Explorations of thriving often search for particular elements, in order to paint a picture of ministry that is life-giving for the priest and life-giving for the congregation. I am reminded of Frank Asch’s picture book Bread and Honey in which the small bear paints a picture of mama bear and while waiting for his snack, shows the picture to the wide variety of his friends. Each adds an aspect of the mother they know, so that the picture looks like “momma.” By the time small bear arrives home, his picture has a crow’s yellow beak, stripes like a giraffe, a grey trunk like an elephant and much more. The picture does not look anything like the real momma bear! For thriving, we are tempted to paint our picture and then, just to be sure, add what others say thriving should be –we end up with nothing that resembles the original.
Thriving is less a check list of accumulated evidence and more a dynamic integration of capacities and skill.
Some capacity and skill we will learn from reflecting on our experience and acting. Some capacity and skill we will learn by observing and speaking with others. Some will develop through searching for new answers and reading across disciplines beyond the practice of ministry. Yes, some will come from unpleasant mistakes and serendipitous insights. Some will come from intentional practicing of new behaviors to form a new habit.
We believe it is not what clergy need but how clergy integrate what they know and learn
Thriving is developed as clergy integrate skills and capacities that are needed for their ministry. Meaningful integration provides purpose and affirmation to the life to which God calls you, to bringing love of God to those you serve.
This is not an invitation to segment elements or stop developing better practices across all aspects of ministry. If we love preaching, we cannot abandon pastoral care, because skills in pastoral care feed preaching and visa versa. This is not to say that a ministry of advocacy should not give prominence to relational meetings or a ministry of school chaplaincy should not place significant weight on the competence of teaching. To be a parish priest, chaplain or advocate, some skills are leaned into more heavily.
Priestly identity expressed in core capacities
The Thriving in Ministry Impact Map delineates eight areas of capacity for an experienced priest. They are not a check list; they are neither “do these eight things and you will thrive” nor “do just one thing to start thriving.” Instead, these eight capacities are integrated through the life, context, learning, and theology of the priest, and this leads to thriving.
Different capacities can be combined to meet different issues. Each capacity is an interrelated set of skills. For example, advocacy requires at least three capacities: engaging community, agility in conflict, and connection. Within those capacities are skills of relational meetings, awareness of conflicts, curiosity, listening, and relationships with those whom you agree and disagree. Integrate into your ministry many of these core impact capacities and you will experience what thriving looks like and feels like.
Intentionally focusing on growth and feedback aids integration
How these eight capacities are integrated is influenced by our ministry context, our gifts and strengths, our gaps that cause us to stumble in the same way each time, our bandwidth to learn, feedback, and most importantly, immediate, interactive, supportive communities so that we can learn more and learn deeply. Can we do engage these core capacities on our own? Yes. Can we more powerfully and effectively integrate these capacities by intentionally focusing on them with mentors and peers? Definitely.
Thriving is not a checklist. The Thriving Impact Map is not a set of criteria to accomplish or fail or meet. Rather Thriving in Ministry is finding your life-giving meaning and purpose each day. Thriving is the joy-filled ways and the corrective ways we give and receive love in the world. Thriving is looking to the eight areas of the Impact Map and integrating them into our live. Just as important are the colleagues, ordained and lay, with whom we make this journey to Thriving.