By Jerry Ingalls
Pastor, First Baptist Church, New Castle, IN
The top 10 ways my two years in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program were a gift to me and my ministry. A personal reflection from a Baptist minister.
Whether it was learning about the ministry of conflict resolution and reconciliation from a Muslim scholar who had travelled to Wabash College from England or sitting with an Imam in his Mosque in South Africa, my eyes were open to the importance of listening and learning from people of other cultures and faiths. How blessed our world would be to have sincere love and respect amongst the religious leadership of our communities.
I was surrounded by ministers with such a willingness to partner with me even though we came from different denominational backgrounds. This was so unlike our local communities where the signs on the outside of the church prevent us from being the Church. Whereas in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, we experienced being the Church where Christ defined us more than the signs on the outside of our buildings. We worshipped together, ate together, learned together, travelled together, and experienced sacred moments together in South Africa, Mexico, and in Crawfordsville. How blessed our communities would be for such ecumenical partnerships. In Indiana, that starts at the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.
With a diversity of theological expressions represented in every gathering, our unity was nothing less than a work of the Holy Spirit. We were quickly grafted in common purpose, common experience, and mutual respect in a way that can only be God. Isn’t this what we all hope for in our churches, where our people are diverse in their social-economic status, recreational interests, political expressions, social views, and spiritual maturity. What a joy for us to be one as the Father and Son are one.
With all the pastors having experienced the rigors of seminary and with the speakers engaging us with high-level presentations, I was stimulated in my academic interests. With a common language and mutual respect for one another’s aptitudes we engaged in meaningful conversations. Due to this high level of interaction and quality of content, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program stimulated me to consider my own abilities to get a doctorate. Today, I am a doctoral student thanks to the Wabash Program experience.
The Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, funded by the Lilly Endowment, was made available to me at a time in my ministry that I could not personally afford to pursue such a robust professional development and continuing education opportunity. This program exceeded my expectations for my own development. On top of that, we were blessed financially which was a gift to my spouse and three children who so lovingly allowed me to participate.
Between restful separation from the unrelenting ministry grind and the never-ending bountiful meals, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program knows how to do hospitality. I was always amazed at how well the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program lived up to their commitment to honor pastors for the hard work we do in our local congregations and communities. Our two years together were so healthy because every other month I got away to be with friends, retreat from the pressing weight of the pastorate, and grow as a person of God and minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As well, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program encouraged us to apply for the Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Program which makes available significant resources for sabbatical opportunities.
These two words will take on a deeper significance to you personally and professionally after spending two years learning what they could mean to you and your ministry context. I gained a better understanding of Indiana’s civic issues and how those conversations apply to my church and community. I was encouraged and supported to understand and engage the complexities between education, health care, economics, and the justice system in my Indiana community. I now have a deeper sense of the underlying issues and realities of this dynamic conversation that is already happening all around the church. The question for you and your community is whether the church has a voice in the conversations regarding community wellbeing.
Did I already tell you about the awesome colleagues who were in my cohort? If not, let me tell you about them. I love and respect the ministers of grace I sojourned with in Cohort III. We traveled around the world, met at Wabash College, met one another in our own churches, went out to meals together, stayed up late talking, and took walks in all seasons of life together. I was inspired by these men and women of God who taught me so much about ministry and life. Our continual contact with one another three years later continues to inspire and strengthen my ministry and life.
I shouldn’t fail to honestly confess that I most likely would not be in my eighth year at my church ministering the gospel of grace if it was not for the personal encouragement and wise counsel that came from my pastoral friends in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program. Not only were my two years in the program transformative and life-giving, but in the years after our completion I continued to stay in touch and be encouraged. It is in the hardest times of ministry that trusted colleagues who truly know what it is to be in your shoes can be so necessary. I have already experienced how the unique friendships that are developed over these two years are essential to longevity in the pastorate.
It was just the other night that my family was at the house of one of my Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program colleagues. My family got in the car and travelled to a different city to spend time together as ministry families. We just wanted to be together and connect our families. We are not the same gender, denominational affiliation, political party, or theological orientation, but we are life-long friends who have learned to have oneness in Christ above all else. Love drove out fear and the Kingdom of God came near as our families communed in her parsonage. These people are my tribe!
In conclusion, being a part of this life-giving and ministry-transforming program has breathed life into my soul personally and ministry professionally. I give God thanks on a regular basis for having been a part of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.