One in mission | Linda Valentine
Helping new pastors succeed
A focus on spiritual formation leads to better ways to address churches’ needs.
Helping new pastors serve a changing church by focusing on “the building blocks of the soul” is the goal of the Company of New Pastors, a program of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. We believe that pastors should not just spend their time thinking about how to manage a congregation but also examine why they are called to this work.
Dave Rohrer, a regional mentor for the Company of New Pastors, says the program helps ground pastors in the reason for their work, by encouraging them not to spend their time thinking primarily about how to get the job done or how to turn a church around. While those questions are extremely important, Dave says the program’s objective is “to get people rooted in the building blocks of the soul.”
In practical terms, that means guiding the pastors to focus primarily on their spiritual life and to build a support system with their peers. The result, according to Dave and others involved with the program, is that details such as pastoring a church and dealing with finances then fall into place.
Exploring new models
That approach dovetails with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s new vision and mission. As we acknowledge that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its leaders face new challenges in the midst of a changing church, we have been called to seek out and explore new models—and often new funding sources—for many of our ministries.
This exciting process of reform is already well under way in the Company of New Pastors, a program based on mentored peer covenant groups. To allow for more flexibility in convening the groups, we now have four part-time regional mentors rather than one national director. Dave, who is a pastor and author of The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry: Preparing a People for the Presence of the Lord, will be instrumental in helping the program continue to move forward. He and his colleagues, along with our staff, are already thinking about how the program can be valuable to the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement and how it can incorporate leadership development more intentionally.
“As we move into this next stage,” he says, “we are also thinking about equipping new pastors to serve and lead as they increasingly do risk-taking work in nontraditional congregational settings, often in less than full-time positions. It is critical that the program resource and support them in the challenging context of missional or new worshiping communities that won’t ever look like what we think of as a traditional congregation.”
A positive influence
Over the life of the Company of New Pastors—originally named Excellence from the Start when it began and was funded by the Lilly Endowment—567 new pastors have participated in the program. All but three of the 199 pastors who have completed all five years of the program are still in pastoral ministry. Our 98.5 percent retention rate is startling in light of national statistics that show that 35 to 40 percent of new pastors leave the ministry within five years. Additionally, a majority of the graduates of the program rank the Company of New Pastors as a positive influence in their ministry formation.
“I think there’s a lot of transition-into-ministry work that is centered around best practices, giving people institutional handles in how to do the work and how to engage some of the stresses of the work,” Dave says. “Those are all good things. We need those things.”
But he adds, “The uniqueness of the Company of New Pastors is in its interest in the spiritual formation of the pastor.”
Company of New Pastors is a pastoral formation program that begins in seminary and continues into the first years of ministry, helping nurture habits of daily prayer and Scripture reading and regular theological reflection. It is an outgrowth of the Company of Pastors, a program open to all teaching and ruling elders and Christian educators. For more information, visit the Company of Pastors website or contact Karen Russell by email or at (800)728-7228, x5401.
Learn about other resources and leader development programs from the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Theology, Worship and Education.