Despite being supporters of others, ministry leaders need support too, and this is what Rev. Dr. Thad Austin’s research focuses on, at Duke Divinity University.
On the show today we are talking about Caring for Clergy with Rev. Dr. Thad Austin and how he is creating a network of clergy supporters.
Asking for help is really hard. As leaders, it’s hard to admit when we are stuck and don’t have all the solutions or need support.
The same goes for helpers or caregivers.
I can tell you that when I experienced burnout and sat across from a therapist and hated every minute of it. I know I should be telling you that I loved it, and I looked forward to it. But truthfully I was super annoyed, at his soft voice, and concerning head nod and the homework that I had just a few weeks prior had given to one of my clients.
But in all of that annoyance, it actually helped. As much as I didn’t enjoy it, the therapy helped and I overcame some things that were becoming roadblocks in my life.
I had heard several times prior to going to that counselor that the difference between a good therapist and a great therapist is that the great one they go to therapy themselves however up till then I wasn’t able to set aside my pride and seek help.
But counselors, therapists, clergy, and pastors are people too. We all have experiences, and relationships that are complex and can trip us up. We are human.
Despite being supporters of others, ministry leaders need support too and this is what Rev. Dr. Thad Austin’s research focuses on, at Duke Divinity University.
There are many articles and research studies identifying that clergy are struggling. I know I hear it in my conversations with churches across North America. Yet, those who support clergy, people like educators, clinicians, and denominations are incredibly siloed.
This makes for a very fractured system that is difficult to navigate and hard to access.
But what if it wasn’t?
What if there was a network of those who support clergy? What if supporters were able to collaborate and share information, tools, and resources and even care for one another?
And this is the work that motivates Rev. Dr. Thad Austin.
Thad grew up in North Carolina to Christian parents who worked in the medical field. His father was an internist and his mother was a nurse practitioner. Even his grandfather was a physician and served in the navy and so the value of service to God, and to others was rooted in every aspect of his upbringing.
Thad describes himself as an introvert who loves being around people, a side effect of being an only child. Traveling the country with his parents while they served others Thad reflects on one of the most impactful memories he has with his father.
What led Thad to the pastoral field
When he was 16, a number of folks came up to him in a prophetic way telling him to choose the pastoral journey however one memory stands out.
One Friday night, his church was experimenting with a contemporary worship program and as the Pastor stood up to speak he felt a conviction in him to reach out to his pastor about what he was feeling.
He then reached out afterward and prayed to God for his pastor to initiate the conversation as he was so nervous about it.
When he stepped into the Pastor’s office, he immediately asked him to share about his call to ministry. Startled for a second, he then remembered the prayer he made and had a conversation with him.
After their talk, they walked to the sanctuary where the Pastor used some of the baptism water to draw the sign of the cross over him. This was the beginning of his journey to service.
Thad’s experience as a pastor
Thad noted that he has had great experiences in pastoral ministry and has served in just about every role in the church from serving in the children’s ministry to taking the senior adults on trips.
These expressions of faith are the heartbeat of who the church is and Thad highlighted in his book expressing that if we ever start to think that we are better far apart from our neighbors it is inapplicable to the church community.
Moments of overwhelm while struggling to build community
As you undergo through feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone.
As a leader, you may navigate from a birthday party to the bedside of someone dying or a board meeting and question if this is really how ministry is yet this is a depiction of how Jesus lived out his life navigating different scenarios.
In these moments, it is important to remember to care for your own soul and create boundaries for yourself because your health is important as you serve in ministry.
What motivates Thad
Formational-driven institutions inspire Thad to support leaders because the cracks in ministry have prompted a number of leaders to step down.
He also shared that during the pandemic he came across a targeted Facebook Ad from an executive business firm prompting pastors to join them and use their skills to show up as good executive coaches.
Thad was shocked by this and it was evidence enough to showcase the cracks for leaders in ministry who have been struggling before and after the pandemic.
So who will support such leaders? Here is where Thad and his team come in to identify who those clergy are by providing care providers for the clergy.
It is also very important that clergy persons receive support at the local level however we cannot dismiss how it is also crucial at large systemic organization structures like retreat center providers, and insurance providers among others.
Thad found out that much as there is hope for support from these large organizations, their relationship with the clergy is highly disconnected.
How to create a relationship between clergy and large systemic organizations
Research showcased in Thad’s book Caring for Clergy: Understanding a Disconnected Network of Providers showed that much as hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into clergy, it is very uncoordinated and efforts are being eluded however awareness and even the slightest form of collaboration can have a dramatic impact for the church.
How does this impact people on the front lines?
For the person on the ground or local setting, the question is who is supporting your ministry? What are the other structures in place either denomination or non-denomination centers?
Once you get clear on that, go ahead and assess if the people are qualified to offer support because people can easily put up the label coach without any background.
This is because research has shown that a percentage of individuals ministering with clergy are not doing so out of their healing but from their woundedness.
It is only when the clergy decide to get support from qualified individuals that they can get the care they need.
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