few weeks, though, I began to hear how hard things were for pastors. Decisions about whether to hold services, whether to require masks when they do hold services, how to go virtual and put sermons online. I talked to one pastor burned out from trying to flip several different ministries into a virtual environment within just a couple of weeks. The sorrow and exhaustion in her voice were notable, an understandable result of unrealistic pressures coming from the church and from her drive to serve. Some pastors lost members to COVID during these months, especially those in communities of color most impacted by the pandemic.
Add to the pandemic the volatility of the 2020 US presidential election. Masks became a political statement across the nation, and for some pastors they became a dividing line between members. Pastors were being watched to see if their reactions and policies would align with one political side or the other. Each decision, public statement, and private comment scrutinized to divine their true allegiance.
Many people left their churches because they stayed open; others left because they closed.
Personally, as I heard these stories and reflected on my own experience of the pandemic and the political season, I kept coming back to something we were saying before our conference was canceled: Pastors, we need you to be healthy. I have served in pastoral ministry and walked with others preparing for ministry now for over 10 years. It’s been rewarding beyond words. But I have felt and seen the distinct toll that being a spiritual leader can take. I have also tried feebly to minister to others when my own heart and soul were weary, dry, and at times deflated.
Pastors, we need you to be healthy. More than ever.
The past year has been traumatic on a global scale. Medical professionals and other essential workers have risked their lives to keep our communities alive and moving. Those who have been tapped to provide spiritual comfort, guidance, and wisdom; those who go to the Word to come back and speak to our hearts; those whom we lean on when we are weary—you have carried a spiritual, emotional, and relational burden most people may never fully appreciate.
Needless to say, we couldn’t drop the conversation simply because we couldn’t hold a conference. So, we decided to step back and “unbundle” our one-day conference into a series of free virtual events, which we held from August to November 2020. Doing so allowed us to record each speaker’s presentation, engage in discussion, add some additional speakers, and encourage pastors over several months. With grant funds that we couldn’t spend on the conference, we were also able to produce a series of studies—a Resilience Curriculum—to encourage active engagement of the topics in local church settings.
We released the Resilience Curriculum this past March and made available 100 copies of a set of books that provide research, insight, and practical wisdom on pastoral wellbeing, resilience, and wholeness. Here are as few links to the resources:
- Resilience virtual series recordings: nine-sessions with Drs. Ruth Haley Barton, Matt Bloom, Bob Burns, Danjuma Gibson, Chuck DeGroat, Sean Nemecek, and more.
- The Resilience Curriculum: seven studies for pastors, ministry leaders, and church leadership teams
- The Resilience Packet: nine books on pastoral wellbeing, resilience, and wholeness (available free to the first 100 pastors/churches).
Pastors, I want to invite you to find the space in your schedule to draw near to the Lord and seek a renewed experience of wholeness through the Cross of Christ. We need you to be healthy.
Ministry leaders, whether full-time or part-time, you are vital to the health and wholeness of the church. I hope these resources will give you fresh insight and direction to care for your own souls as you lead. We need you to be healthy.
Elders, Deacons, and those who provide spiritual oversight of the church, I invite you to engage these resources but especially engage your pastors and staff leaders in dialogue about their souls and how you can help create what Dr. Matt Bloom calls “ecosystems of wellbeing.”
Pastoral wellbeing is the task of the whole church.
About the Author
For questions about these resources, about Talking Points, or about other programs at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darrell Yoder uses his decade of experience in pastoral ministry to serve as the program director of Talking Points and the Pirsig Fellowship and as instructor of Christian ministries at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He earned a B.A. from Liberty University and an M.Div. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He is a certified spiritual director and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Education from Cornerstone University, focusing his research on Christian spiritual formation.
At GRTS, Yoder focuses on spiritual formation and pastoral ministry. He provides leadership to the Pirsig Fellowship, a scholarship program for Master of Divinity students, where he provides spiritual retreats and oversees small groups that seek to cultivate students’ personal spiritual formation. He also teaches several ministry courses, including Christian Formation in the Church, Evangelism and Discipleship Ministries and Small Group Ministries.
Yoder also faithfully leads and cultivates the GRTS Talking Points program, which serves pastors, ministry leaders and counselors by providing events and resources that engage topics related to theology, culture and vocation.
Outside of GRTS, Yoder is an ordained minister and the director of the Evangelical Seminary Deans’ Council, a professional development network of evangelical seminary deans. Yoder and his wife, Cindy, live with their three children in Rockford, Mich.