A Letter to Those Pastors with a Certain Amount of Experience and Wisdom

This month, NEXT Church is highlighting passionate leaders within the Presbyterian Church (USA) who are committed to equipping and supporting new pastors, alongside those up-and-coming leaders with whom they have connected or mentored. We kicked things off this week with a post by George Anderson, the co-convener (along with Ken McFayden from UPSem) of the Trent Symposium for new pastors. Today, Lori Raible, a past Symposium participant contributes a parallel piece.

Lori Archer Raible is an associate pastor at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. A graduate from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte, Lori is passionate about connecting people to one another through faith and community. Married to Rob, they have two children Joe (8) and Maeve (7). Most of her free time is spent running both literally as a spiritual discipline and metaphorically to and from carpool lines. Deep within her is a writer vying for those precious minutes. Currently Lori’s vocational work includes work with NEXT Church and the Trent National Conference, which is being created in support of pastors in their first 7 years of ministry. Sponsored by the NEXT Conference, Macedonian Ministries, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Montreat Conference Center, and Second Presbyterian Church, Trent@Montreat (April 18-21, 2016) will join large group worship and keynote with small groups focused on specific areas of need and coached by experienced practitioners.

One generation shall laud your works to another, 
and shall declare your mighty acts. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. Psalm 145: 4 & 13

To Those with “A Certain Level of Experience and Wisdom,”

On behalf of those who have recently entered this peculiar and glorious calling of pastor, I write with humility, gratitude, and respect for the tenacity with which you have served and cultivated our good churches of the PCUSA.

safety net copyMine is a deep conviction and desire born from the early years of ministry. There have been holes of loneliness created by the weight of this vocation, which threatened to swallow my soul. It took both personal mentors and trustworthy peers to pull me from the depths with nets so strong that with them, I know I will not fall again.

Mentors have the power to equip new pastors with a sense of security and patience otherwise unknown. Mentors have the wisdom to guide and encourage pastors toward authentic and responsible ministry. Mentors have the unique opportunity to bolster a new generation of clergy who will be strong and bold enough to lead our Church through the transformation we are all experiencing yet unsure how to navigate.

Mine is a deep longing. A hope. A request. A plea for you to cast the net.

We have inherited a church that looks very different than the one you inherited. New clergy are okay with that. This wonky, unpredictable Church is all we have ever known. Spotty attendance, shaky budgets, and bare pews sadden us, but we aren’t afraid. If we were foolish enough to enter seminary at this point, than you can assume our optimism, foolish as it may seem, is of the Jesus sort.

We acknowledge the realities, but we don’t believe placing our old institutional model on life support[1] is what Jesus had in mind when he proclaimed, ‘new life.’ We are called to thrive together.

Our lives are not ordered the same way yours were early in ministries. Out of the 12,807 active pastors of the PCUSA, about 20% are in our first 7 years of ministry. 70% of our full-time pastors will retire in the next 10 years or so.[2] That means, for now at least, many newly ordained carry creative titles such as: bi-vocational, temporary supply, and ‘outside the bounds.’ Oh, and well over half of the candidates for ministry are now women. [3] It’s just different.

Money is an issue. Jesus doesn’t pay a whole lot these days. A majority of us serve congregations smaller than 300 members. So if we are married, our partners usually have careers too. Our families reflect the realities of making ends meet both financially and as parents (if we have kids). Like other professionals we will change jobs about 7 times in our lifetime, and 50-80% of us will ‘hang up the robe’ within 5 years.[4]

This means it is more difficult to pursue and maintain the long-term peer relationships imperative to the longevity of a healthy pastorate. We know we need them, but we struggle to find them and commit.

Yes, we love our phones.

We are connecting in broad ways.

No, it doesn’t replace the real stuff.

We know need to work on it.

It’s just a lot to juggle.

The call remains. We love to preach, and teach, and care.

Because of these rapid shifts, cultivating, planting, and renewing communities to engage those sacred privileges will require all of us. At the core of our identities as pastors is passion for the Reformed tradition, and love for the Gospel as it has been and always will be. We rely on them to root and guide us from generation to generation.

Problem is, we feel a gap.

Traditional pathways to trustworthy and organic cross-generational relationships have eroded alongside the cohesive and purposeful nature of the local presbytery. The fragmentation of both our regional and national networks increases the difficulty of accessing both practical knowledge and vital resources needed beyond seminary.

We need to know you.

We need to know what you know, because 

We don’t know, what we don’t know.

But you do.

Be patient if we seem too bold or not bold enough, too risky or not risky enough, too passive or too aggressive, too needy or too brash. Belonging breeds identity. While we are still getting used to our robes, it’s hard to trust when the communities and institutions around us feel unstable and fractured. Our ‘doing’ and ‘being’ are just beginning to click.

We need to be known, by people we can trust, in places we truly belong.

Yes it’s an investment, but if you are asked by a young pastor for your ear its because you are respected, honored, and valued as someone with something sacred to share. We need access to that. These relationships can’t be manufactured, but they can be cultivated.

There are NO WORDS to describe the gratitude for such a gift as a mentor’s attention and time.

Model grace, creativity, and hard work in your leadership, but don’t pretend to be Jesus. Show us what Sabbath looks like. Be honest. Any tips on how to work through a conflict are greatly appreciated. Tell the story of when you botched the funeral, forgot your sermon, or dropped the Cup. Teach us. Learn from us. Collaborate. Encourage risk. Support us when we fail. Share the sacraments and pulpit. Say YES. Listen. Hold us accountable. Most of all, expect the best for the future of our denomination and her churches.

We do.

With Great Hope,

Lori

 

(PS- To my mentors, there are no other words than, Thank You.)

[1] Yaconelli, Mark. www.thehearthstorytelling.wordpress.com

[2] Merritt, Carol Howard. The Christian Century blog. August 23, 2014

[3] PUCSA, research services. Comparative Stats Report, 2012.Pg. 10, Tables 7, 10.

[4] Hodge. The Pew Project. Duke Divinity School. Presented to the Religious Research As. Norfolk, GA. 2003, t.5-11.

 

 

12 replies
  1. Paul Rock
    Paul Rock says:

    Lori, you nailed it. Very nicely written. I have made more than a few mistakes, have much to learn and am over committed as a pastor, husband and dad. But I’ve been at this ministry thing for 20 years, still have great hope for what our denomination can become and would love to be available to cheer on and support the next generation of leaders. If I can help, I’m in. Thanks again,

    Paul

    • Lori Raible
      Lori Raible says:

      HI Paul! Thank you for this. We are all in this together, and so your voice matters… and so my hope is that we find new ways to do our good work of connecting. Look for NEXT in your region, stay connected here… and please share any ideas or experiences. More posts from other pastors who care, are coming soon! Lori

  2. Blair Monie
    Blair Monie says:

    Thank you for this. I am grateful to the First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio for endowing the Zbinden Chair in Pastoral Ministry and Leadership at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, which I now occupy. The purpose is to call a lifelong pastor to teach best practices and to mentor developing pastors. We need more visions like theirs. The fields into which our new pastors are going are much different than the one I entered out of seminary and the needs are even deeper. We need to partner to support one another in the adventure called ministry. God bless you!

    • Lori Raible
      Lori Raible says:

      ooooooo. this sounds so good. i do believe that our future rests in collaborative and creative work toward equipping and connecting. i was just there Blair… for a conference with CPL. Wish I had known… would love to hear more about how your work evolves over time, and how they fair moving out into the ‘ranks.’ do they stay in touch with you? how long have you been there? i’m totally snooping on 1st pres San Antonio… thank you for this! mine has been a quest to learn as much as i can from efforts such as this. Stay in touch!!! thank you thank you! Lori

  3. Mark Diehl
    Mark Diehl says:

    Lori, I appreciate your articulation of the need and opportunity. Presently there are no structures that provide intentional pairing between newer pastors and “those with a certain level of experience and wisdom.” Presbyteries would be a natural place for such mentoring relationships to be formed but that isn’t happening.

    Without some kind of invitation to do so, those in the latter category offering “expertise” to those in the former category seems/appears/feels presumptuous. I can imagine the internal conversation now: “Oh, you think I need your help? You don’t believe I’m doing a good enough job? You know it all and you want to impart your knowledge to me?”

    I think your article is a good first step to say the need exists and there are those among newer pastors who are open to it. And I would say there are those with experience who would find meaning in providing such mentoring and be open to doing so. Perhaps the next step is for those newer pastors to invite potential mentors to explore such a relationship. Asking for help may be challenging to do, but someone has to take the next step.

    • Lori Raible
      Lori Raible says:

      Thanks Mark! Yes yes… your point is well received. George Anderson’s Letter (which parrallel’s mine), speaks to your very important insight… the invitation works both ways. My hope is by resourceing young clergy with various pathways and best practices… it will be easier to take ownership of one’s own development, EVEN in the face of ‘structures’ that are not always hopsitable or capable. NEXT is a place to have these conversations. It is also a place where we can resource and connect…. not only the newly ordained with information, but also more experience leaders with one another. Its time for all of us take some ownership in reaching out. Thank you for engaging the conversation. Lori

  4. Jeff Paschal
    Jeff Paschal says:

    Lori, this is beautiful. I’ve been a pastor for almost 25 years. I remember how scary it was when I first started. I reached out to some of the experienced pastors, but most of them were not really interested in building friendships or sharing advice. I did find a few who are willing to be friends and mentors. I’ve always been grateful to them.
    It’s a great honor to be with new pastors. We pray for God to guide us to be good mentors and to forgive us when we are not.
    I think I need to invite some more new pastors to lunch. They will probably enjoy hearing about all the times I screwed up. And maybe I can occasionally say something that might be useful.
    Thanks again,
    Jeff

    • Lori Raible
      Lori Raible says:

      Thanks Jeff! I’m grateful for pastors like you… who can remember its really a JOY to share and serve together…. I always love a good screw up story!!! I have far more of those than the other sort… Lori

  5. John Cleghorn
    John Cleghorn says:

    Well said, Lori! Honest, direct, candid but hopeful and creative. I like your thinking on realistic mentoring and agree it can provide the kind of community that can makes us all better in Christ’s service. Let’s think about how NEXT and Presbytery (as Mark D suggests) can work together toward that goal. You’ve been sch a bright light since we met in seminary. Thanks be to God.

  6. Lori Raible
    Lori Raible says:

    I’m glad and grateful to call you a colleague John and I honestly think we can ‘get to it,’ here in Charlotte John, along with Mark and so many others… REGIONAL next 2015… but also… but also… but also…. there is more that is organic, and nuanced, and authentic, and unspoken about the way our relationships can breed trust and collaboration. THEN our community, our PCUSA voice… will impact Charlotte in new ways. I’m excited. We need Caldwell, and YOU! For one, we hope to equip groups (peer groups and otherwise), with the NEXT identity… what does it mean to DO the work of NEXT right where we are? Right now? How fun is this???

  7. Sarah Butter
    Sarah Butter says:

    As a founding member of an organization called “Ministry Mentors”, I share your passion for the value of mentoring, and I’m grateful for your article. “Ministry Mentors’ is a terrific group that seeks to match newer clergy with experienced clergy, often from other denominations than their own, so as to provide safe and supportive space for mentoring conversations. Check out ministrymentors.org! If anyone is interested in more information, let me know. Hooray for Mentor Partnerships that strengthen ministry!

  8. Rosemary Mitchell
    Rosemary Mitchell says:

    Lori,
    Thank you for the thoughtful, direct posting. There are so many challenges in ministry today! You are asking all the right questions and I am deeply respectful of your openness. You are right that money is an issue! And people are looking for opportunities to be generous. Need to increase the comfort level for those critical conversations to take place and ministries can be strengthened. Glad to participate in conversations on stewardship and funds development.

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