Our Great and Difficult Work: Shared Resilience in Pastoral Leadership Teams

In his seventeenth century work The Character of a True Evangelical Pastor, John Flavel (c. 1627–1691) enjoined ministers to be a particular source of help to fellow pastors. Noting the acute vocational stresses and obstacles they faced, he implored ministers to establish “the firmest union” with one another, for the purpose of “the furtherance and advancement of our great and difficult work.”

Contemporarily, involvement in this “great and difficult” pastoral labor can bring with it increasing levels of dissatisfaction, weariness, and ministerial burnout (e.g., “A Rapid Decline in Pastoral Security,” Barna, 2023). Alongside this concerning development are prominent reports of discontented pastoral leaders committing mournfully disqualifying sin (e.g., “Pastors’ Views on Moral Failure,” LifeWay Research, 2020; “Abuse of Faith: Series on Sexual Abuse in the SBC,” Houston Chronicle, 2019; “The Moral of Moral Failings of Christian Leaders,” Christianity Today, Stetzer, 2018). While opinions vary as to how churches and denominations should address these disturbing trends, less varied is the almost uniform call for action, prevention, and shared accountability among pastoral leaders.

Recent contributions to the pastoral and ministry leadership literature base have addressed these concerns by: (1) placing direct attention on the value and function of leadership practices related to pastoral endurance (e.g., Enduring Ministry, Hester, 2022; The Resilient Pastor, Packiam and Kinnaman, 2022; Resilient Ministry, Burns, Chapman, and Guthrie, 2013); (2) emphasizing the particular place of suffering in the life of the individual pastor (e.g., Workers for Your Joy, Mathis, 2022; The God Who Goes Before You, Wilder and Jones, 2018); as well as (3) articulating concerns over the health and character of the pastoral leadership community and of its individual members (e.g., Bully Pulpit, Kruger, 2022; Shepherding Like Jesus, Hébert, 2022; The Plurality Principle, Harvey, 2021; Pastoral Leadership, Senkbeil and Woodford, 2021; LEAD, Tripp, 2020).

While these works helpfully offer calls to pastors and leadership teams regarding the need to endure in ministry vocation, the writers offer minimal, if any, detailed treatment of how shared resilience may influence the vitality of the pastoral leadership team. Consequently, this paper will outline and argue for regular and specific actions to cultivate resilience, both individually and among the members of the pastoral leadership team, to deliberately combat discontentment and safeguard against dissatisfaction in pastoral vocation.

The foundational examination of pastoral resilience and endurance will employ established biblical, systematic, and New Testament theological categories and designations. Specific attention will then be paid to how cultivating resilience among pastoral teams may counter dissatisfaction and burnout, particularly as treated in selected contemporary and historical writings which speak to these concerns (e.g., A Bond Between Souls, Ford, 2022; Rooted Leadership, Johnson, 2022; “Clergy Resilience: Accessing Supportive Resources to Balance the Impact of Role-Related Stress and Adversity,” Clarke, Walker, and Squires, 2022; Changed into His Likeness, Millar, 2021; Tempered Resilience, Bolsinger, 2020; Creating Shared Resilience, Boan and Ayers, 2020; The Character of a True Evangelical Pastor, Flavel). Finally, the presentation will offer detailed implications for practices of resilience and endurance, within the context of pastoral leadership teams, to combat discontentment and dissatisfaction in ministry vocation.

2 thoughts on “Our Great and Difficult Work: Shared Resilience in Pastoral Leadership Teams”

Leave a Comment