In the late 1990s, while serving as a pastor, a steady stream of ministers from various denominations started showing up in my office, asking me to help them in sustaining their ministries or their families, for I am also a marriage and family therapist. Everywhere I turned, research was confirming what I was witnessing. 1) Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in America and 2) Only half of the ministers who receive seminary education are still in active ministry ten years later (Los Angeles Times, 1/29/99). A Fuller Theological Seminary study showed that 40% of clergy reported at least one significant conflict within the previous month.
My research had shown me that around the time a minister reaches age 50 a tremendous emotional shift occurs. Many find it hard to be motivated and focus on what they were called to do 25 years earlier, leading them to give up or muddle through until retirement. No wonder so many ministers were seeking help.
By the year 2000 I was so moved and motivated to address this crisis that I left being a pastor to start Shepherd’s Staff Ministry for the sole purpose of undergirding and sustaining ministers in ministry. For years I had coached lay members of my congregation as they had gone through transitions in their lives, everything from losing their jobs to losing their families. But I was just beginning the journey of learning the unique differences in coaching ministers.
During those early years of this new ministry to ministers I did a massive amount of research on why ministers were leaving ministry. As I pored through similar reports from various denominations, it hit me that there were two common threads running through them. First, ministers must be able to manage their own emotions. Second, ministers must be able to manage their congregations’ emotions and to motivate them. Inability to do both of these results in emotional fatigue and spiritual dryness.
Ministers bring unresolved family of origin issues from their past or current families and unknowingly play out these personal and family themes in their ministries. These “under the surface issues” significantly affect the functioning of the minister and affect others’ perceptions of the minister. Understanding his/her own family’s past/present, and any unresolved issues they might project onto their congregation, is key for each minister. Unresolved issues impact the minister’s ability to think, act, and relate within the context of the church. The minister’s family of origin provides the incubator for development of relational skills. How well a minister navigates personal issues is the best way to predict ministry effectiveness.
In 2000, when I discovered psychologist Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence (1995, Bantam Books), addressing similar issues in the corporate world, I thought I had found the silver bullet. So I headed to Boston to be trained by the Hay Group to use his diagnostic instrument for assessing and helping executives manage the emotions of their organizations, their own emotions, and helping them become more effective.
However, I soon realized that a secular instrument did not incorporate two important characteristics of clergy. One is call. The other is identity. Ministers are motivated and sustained in a totally different way. We are sustained by our calling and motivated from within ourselves. You may refer to this as the spirit that lives within us. The corporate model does not have either one of these. In addition, church congregational systems are much more complex and all consuming for clergy than secular organizational systems. So as I started coaching clergy, I soon learned that if they did not redefine their calling and their identity throughout ministry that sustainability and effectiveness were very unlikely.
With too many differences in the corporate model, I went on a quest to develop the first instrument to measure effectiveness in ministry. I named the quest, “Pastoral Intelligence and the instrument Skill Assessment for Ministers (SAM-360).” The development of this instrument has been long, hard, and sometimes even frustrating. There is not another instrument to compare it to or measure it against. In fact, I was shocked to learn that clergy comprise the only profession that does not measure outcome in training and effectiveness of occupation.
I started seeing if I could make profound changes through the coaching model by doing a pretest using SAM-360, coaching for a minimum of 6-12 months, then doing a post test with SAM-360 one or two years later. Starting with the SAM-360 pre-test I can more easily help the minister identify and address the emotional “freezing” points in their lives and in their ministry. In other words, I enable ministers to discover why they are “stuck” in their functioning. I acknowledge that both positive and negative emotions influence ministry. I help ministers shift their emotional structures in order to understand how their emotions set up repetitive patterns in ministry. By analyzing how they responded to emotional issues, I “connect the dots” to help ministers see how their powerful emotions (both positive and negative) influence them and their congregations as well. To make effective changes in clergy takes anywhere from nine months to a year as they learn new ways of thinking and managing themselves and their congregations.
After coaching some 400 clergy, here are some of my findings:
• Clergy have to be self-motivated and continue to develop their call through their ministry.
• For clergy to maintain a healthy spiritual self they must maintain a healthy emotional self.
• For clergy to be effective in congregational life they must be able to:
-Manage the congregation’s emotions
-Motivate the congregation to fulfill the mission and vision the clergy is proclaiming
• Clergy get exhausted from multiple tasking. They must find time to keep their own Sabbath and time to think and process the emotions the congregation has stirred up.
The good news is 85-90% of the clergy who have gone through this coaching have been able to be more effective in their long-term ministry. The results of the coaching show a high retention rate. Several years later the ministers are still using the schools, as opposed to many other training programs where the skills are only retained for six months or less.
Maurice Graham is executive director of Shepherd’s Staff Ministry, Inc., Richmond, Va.