The Power of Pastoral Peer Learning

This fall a new book will be released that chronicles the past ten years of what the authors describe as “a new movement with ancient roots” – pastoral peer learning.

Written by a team of researchers and practitioners who lead programs of pastoral peer learning, So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive, will be published by Chalice Press. The book examines in detail seven pastoral peer learning models and concludes with key leanings that are common to the organization and operation of a pastoral peer learning program.

The catalyst for the explosion of pastoral peer learning groups has been the Lilly Endowment through its Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative launched in 2002. While there are scores of different models and approaches, the core essence of the groups centers around pastors who take responsibility for their own continued learning, renewal, and leadership development done in the context of relationship with peers.

Here are some of the key findings about pastoral peer learning groups.

Pastoral peer learning is especially powerful for pastoral leaders who want to go to the next level of ministry. Pastors involved in PLG’s are good pastors who want to become better pastors.  Peers gather around their calling as a minister, make an intentional covenant with each other for spiritual support and mutual accountability, spend time with each other in learning, prayer, and fellowship and then take what they are learning and apply it to real life ministry situations.

Pastors who participate in a peer learning group are more engaged in their own self care and development. They are twice as likely to say that maintaining a private life separate from their work is “no problem.”

A pastor’s involvement in a peer learning group makes a difference for their congregation as well. Their congregations are highly participatory, there is greater shared leadership among the laity, and new members and youth are more likely to be involved in worship and service.  In addition, their churches are more likely to be engaged in community service and they see their church as a change agent within the community.

Finally, pastors with a history of participation in a peer group lead congregations that grow. The keys to this growth are the length of time a pastor has participated in a peer learning group and the peer group’s leadership and structure.  Those that are led by a trained facilitator and have a curriculum or some other intentional learning plan experience higher numerical growth.

Another plus is denominational diversity within the peer learning group. Many younger pastors join a peer learning group because they feel stuck in ministry. Middle-aged and midcareer pastors joining a group because while things are going well, they are not satisfied and believe there is something more for themselves and their church.

Cornerstone Church Network’s version of pastoral peer learning is called Master’s Group. Led by Warren Schuh of the CCN team, a Master’s Group is a monthly gathering of Senior Pastors who are passionate about effective ministry and value the input of a group of trusted peers. They are committed to each other’s health and success.

Each Master’s Group is facilitated by a trained and highly capable “Chair.” The group gatherings include time for developing a deepening level of relationship among the participants, leadership skill development that can be immediately applied to ministry and a GPS (Growing Past Stress) process that produces real solutions to current ministry issues.

For more information about joining or perhaps starting a Master’s Group in your area, go to the Master’s Group page on the CCN website.

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