by Aaron Stamper
Pastor of Youth and Family Ministry, Cross of Grace Lutheran Church, New Palestine, Indiana
Questions started to bubble up in the back of my mind not long into my new career as a parish pastor. The questions were typically variations of “What does ‘success’ look like in my congregation?” and “How will this church make a difference in this community?”
In response to these good and necessary questions I chose to come up with the answers myself. I read, prayed, decided, pushed, prodded, judged, evaluated, and exerted more energy than I knew I had. While my intentions were good, my decision to go it alone did a great deal of damage to my congregation and my sense of call. I had effectively shut out my parishioners from the tasks of discernment and discipleship. Similarly, I had not solicited the advice and perspective of leaders in the community. I grew to resent my parishioners lack of engagement in my plans. I also grew to resent my inability to effectively lead and make a difference.
It was in this spirit that I entered into the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program. I vividly recall the first time I sat among nearly 20 other pastors around the boardroom table in our cohort’s first meeting. I thought to myself, “I don’t belong here.” By the time our first session had ended I was thinking, “This is exactly where I need to be.”
The Wabash program quickly set about dismantling my flawed idea of leadership and replacing it with a leadership model built on cooperation, mutual discernment, new perspectives, information gathering, risk-taking, and humility. Each session presented me with a new understanding of various topics that directly impact people in Indiana. Each time our cohort reunited I heard stories of my fellow participants returning to their congregations and putting these new insights into action.
I find it hard to imagine what direction my ministry and vocation would have gone had it not been for the course-correction offered by the Wabash program. The fellowship of other pastors kept me from drowning in self-doubt and isolation. The expert insight offered by community leaders taught me to rely on others for effective ministry. The quality of care shown by the Wabash program leaders made me feel valued, encouraged, and equipped.
Ministry is hard work. It’s even harder when you go it alone. The Wabash program is perhaps the most valuable resource any pastor in Indiana will have access to because of its ability to nurture relationships and insights into effective ministry.