Care for Pastors & Ministry Leaders : Dr. Thad Austin
As pastors and ministry leaders, we feel called to support and care for others. Yet oftentimes, we do not accept that same support and care for ourselves. In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by Dr. Thad Austin. Thad is a senior director at the Ormond Center at Duke Divinity, and he and his team have completed a research study looking at caring for pastors and ministry leaders. Today, Thad and Jason look at some of the theological and biblical underpinnings of caring for clergy, as well as some of the roadblocks that hinder ministry leaders from accepting the care that can help their lives and ministries thrive.
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- Audio links to this week’s episode – easily share with the ministry leaders in your church
- Additional resource links from this week’s conversation – so you and your team can easily find what is mentioned or referenced
- Ministry Leaders Growth Guide – key insights and concepts from this week’s conversation as well as engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process
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Additional Resource Links
Caring for Clergy – Resource website where you can order Thad’s book, Caring for Clergy, plus find events and other helpful resources
Ormond Center at Duke Divinity – Their mission is to foster the imagination, will, and ability of congregations and communities to be agents of thriving
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Ministry Leaders Growth Guide
Key Insights and Concepts
- Much of the support for pastors and ministry leaders comes from the local level, the people in their own congregations
- There are many organizations and networks that are working hard to provide support and care for multiple clergy
- Aaron and Hur are great examples of those who supported Moses, a ministry leader
- The idea of supporting religious leaders today is actually something that is very, very old, and it’s a continuation of a long narrative that stretches all through the Early Church, through the Reformation era, to the modern-day experience
- ‘Beware of serving the Bread of Life with emaciated hands.’ – Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas
- If our ministry is not backed up by a deep spiritual well, it actually creates a disingenuous form of ministry
- There is great value in those who support pastors having been in ministry themselves because they can better understand some of the unique challenges that those in ministry face
- You want to be sure that those who are providing support for ministry leaders are serving and caring out of their healing, not out of their woundedness
- Jesus sending the disciples out two-by-two is a great reminder that you cannot carry the burden of ministry alone
- The work of the ministry requires multiple parties coming together in support
- Many pastors and ministry leaders do not tap into the care and support available because they do not admit they need help. But being vulnerable and accepting help is very near to the heart of God… remember, as Jesus was carrying the cross, he accepted assistance to get to Calvary.
- Sometimes the laity hinder ministry leaders from getting the care and support they need to be healthy ministers
- There are people who want to care for and support pastors and ministry leaders. It is their calling. Allow them the privilege and honor of supporting.
- As ministry leaders are supported in a better ways, they are going to lead more healthy, more dynamic congregations that are in turn going to serve their communities
- Receiving care and support as a pastor has a long-term kingdom impact beyond the actual care that is received
Questions for Reflection
- How am I receiving care and support from our local congregation?
- Am I accepting care and support from other organizations or networks? if so, what does that look like?
- What are some biblical examples of ministry leaders receiving support? What is a solid biblical understanding of caring for clergy?
- Am I serving the Bread of Life with emaciated hands? How deep is the spiritual well in my life?
- How is my life going backstage? Are there changes I need to make?
- Do I have trouble admitting I need help? If so, why?
- What area of my life do I need help in right now? How will I find that help and care?
- Who are the people in my life that are caring for me so that I can serve in a healthy manner?
- Do I have a Coach? Counselor? Mentor? Friend?
- Am I trying to do ministry on my own? Why is that not sustainable?
- Are there any roadblocks hindering me from getting the care and support I need? If so, how can I work through these roadblocks?
- How does receiving care and support as a pastor relate to kingdom impact?
As pastors and ministry leaders, we feel called to support and care for others. Yet oftentimes, we do not accept that same support and care for ourselves.
In today’s episode, I’m joined by Dr. Thad Austin. Thad is a senior director at the Ormond Center at Duke Divinity, and he and his team have completed a research study looking at caring for pastors and ministry leaders, and they’ve just released a book entitled, Caring for Clergy. Today, Thad and I are going to look at some of the theological and biblical underpinnings of caring for clergy, and we’re also going to look at some of the roadblocks that hinder ministry leaders like us from accepting the care that can help our lives and our ministries thrive. Are you ready? Let’s go.
Hello, friends, and welcome to another insightful episode of FrontStage BackStage. I am your host, Jason Daye, and every single week, we bring you a conversation with a trusted ministry leader. And all in an effort to help you and pastors just like you embrace healthy, well-balanced, sustainable leadership in both life and ministry. And we are proud to be a part of the PastorServe network. And each week along with these episodes, we create an entire toolkit for you and your ministry team to dig deeper into the topic that is discussed. And you can find that toolkit and tons of other resources at PastorServe.org/network. And please avail yourself of those resources. We get feedback from pastors saying that it’s very helpful for them to really dig in with their staff, with their key ministry leaders, on these topics. So you can check that out at PastorServe.org/network. And if you’re joining us on YouTube, hello, give us a thumbs up and take a moment to comment below your name and the name of your church. We love to get to know our audience better, and to have the opportunity to pray for you and your ministry. And also throughout our conversation if a thought arises, or a question comes up, take a moment to drop that in the comments so we can follow up with you, as well. And whether you’re joining us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform, be sure to subscribe or follow. And if you’re finding value from these conversations, please take a moment to leave a positive review. All of these things –commenting, liking, sharing, reviewing– all of those things help with the algorithms so that more pastors and ministry leaders have the opportunity to be exposed to these conversations. And like I said, we’re always excited for the conversations that we have and we pray that they’ll be meaningful to you, and I’m very excited for today’s conversation with Thad Austin. So Thad, I’d like to welcome you to FrontStage BackStage. Welcome!
Thank you so much. It’s great to be here, Jason.
Yeah. So good to have you, brother, and I’m excited for the incredible work that you and your team are doing there at Duke Divinity, and Thad, one of the things that you’ve really been engaged in, you know, your team have completed this multi-year research study on clergy care, this idea of supporting and caring for pastors and ministry leaders. And you’ve recently published a book on your findings, Caring for Clergy. And through the Ormond Center there at Duke Divinity, your team has lots of different resources available around this study, around a lot of things that you’ve learned, and we’ll touch on some of those in a bit. But first, Thad, I was thinking there are a lot of issues, a lot of topics, a lot of challenges in the world of ministry. And so I’m curious, what prompted you to focus in, specifically on, caring for clergy?
Thanks so much, Jason. And as I said, it’s so great to be here with your your listeners and your watchers. I really admire the work of PastorServe. And in particular, your contributions to that ministry as well. So in the midst of the pandemic, we began seeing report after report of ministry leader after ministry leader that was really struggling. And what became extraordinarily concerning for me in particular was that the reports that came during the pandemic were only a kind of amplification of some other trends that we were seeing prior to the pandemic. So just as an example, the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton hosted an event specifically focused on clergy suicide, and that happened prior to the pandemic because there was this kind of just a large number of folks that were were struggling from a mental health perspective, from a physical perspective. And so we really wanted to kind of understand more about what was out there to help support clergy. If I could put it very succinctly, I’d say it this way, what would it be like if we were able to create the conditions where our religious leaders, where the clergy, who are doing so much of the heavy lifting of the work of ministry, if we were able to create the conditions where they could thrive. So what we began to do was to begin to think about almost like, kind of concentric circles going out. So I served in pastoral ministry for more than a decade. And I’ll be the first to admit that the most helpful support that I ever received serving in local church ministry was actually at the local level. As an example, I remember there was a couple that met me with the moving truck as I moved into the parsonage. And that couple did more for me in the first six months of my ministry than anyone else. But the difference here that’s really important is that couple only impacted me. So we wanted to understand and investigate what are the large scale structures that are that are out there to help support clergy. And we began thinking of these in a couple of different categories, the first are denominations, networks and associations, especially in non-denominational contexts. The second is funders. So we know that there are a number of granting organizations that are out there that are doing wonderful work. And they’re funding many elements of ministry. So we wanted to understand who those were. Third, we wanted to understand the pension, benefit and insurance sector. So those that are providing either retirement benefits or health benefits to clergy, either through the denomination or perhaps through a for profit firm. And then frontline providers, so marriage and family therapists, counselors, coaches, retreat center providers, spiritual directors, the list goes on and on. And then there’s this final category. And that final category is continuing education providers. And so I’ll just say that this was not immediately evident to me. But when we reached out to a member of the association of theological schools, good friend of mine, whose name is Jo Ann Deasy, we told her about these different categories that I’ve just described. And she said, well, in my experience, the first call that a pastor makes when ever that pastor is getting to a dry point in ministry is not to the spiritual director, to the counselor or the coach. Instead, that pastor often signs up for a Doctor of Ministry program. And so I started calling around to a number of the Doctor of Ministry programs across the United States. And I just said, Hey, tell me about your work. And one person after the next said, yeah, like, half of my job, 60% of my job is just helping people stay in ministry or reminding that they are loved and cared for, because they come into these programs. And they’re just so beaten up and they’re searching vocationally. So we wanted to understand those large scale structures that wouldn’t just support one pastor, but many pastors.
Yeah, that’s fascinating. And whenever we think about it, as pastors, we know that, you know, our heart is to serve. And so you’re often thinking from the perspective of how am I caring for others. But we all know that if a pastor is not cared for, if we’re not supported, if we’re not encouraged, if we’re not, you know, made aware of ways to thrive in ministry and in life, then that not only impacts us as individuals, our families, but extends into our congregations. And in this study that you did, Thad, you and your team, really, as you said, it kind of branched out into a lot of different areas of care for clergy. I’m curious, Thad, if you can take a moment to reflect back to when you initiated the study. I’m really curious, what thoughts or ideas did you have about clergy care in general, as you’re going into the study that ended up being confirmed by the research you conducted? I mean, did you have some kind of gut level thoughts? And then you dug into the research and you talked to the individuals, and you did all the study, and you said, yeah, these are some things that that we kind of sensed were happening when it came to clergy.
Yeah, so the first, and this was probably just in the first few months, I began thinking about how their, how clergy had been cared for, even biblically. So to take a step back from our modern understanding of the way that clergy are cared for in these variety of contexts, this is actually really, really old. So if we think back to the the origin story of the children of Israel, making their way into the Promised Land, the establishment of the priests and Levites, there were structures that were put in place to help support those religious leaders of that time. And one of the images that that came to my mind very quickly, in the, in the research, just from kind of an exegetical standpoint, is the account of Moses leading the children of Israel in battle, while Joshua is in the valley, fighting the war. And Moses is lifting his arms up. And alongside come Aaron and Hur to help support and lift up the arms of Moses. So what I began to kind of wonder about, and this is actually something that that kind of surprised me, was the implications of those supporters. So if we think about Aaron and Hur in the context of Moses, if they hadn’t been there, what would have happened during that battle? And then, what would that have meant for how long the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness? What implications might that have been for them to enter into the Promised Land, or that the Davidic monarchy, I mean, like, the implications are just so, so big. So So one of the pieces that that I knew intuitively, but but that really began to kind of resonate, was that the way that we support religious leaders today is actually something that’s very, very old, and it’s a continuation of a long narrative that stretches all through the Early Church, through the Reformation era, to the modern-day experience. The other thing that I would say, that is really critical, is that I anticipated that the cracks that we’re seeing within the context of American religious life would have a direct and immediate impact, not just on clergy, but on the support network that those clergy were relying on. So this is the piece for me that is extraordinarily concerning. Because we have just come through or are still in some level of pandemic, there’s a number of clergy that are struggling. And if those cracks that are present within the church continue to broaden, there’s going to be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the cracks aren’t just going to hit at the institutional level, they’re also going to be hitting with Aaron and Hur as well. So that’s part of the reason why I think that this particular topic is so critical at this particular moment in time.
Yeah, Thad, I see that. And, of course, I agree with you wholeheartedly. And this is one of those things that, you know, our team at PastorServe has been very, very focused on for over two decades. And it’s, it’s fascinating, whenever you speak through and give kind of that that biblical image of thinking about the impact of that support system. And I think as we’ve seen evidenced over the last couple of years through the pandemic, and all the additional pressures and stressors and you know, beyond the pandemic, even, you know, racial tensions, political divide, all of those things have been kind of mixed up over the last few years here, that have all contributed to pastors and ministry leaders being stretched often. We see that there is this great need for clergy care. And one of the thoughts that you really touched on and you share about in the book is this idea of professional well-being and personal well-being. And in thinking about it in those terms, when we think about how as a pastor, as a ministry leader, how am I looking at my my well-being, my health, and oftentimes a lot of what is focused upon tends to be more on the kind of professional, the outward side, you know, of ministry. What does that ministry look like? But that personal side is so very important. And it’s no secret that the show that we’re on right now is called FrontStage BackStage and the reason is because our team at PastorServe is committed to coaching ministry leaders on both that front stage, that professional well-being piece, and then also backstage, the personal well-being. And so, Thad, I was wondering if you could share with us a bit about, through your study, what you learned in regard to this healthy balance, the professional well-being side and the personal well-being side. And, you know, were there some things that surprised you, as you looked at at this research?
Yeah, thanks for such a great question, Jason. And I totally affirm oftentimes the disconnect between that front stage and the backstage. The one of my mentors, J. Ellsworth Kalas, he once told me that, he said, ‘beware of serving the Bread of Life with emaciated hands.’ And I’ve reflected on that so often as we’ve been going through this particular study, to think through, wow, like, Could I be doing all the right things, but actually pulling from a very dry well? And that’s dangerous, that is dangerous for for the way that it reflects upon what the kingdom of of Heaven is like. It’s, I would go so far as to say it’s one of the reasons why we have some of the problems we have in the church is because people are pulling not from a place of fullness and abundance, but instead, from a very, very dry place. And we try to, some, individuals will try to kind of placate that by going after a Doctor of Ministry program, right? Like they they think that okay, well, in in the last time I felt spiritually alive was when I was going through my theological education, when I was doing my master of divinity. So I’ll go back, and I’ll take a hit of that. I know that that’s not everyone’s story. In fact, there’s a number of people who are incredibly alive within their spirit that are doing these, you know, Doctor of Ministry programs. But for some, it is an escape hatch. And so and so I just, you know, I think it’s, it’s, it’s really important to think about the the front stage kind of persona, and the way that that sometimes, if it’s not backed up by a deep spiritual well, that it actually creates a disingenuous form of ministry. This is the reason why Jesus took time away. This is the reason why he called for his disciples to take time away. So I think that that front stage backstage is is incredibly important. And let me just say one other piece of this that that I think is often overlooked. So in our research, what we found were that those that serve as Aarons and Hurs, that the single most significant, and I mean, statistically significant feature that connects all the dots is that they themselves used to be pastors. So Aaron and Hur used to be in the position of Moses. Now, what that does is it begs the question, what was that experience, like? And for us, this came into very, very sharp definition. When we were doing a focus group, we were talking with a gentleman in Arkansas, has been serving pastors for more than 27 years. We got to the end of the focus group, and we said, Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us? And he said, he said, yeah, there’s one thing we didn’t talk about. He said, I’ve been doing this work for almost three decades. And he said, my experience, there are a number of people who are supporting pastors, who had a negative experience in ministry. And in fact, the reason that they are doing this work of supporting pastors is because they got burnt out or beaten up, they got kicked out of their local faith community. And so if you think about that, that’s not all that concerning, given the fact that a number of helping professions whether you’re in counseling or you’re, you’re a psychiatrist, it might be that you’ve had some kind of traumatic experience in your past that lead you into a place where you want to help others. But here’s the really significant difference, that in those settings, oftentimes, there are some safety mechanisms that are in place. So you might have to undergo therapy, before you’re able to offer therapy to someone else. However, what we find through our research is that those same safety mechanisms often are not in place with those that are providing support and care to our pastors.
Interesting, so yeah, I mean, that was very fascinating when I even reflect on our own team, because, you know, the majority, I mean, all our team members who are coaching pastors, you know, we all served in some capacity as a lead pastor and have had, you know, ministry experiences and all those things, because I think it’s helpful, obviously, you know, you’ve lived it, so you can identify with things that people are going through. And I also think that it’s interesting, just this aspect of brokenness to a degree. Like, when we can recognize brokenness in our own lives, our own ministries, and when I say brokenness, it doesn’t have to be something crazy traumatic. But we all I mean, if you’ve been in ministry, you’ve been disappointed and discouraged at some point. That’s the reality of ministry, right? So I think that brokenness, and that understanding, and kind of that ability to to resonate, is important whenever you’re coaching or whether you’re trying to, you know, encourage or speak into to someone’s life in that area. So it’s interesting that you found that, I do think it’s pretty fascinating as well, that one of the things you discovered was that, as much as those who are trying to support and care for clergy, they’re not all necessarily getting the same support and care for themselves. And then that can lead to a different type of burnout. And, and so I think that’s very important to keep in keep in mind. Very fascinating.
That’s exactly right, Jason. And, you know, so it begs the question of the front stage backstage for Aaron and Hur, right, and if we start thinking about it that way, and this is what the guy down in Arkansas, he, he said to us, he said, there’s a lot of people out there, and they’re ministering, not out of their healing, but they’re ministering out of their woundedness. And so it almost kind of takes Henri Nouwen’s wounded healer concept, and just says: wounded, right? And so, what I want to encourage all of your listeners who are pastors, or even those that support pastors, beware of serving the Bread of Life with emaciated hands, because you may be doing some very serious damage, not only to your own soul, but and I say this in the book, it’s almost like a person with two broken arms, trying to mend and set the broken arm of another. You need to do the work yourself, right? You need to get to a place of healing yourself. I mean, this is, and to put it in theological terms, there’s crucifixion, but resurrection follows it. And that doesn’t mean that there aren’t scars, that people can touch and feel, and it hurts. But there’s resurrection that happens. And so what I’m concerned about in the context of those that are supporting our, our pastors, are those that perhaps had been crucified. But three days later, they were still in the tomb.
Yeah, that’s good and so vitally important. And as you’re talking, Thad, I’m reflecting back on on our team and our experiences, andeverything else. And that’s one of the things that we are very, very adamant about is and we have people on our team who even check in on me like literally had a phone call this morning, checking in on me, you know, talking about you know, how are you doing with Sabbath rest? How are you doing, you know, all these pieces to make sure that… it’s the idea of, you know, practicing what you’re preaching right? It’s if you’re not, I mean, that filters down through all aspects. It’s so fascinating to think of it not only from a pastor practicing what he’s preaching, but then the you know, the support team of the pastor practicing what their preaching. I mean it’s just kind of those concentric circles out and, and I love that you’re identifying that because I think that is so incredibly key to healthy support, right?
Yep. And that’s and I would say, that’s what it means to be the body of Christ. It’s this interconnected, there’s the hand and the foot, and, but if there’s an infection in one part of the body, it’s likely to spread. And so it’s critical at every stage, at the local level, at the, you know, at the more systemic level, that each and every member of the body is oriented towards God in the very best way, that they have the support that they need. And I think that in a way, that’s, that is what, from a theological perspective, that’s what God desires. I mean, I think about the you mentioned Sabbath, and the fact that God rest as a model for us in the act of Creation. So what does it mean, when we say, well, we don’t need to do that. It actually is a denial of the divine reality, that would require us to say, I can’t sit on that throne, I need help. And when we get to that place, when we realize it, I think that there’s something beautiful that emerges that this is the reason why, personally, I would I would think that that Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two, for them to just understand, and know, you cannot do this alone. A body is not a single member, a body is a whole, and if we’re to do this work, if we are entrusted with this work of reconciliation, as Paul would say, that requires multiple parties coming together in support.
Yeah, I love that. And it’s so fascinating, if we just step back, and again, theologically think, you know, God could have initiated His mission, He could have executed his mission in any way possible. He’s God, right? And yet, Jesus came, who walked among, he called people into deep relationship with Himself. And they went off, Jesus didn’t just go off on his own, and just run this whole thing and then say, Peace out, you know, jump on. He did it intentionally with others. You know, I mean, and just that example, and the beauty, as you said, of that we’re not in this thing alone. It’s so interesting, because so often, in conversations I’m having with colleagues and other pastors and ministry leaders, there is this real sense of isolation in ministry leadership. And so I really think helping to drive home this idea that we are in this thing together, I love you know, I love Jesus sending them off, you know, in twos because that’s again, you know, we’re not all in it on our own. We know that God’s with us, present with us. But even very, very practically speaking life-on-life, we’re not intended to do this on our own. So I think that’s super powerful. One of the things that your study brought up is, you identified some of these threats to clergy, well-being, and included several kinds of root causes. And I know you’ve identified several in there, both kind of front stage and backstage, you know, professional and personal well-being stuff. But can you talk to us a bit about some of the root causes that you guys uncovered? And how do you see those root causes really kind of being addressed when it comes to, you know, caring for clergy?
Yeah, let me answer that last question first. Not well. That’s the headline. So when we embarked on this study, we wanted to know some basic kind of questions, we wanted to know, who are Aaron and Hur today? Where are they located? What are they doing? Are they speaking the same language? Are they speaking different languages? Are they even talking to each other? Are they sharing ideas? Are they supporting each other? Are they both on the same arm? Or are they spread out? And so we issued out this survey to more than 700 clergy care providers across North America. And we asked them questions, in part about, tell us, you know, what type of care you provide, what’s the support you are offering to the clergy that are part of your ministry. We also asked, you know, what are some of the what are some of the elements, the root causes that that you’re addressing? Or what are the innovative strategies that that that you’ve identified that that can be helpful in that regard? And here’s the piece that was so disappointing to me. We found a number of silos, very, very deep silos that were usually either related to theological tradition, or the specific type of support that that provider was offering. So as an example, you might kind of be a financial counselor. And you think about clergy, well being through the lens of dollars and cents. But if you are a nutritionist, you think about clergy, well being from a physical kind of perspective. And the list goes on and on. And so what we identified were that all of these, Aarons and Hurs had different ideas of what the goal they were trying to achieve was. So we asked, How do you define a well clergy person? And everybody’s answers? I mean, there were some themes that emerge, but just about everybody’s answers are totally unique to their specific role. And there wasn’t that… I mean, people would use this word like holistic. But one person would mean like, by holistic, they would mean, well, physical, mental, spiritual health, another person would mean financial wellness, another person, you get the idea. So so what this creates, if I could just say, like, almost by analogy, if you were to go in a medical setting, and you’re going to a number of different specialist, who are not talking to each other, who do not have the same vision of what they’re really trying to achieve, wouldn’t that actually create some problems for the patient. And so one of the pieces, so the title of the book is Caring for Clergy, but the subtitle is understanding a disconnected network of providers. And the vision that we have is one like this idea of the Body of Christ. If we were all able to somehow understand how we’re related to to each other, then maybe the support that we provide might be more effective. So So, So Aaron, Hur aren’t speaking the same language, they aren’t working towards the same goals. And what we found were that the way that a provider understands what constitutes clergy well-being has a direct impact on the way that they think about everything else that they do, the actions that they provide, the services that they offer. So if we were and I’m not saying like everybody’s gonna have the same mission statement, I’m saying, like, if we could just start with maybe awareness of who else is out there, what are they what are they offering? How do I fit into that larger picture? Maybe we come up with three to five major problems that we collectively identify, like, these are major issues that we have to address for the sake of the Church, if we could do that the support that clergy experience would increase dramatically. And I would believe that God would use that in such a way to have a dramatic impact across the board.
Yeah, that’s fascinating. It’s not the the idea that everyone needs to become, you know, a generalist, right? But how do we integrate and lock arms, in our specialties, or in those places where we really feel we’re in our lane that God’s called us in? But how do we not make that the, you know, the end of everything? How do we say, okay, what are these other pieces? And I think that’s valuable. And again, just reflecting back on how we do things, the kind of the referrals and those types of things, you know, to speak to people who specialize more deeply in something specific, as those things arise in pastors lives in our conversations and coaching with them, I think, super, super helpful. You’ve kind of talked through these challenges. This is probably one of the biggest challenges. But when it comes to a pastor or ministry leader, receiving the care that they need, what are some of those things that kind of prevent them from either maybe even finding the care or even choosing to seek some sort of carer some sort of assistance in some way.
Yeah, so this is a great question. And we, we have a chapter in the book that specifically looks at the roadblocks, like what gets in the way from clergy getting the support that they need. And as we surveyed these different Aarons and Hurs, they said there were, well, there were a few themes that that emerged. And I’ll mention a couple that are, I think, paramount. One, Moses sometimes says, I don’t really need your help. And it creates a space a really significant barrier for Aaron and Hur to kind of like live in to the calling that they have. So you know, what would it, as the 12 step programs teach us, the first step to recovery is just simply admitting you have a problem. So if you are a ministry leader, and you are struggling, I want to just give you the freedom to say, I need help. And in so doing, you’re you’re making a larger statement, it feels vulnerable. But there’s something very near to the heart of God about this. I mean, I almost think about as as Jesus is carrying the cross, and he needs to be assisted. To get to Calvary, like, what does it mean that we follow a God like that. And so if if we who are in the ministry context, say, I don’t need you, it’s as if the eye says to the hand, I have no use for you. And Paul would say, not so fast, because that’s not the way that the body of Christ works. So first and foremost, if you’re a ministry leader, it’s okay. It is okay to get help. And by seeking help, by modeling that for your congregation, you might actually unlock the opportunity for some of your lay members to say the same, and it might save some marriages, it might save some faith, it might actually make a big difference. So first and foremost, the clergy. The second group that we identified were laity. And this is the part where I just really, really, ah, like. So I’m from the south, and we might say bless their heart. So So I I remember when I was serving in local church ministry, there was a an opportunity that we had to rewrite our employee handbooks, I was serving in a large membership congregation, 3200 members, we had a staff of 70, we had a formal employee handbook. And there was the idea that we were floating with our personnel committee about the possibility of giving some kind of like paid parental leave, so that our staff, and particularly our pastors could be present within the context of sometimes related to birth of a child or you know, those kinds of things. And I never will forget, there was there was this individual who spoke up and he said, Well, he said, Well, I don’t get that in my work. And I thought, Well, maybe you should come work for us at the church. Like we would love to offer you that. The proposal did not pass. And part of the reason was, because there were some power brokers, who said, Well, you know, that that’s just a little bit too far. We have identified that laity can, not in all cases, there are many lay people I mentioned the group that met me with a moving truck and helped me, you know, there’s som elaity doing some great work. But at times, there are some folks who, who say, we have an expectation here at this church that you are going to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will not approve you to go to that conference, or away on that retreat, or why would you need some time to do some sermon prep? You know, so laity can be one of those barriers. But the third piece is actually the underlying cause of the other two. So when we asked what are the barriers out there, the providers, in part said, we don’t have a theological rationale. The Church has not done well enough in articulating how God might care about the church’s leaders. We’ve not we’ve not deeply reflected from an exegetical standpoint, on what the role of leadership is and what it means, and how we need to be this… And as I’ve been suggesting, throughout our conversation, I think that the breadcrumbs are all there. There’s imagery of Aaron and Hur or of, of Ruth and Naomi, or of Martha, providing for Jesus and the disciples, we have these biblical heroes and heroines that can point us in a direction. But one of the pieces that we need to do, both for the clergy and also for the laity, is to be able to express that such that they understand, oh, wait, this actually connects deeply to my faith. And in particular, this is part of my faith. It’s not just a thing that’s up here. It’s part of my spirit and who we are as the people of God.
Yeah, that’s good, and because that, often times even like the example that you gave about the lay leader on that committee, or whatever, saying, well, well, this isn’t something that I get, you know, it’s almost like those are the arguments for maybe not caring for someone, but none of those arguments are biblical, right. So so what you’re saying is, let’s, let’s look at biblical what we should be doing right and start there, as opposed to start with some secular idea of what care looks like. So I think that’s super key. It’s so fascinating to hear you, Thad, as you share the research and all these conversations and surveys and all this that you got back, and how it all kind of knits together. And I love how you present that, you know, obviously, in the book Caring for Clergy. It’s so very helpful, because, as you said, there’s a lot of good things going on in the kingdom out there. But there’s not a lot of connectivity amongst it. So, one, you don’t always know about it, and two, you can’t really see the gaps, or those things that are blocked, you know, you know, kind of blocking the path for clergy to get that care. As we’re kind of winding down, it’s been a great conversation. As we’re winding down this conversation, you have the the eyes and ears of pastors and ministry leaders right now. What would you like to say to them now, words of encouragement or advice or challenge, whatever it might be? Coming out of all that you and your team have been spending, investing so much time and energy into this the study, what would you say to pastors today?
I will start from a place of, of affirmation, and just saying that, that God loves you that there is Grace available for you. So receive it, receive this gift of grace, that can come in so many different forms. There are people who want to support you. Allow them the privilege and honor of lifting up your right or left arm. And it might actually have a dramatic impact in the battle that is raging. We might enter the Promised Land early. Because there was support in place. You might be able to stick it out for the long haul, and not just stick it out, but enjoy this beautiful, messy ministry that God has called you to. So allow others the opportunity to serve in that way. This is their calling and they want to do it. The second thing that I’ll just mention is that if you’re interested in this topic, and you want to go deeper, you want to understand more of, of these concepts that we’ve been talking about. I’ll invite you to go to a website. It’s caringforclergybook.com and we have our first chapter, you can download it for free. You can explore some of the things that we are finding through this, what we believe is the most comprehensive analysis of clergy care that has ever been done from a systematic standpoint. And we hope that in some capacity, that it might help you, whether it is your role to support clergy, or whether it’s your role to be supported by others. So that’s what I’d say to ministry leaders, you are loved, and there are folks out there that want to support you. And this is one of the resources that I hope will help in that regard.
Yeah, I love that, Thad, that’s beautiful. And, and it’s a great resource, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with you talk with you, and and receive the book, read through the book, myself, and you guys are doing a lot at the Ormond Center there at Duke Divinity. You do, you know, webinars and those types of things, or, you know, gatherings. So we want to make sure that people are aware of those as well. So we’ll make sure that we have all of those links, the link that you mentioned, for the book itself, all those resources that you have, and we’ll make sure they’re available at PastorServe.org/network. So if you are watching or listening long, and you want to connect more deeply on a lot of the resources that Thad and his team are putting together for pastors, for churches, we’ll have all that available to you. Because I really want to encourage you to, to like Thad said, I mean, there are people here who are working working hard. Thad and his team, I mean, they wrote, they did years of research and wrote an entire book and created all these resources like they’re doing this not because they’re bored, right? They’re doing this because they care about pastors, they care about the church, and we so appreciate the work that you guys are doing there at Duke Divinity. And I will, like I said, have all the information. Thad, if people want to connect with you personally, are you available on social and that sort of thing? And how can they do that?
Absolutely. So on Twitter, it’s @ThadAustin, just my name. And I’m also on Facebook or LinkedIn, as well. Finally, you can go to caringforclergybook.com and there is a contact Thad button. And so I’d be more than happy to engage in conversation. For me, and this is really the heart behind it. If there’s just a book, if it’s just an idea, if we just identified some problems, then we will have failed. What we are interested in doing is creating some systemic change. So I’ll just share this very brief insight in the the survey that we conducted, we asked ministry, the leaders, the Aarons and Hurs, how many clergy on average, would you say in a typical year you you serve? The total number came to more or about 222,000 pastors. So that’s a big number. That is a ridiculously big number. But let’s just imagine for a second that maybe there’s like a 50% overlap between you know, there’s a clergy person that’s receiving services from multiple individuals. So 50% overlap, that’s still 111,000 clergy. And I believe with all of my heart that if we are able to support those leaders in a better way, they’re going to lead more healthy, more dynamic congregations that are in turn going to serve their communities. And this is what I think could potentially help turn the tide on the future of American religion. So the big idea here is not just for the health and well being of the pastor, not just for the health and well being of the congregation, but truly, that there might be life and life abundantly in this world, that the kingdom of heaven might come here on Earth. And if there’s anybody out there that wants to partner in that effort, I would love to connect with you.
Amen. I love it brother. You’re getting into the preaching mode there. Come on… awesome, bro. Thad, it’s been so good to have you with us. Appreciate your friendship, appreciate all the incredible work you guys are doing. And again, we’ll have links to all of it, because there is a lot available to you, at PastorServe.org/network. Thank you so much, brother. God bless you.
Thanks so much.
Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at PastorServe.org/network. That’s PastorServe.org/network. And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at PastorServe.org/network We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.
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