Considering a Preaching Peer Group? Five Things to Think About
A seasoned pastor found a preaching peer group to be a source of refreshment, challenge, and growth. Here are his top five reasons.
Perhaps you are thinking about joining a preaching-focused peer group. Let me share five reasons a pastor who preaches regularly may not want to be a part of a peer group.
1. If you enjoy the isolation and loneliness of the pastorate, you should not be part of a peer group.
The pastorate is a lonely place to serve. While it may appear to your parishioners that you are surrounded by people, your people may not understand the boundaries a pastor needs to establish to maintain a healthy ministry.
Participating in a peer group will connect you with other pastors. You will share insights and ideas with one another. You will find support. Friendships could develop. You could also experience a peer group as a safe and freeing space that allows you to be yourself. For all these reasons, I found the experience refreshing and encouraging.
2. If you want to remain rigidly committed to your own small view of God’s world and kingdom, you might not want to participate in a pastor peer group.
A group like this will undoubtedly challenge some cultural assumptions you might hold. For example, my experience with a peer group has helped me rethink my perspective on racism. That has in turn influenced my care for others and my sermon application. Furthermore, it helped me examine the roots of my assumptions concerning race and racism. I used to think the best way to approach racial differences was to be colorblind—I held the view that I don’t see race, I see people.
I now understand that we cannot see people apart from race and culture because these realities form a large part of each person’s worldview, identity, and life experience. Without an appreciation for race and culture, I wouldn’t see and understand the challenges others experience. God did not create humans in monochrome, but in color. Thanks to my peer learning group, I am reflecting on how this fact affects the way I approach others, care for others, and preach to my people.
3. If you are one who doesn’t like listening and reflecting, a peer group is probably not for you.
In our discussions of assigned readings, my group taught me to listen to my peers rather than simply react to what I was reading. I found that when I wanted to react, my presuppositions were probably being challenged in a healthy way. I may not have revised all my suppositions, but I became aware of them and was moved to reflect upon their roots in my life, ministry, and preaching. I believe that this process has enriched my preaching, pastoral care, and life.
Now, if you want to debate rather than listen, you may have trouble with a peer group. A pastor peer group is not about winning points or having one’s perspective validated. It is about listening and reflecting. I suspect more than a few pastors would find this challenging and perhaps unsettling. Pastors are often seen, by themselves and others, as people with answers rather than as people who listen. As valuable as education is in equipping pastors for ministry, a degree can lead us too much into our heads and not enough into our hearts. This peer group reminded me that listening is often more important than providing an answer.
4. If you enjoy having the tyranny of the urgent dictate your life and schedule, you might not do well in a pastor peer group.
The pastorate can be a hectic place, no question. In a busy congregation, it may be difficult to find time to do the reading, reflecting, and writing that a peer group requires. If that is the case for you, perhaps you need to make some changes. Early in my ministry, I remember talking to a colleague who was a runner. He was as busy in the pastorate as I was, yet he trained for marathons. I asked him how he found the time to train. He said, “I make the time.”
It’s healthy for pastors to make time for a peer group. Jesus has not called us to be busy to the point of exhaustion, leaving no time for family and our health. Jesus calls us to be faithful. Being faithful may mean making the time in your schedule for a peer group.
5. If you do not like reading beyond the boundaries of your own perspective, you will not like a pastor peer group.
My group’s reading about racism introduced me to new perspectives. I would not have chosen that book. Perhaps my mind was made up, and that was that. Being handed that book and being asked to read, reflect on, and write about it was good for me. Through that experience, I went someplace I would not have gone otherwise. That was healthy and enlightening for me.
Tongue-in-cheek reasons aside, I encourage pastors to prayerfully consider being a part of a peer group. Participating can be a refreshing, challenging, and growing experience. You, the people you serve, and the kingdom will benefit from your participation.
Read the book that challenged the author’s assumptions about racism: Who Lynched Willie Earle? by Will Willimon.
Read So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive, an examination of the impact of pastor peer groups.
Explore preaching and ministry resources from the Center for Excellence in Preaching.