Why it is Vital for Leaders in the Church

Community: Why it is Vital for Leaders in the Church

Dr. Willam M. Beachy, PHD
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The concept of community has been trending since Genesis 1.  You know it well, the creation story…In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, birds of the air, fish of the sea, etc.  Then we come to Genesis 1:26 and it is as if God turns to the community of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:  Then God said, “Let us make (hu)mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” NIV

Let us, together, as a divine community, create humankind so that we may be in community with them.  Let us create our image and likeness within all of humankind and with it the model of community and possibly, quite possibly, they will choose to be in community with one another.  Powerful community, peaceful community, community that by definition is to come together to worship, love and serve God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and to love others in the community of humanity as they love themselves.  

In the post Christian, 21st century culture, the word community points toward that which is seeking to bring about good, a sense of well-being, a positive result or a service for society.  Community mental health centers, community food banks, community colleges, community economic development, community clinics, community action organizations, all strive to promote community well-being.  The term community also describes the location or kind of place in which we live: rural community, urban community, diverse community, downtown community, community in the suburbs. 

I find it very interesting that current secular research reinforces the ways that the experience of community contributes to a sense of well-being.  Much is written about the workplace intersection of “employee engagement” and the “great resignation” along with “quiet quitting” and the necessity of having a “good friend” in my place of employment.

This is not a new phenomenon. Christine Comaford wrote in Forbes magazine (March 13, 2013): “In every communication, in every conflict, we are subconsciously either reinforcing or begging for safety, belonging, mattering or a combination.  It’s neurological… it’s primal… there is nothing you can do to override or change this subterranean subconscious programming as much as you may try.” 

As Christ followers, the church, as the bride of Christ, is intended to serve as a primary source of community, and for many congregants it does. But what about the pastors who are called to lead the church? Research shows that 50% of seminary graduates who become church pastors, leave the ministry within the first five years, due to burn-out.  In November, 2021, surveys by the Barna Group revealed that 38% of pastors are thinking about and following through with leaving pastoral ministry, largely due to burn-out. 

Often, the responsibilities of pastoral leadership create a degree of separation between the leaders and the communities they serve.  So, where do leaders find the community that is so vital for their own transcendent self-presence, community that feeds their spirit and replenishes their soul?  Leadership in the church is lonely. The demands of ministry are largely untenable. The forecast seems bleak for a long, fruitful and fulfilling life in ministry. So, where do pastoral leaders find a place and space where they can download their frustrations, fears and failures within a sacred community?  A place, a space where they can be nurtured, cared for and built up all the while they are leading?

I don’t know about you but I’m fairly certain that I have never stumbled, tripped or wandered my way into community.  I’m speaking of honest, authentic, abiding community.  I’m mean “community” as that living organism where human beings discover and experience a commonality of purpose, a shared vision and a sense of being. Where leaders can become and belong with other human beings as their individual resources for life and ministry are being replenished. 

For the past 5 years I have been developing and implementing the “Thriving in Church Ministry” program for pastors at Ashland Theological Seminary. We bring together cohorts of pastors to experience the impact of transformative community. Together, they learn how to create safe spaces, develop relationships with other pastors, talk about their spiritual well-being, and become appropriately transparent and vulnerable. They leave equipped to replicate what they have experienced in the communities where they live and serve, thus creating a greater probability for sustainability as well as flourishing in life and ministry.  

To date, we have had over 200 pastors participate in face to face cohorts in Michigan and Ohio as well as virtual cohorts with participants from Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.  The results have been remarkable. As important as the content is to the program, it is the creation and nurture of the community of pastors that makes the difference. This is the intent and design of the program. These pastoral leaders seek to create and sustain community like we see modeled in the Godhead…that elusive, but desired and longed for relationship with others that you simply do not trip or stumble into … relationships of mutual love and honor and service.

Being in community is part of our ethos at Ashland Theological Seminary. We practice loving and serving one another, experiencing and extending God’s great grace through and to each other. We create space for community through numerous gatherings, events and opportunities for students, faculty & staff to build deep abiding relationships.  We seek to model that which we have learned from biblical principles, from each other, as well as the wisdom and insight of the spiritual giants of the faith. Ultimately, community is not an organization, a location, a structure or even the rally around a common vision and mission.  Community is about people, people who trust one another, belong to one another, are safe with one another, care for one another, experience life with one another, and give glory to God with one another.  At Ashland Theological Seminary, we will walk in authentic community with you and model how to be intentional about its creation and the ongoing facilitation of its flourishing.

About the Author,
Dr. Willam M. Beachy, PHD

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William Beachy

Born and raised on a dairy farm in central Ohio, Dr. Beachy graduated from McMurry College in Abilene, Texas with a degree in music. Between that time and completing his Master of Divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary, he traveled the country performing concerts and preaching revivals. Ordained in the United Methodist Church in 1981 he served several pastorates in West Texas before returning to graduate school at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Following the completion of his degrees, he served as an associate professor of spiritual formation at Asbury Seminary where he directed the Beeson Center for Preaching and Church Leadership until 1996 at which time he returned to the pastorate in the United Methodist Church. In the West Michigan conference, he has served as the Chair of the Order of Elders, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, and was voted the favorite pastor in Lansing, Michigan on numerous occasions. He took early retirement from the pastorate in order to return to the classroom. He is married to Barbara and they have four adult children, five precious grandchildren, and two little dogs. He enjoys golfing, biking, music, theater, being outdoors, woodworking, and redeeming old furniture.

Dr. Beachy’s philosophy of teaching revolves around the practical application of what one learns; in order to learn, one must have a teachable spirit; if one has a teachable spirit, one must be willing to do self-evaluation and seek to know oneself. Ultimately, the assimilation and embracing of new knowledge encourage a new self-awareness.

He believes Christian leaders must have a clear understanding of who they are in relationship to God, along with their individual strengths, gifts, and talents. And even more importantly, a person in professional ministry must learn to care for his or her own soul. He also maintains that when one begins to understand the work of God in one’s own life, only then can that person be called to serve, teach, lead, guide, mentor, advocate for peace and social justice and counsel those in their care and, in so doing, God is glorified, the Kingdom is expanded, and the potential of the people in our communities and churches is fulfilled.

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