Courage Work Provides Hope for The Church
by Circle of Trust Facilitator Winton Boyd
It isn’t always easy being a pastor in today’s religious climate. While interest in spirituality remains high, churches face all kinds of internal and external pressures. Pastors and other congregational leaders are among the most depressed and discouraged of all professionals.
For many years, I’ve chaired my regional United Church of Christ committee, authorizing clergy into positions of leadership and dealing with churches and/or pastors in conflict. I’m aware of many churches facing complicated interpersonal and institutional dynamics. For most of that time, I’ve advocated for reconciliation and mediation efforts. What I have come to believe, however, is that many of those efforts miss the heart of healthy congregational life and healthy pastoral life. Without strong, grounded, non-anxious, and loving leadership, conflict work rarely has a chance to take hold. Until churches have individual clergy who care deeply about their own spiritual, emotional and physical health, no amount of mediation, coaching or innovation will breathe life into a struggling church. Spending the time and energy to address our own dreams, our own ‘tragic gaps’ and our own sources of inspiration and faith offers the best chance for churches and other organizations to find health and hope. Without changing the leaders, congregational change is unlikely.
Courage to Lead, for me, has emerged as an amazing spiritual/emotional approach, helping me go deeper into my own functioning and my own spirit life where the true issues and challenges of leadership lie. For example, in my mid-40’s I was blessed to be the focus person in a Courage to Lead clearness committee. My question focused on my own sense of listlessness and uncertainty about the course of my career, the state of my church, and the future of my ministry. Through the questioning process in the clearness committee, I was astounded to realize that more than anything else, I was experiencing grief as a father witnessing my own children about to leave our home and go to college. I realized that a large part of my identity as a human being – that of an active and involved father – was ending. One of the turning points was when one person asked, "How would your children talk about your work as a pastor?"
Reflecting on what I thought they had learned from me helped me focus on my strengths, my gifts, and my desires – not just the cultural measures of success. The committee time helped me reframe my approach to my ministry, my future, and my relationship with the church congregation I love. I found new energy and began an exciting process of leaning into mid-life questions and opportunities. Ongoing work in Courage to Lead circles – first as a participant and then as a facilitator – helped me return time and time again to what I think are fundamental questions for congregational leaders. How is it with your soul? How are you living into – or not – the dreams you have had as a religious professional? How are you leaning into the cycles of life – the death of autumn, the deep and often silent growth of winter, the mud and muck of spring and the abundance of summer?
As with many other professions, there are always seminars, retreats and workshops on how to "do better" as a clergy person. More often than not, what I’ve found is that such workshops assume that one plan or process or theory works for all settings. When we put on someone else’s plan or buy into someone else’s process or program, the result can actually be even more depressing and discouraging. If someone else’s plan doesn’t work in our setting and we’ve now tried one more thing that didn’t work, what else are we to assume other than we must be ineffective as leaders?
Retreat work based on the principles and practices of the Center for Courage & Renewal offers not only insight into self-renewal but opens us to more effective, authentic, and integrated forms of leadership. We grow in our ability to live with the internal and the external challenges in multiple settings. A colleague likes to ask, “How is this personal courage work showing up in your work life?” It is my hope that the sustained community of a Circle of Trust and the appreciation that life is full of cycles will help strengthen courageous leaders. It is my experience that such circles can breathe life and hope and lightness into the spirits of those who care so deeply about the world, their congregations, and their communities. In a climate of financial pressures, disinterest in organized religion and political upheaval – I carry a deep sense of hope for the future of the church. I don’t know what it will look like, but I trust that grounded and spiritually alive leaders are paying attention to new opportunities and new possibilities.