Thriving in clergy, congregations, and communities

It is important for your minister to thrive. Matt Bloom, a professor at Notre Dame, is well-known for his research on what contributes to thriving in various vocations. Here are some of the factors he names as crucial for clergy:

  • physical health

  • everyday happiness

  • the opportunity to be authentic

  • good boundaries

  • a sense of meaning (and purpose within that bigger picture of meaning)

  • relationships with others

  • the ability to self-reflect

You can read more about Bloom’s work here.

But why is it so important that clergy thrive? Well, as it turns out, there is a link between flourishing ministers and flourishing congregations. One party’s health contributes to the other’s. (The same is true of languishing.) Wouldn’t you prefer to be part of a church that has some of the characteristics of thriving mentioned above rather than one that pretends to be something it is not, is constantly conflict-ridden, has no self-awareness, and doesn’t connect to a larger sense of purpose? I know I would.

Ok. But why, then, is it important that congregations thrive? This is often where the reflection stops. We don’t need clergy and churches that flourish simply for flourishing’s sake. We need to be able to contribute to one another’s thriving so that together we can then answer God’s call to contribute to a more loving, just, and generous world. Our congregations are situated within local and global contexts that are hungry for love, justice, and generosity. And these contexts are part of God’s good creation and our spheres of influence, just like our little patches of physical plant are, so our partnering with and participation in them is a condition of faithful stewardship.

But back to the minister. What can congregations do to help that clergyperson thrive, so that the minister then offers quality pastoral leadership and a good model to the congregation, so that in turn the church’s flourishing takes it into the world to do great things alongside God? This is an important question for congregations to consider as they search and negotiate with pastoral candidates. Ministers want to thrive, but they often jump into new calls with both feet without first thinking through what they need to flourish. They are so quickly consumed that it is then difficult to back up and set good practices. Search teams can help incoming pastors not only by giving them permission to set up the conditions for thriving but also by covenanting with their clergy at the start around maintaining those practices.

Here are some questions search teams can ask their ministerial candidates to form the basis for this covenant:

  • What do you imagine thriving might look like for you in this context?

  • What practices would you like to put in place to make this flourishing possible?

  • What time do you need to carve out to implement these practices?

  • What spaces will it be important for you to inhabit?

  • What support do you need from the congregation to follow through on your plan?

  • How might you share with the church about the impact of your practices?

Putting the conditions for clergy thriving into place at the outset will reaffirm for that minister that your church is a great fit and is invested in mutual care. You’ll have laid the groundwork for a long, fruitful ministry together.

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash.