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Evidences for the Power of a Leadership Peer Group

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

How important is it for pastors to engage in a clergy peer group (aka, covenant group, learning group, or pastors cluster)? According to two recent studies it's extremely important. The difference between pastors engaged in a group and those not involved shows up in their churches. In our Region we call them Leadership Learning Communities (LLCs). Here's a summary of what was discovered:

Those who participate in a covenant group are more likely to create a culture of involvement within their congregations. What's that mean? It means pastors were more likely to involve their people in leadership and ministry. There was more participation by laypeople in each of these areas: 1) New member's classes 2) Communion 3) Worship leadership 4) Church ministries and 5) Rotation through leadership roles.

Pastors involved in a covenant group have churches with an organized presence and involvement of youth. This included the greater likelihood of a youth minister on staff. Additionally there were higher incidences of the following: 1) A youth program including conferences and camps 2) Congregational events planned and led by youth 3) Youth serving on congregational committees and boards.

There was more intentional involvement in the community including a vision of the congregation as a community change agent. Pastors engaged in a group led their churches with a strong emphasis on community service. There was an expectation within the church that the pastor would be out in the community representing the congregation.

Furthermore, pastors who were involved in a group enjoyed more congregational support for continuing education. Their churches committed more dollars to finance the ongoing retooling of the pastor. There were congregational expectations and requirements for the pastor to do continuing education.

These factors alone are enough to build a solid case for life-long engagement in a clergy learning group. But, there's even more reason for pastors to be a part of a LLC. The study also investigated whether there was any correlation between congregational growth and peer group involvement. The resounding answer was "yes." Participation in a group correlated with congregational growth.

There were two caveats, however. First, longevity in group involvement was a factor. The longer the pastoral leader participated in a group the more likely it was that his or her congregation would experience growth. The most productive years seemed to be in the fourth year of participation and beyond.

Second caveat, the peer group had to have structure, usually marked by a trained facilitator and an established curriculum.

The researchers discovered a strong relationship between congregational health as marked by growth and peer group involvement. Much stronger than they anticipated. This factor was as important as other, more obvious predictors of church growth. For the record, the other predictors of church growth, according to their research, included a youthful congregation, broad hands-on participation in ministry by the laity, little or no congregational conflict, spiritual vibrancy and clear mission.

The researchers noted a consistent thread in their findings: Pastors involved in structured peer groups tend to be missional leaders and are personally involved in their communities. Growth is one predictable result.

Based on their study the researchers also identified the following factors that make for effective peer groups:

  • A high level of contact between group members (including meetings but especially emails/phone calls)
  • A leader/facilitator who inspires confidence
  • A group that provides accountability and practical help with some attention to intellectual challenge & spiritual refueling
  • A group that is cohesive, "like a family"
  • A group whose practices focus on ministry improvement through exploring innovative ideas & resources as well as sharing/getting feedback about personal and ministry problems.

They summarized these characteristics with this comment: "peer groups that renew their members' ministries provide a stimulating mix of the practical, the intellectual, and the spiritual along with a certain amount of 'holding each others feet to the fire' in terms of accountability."

The results of this study impressed upon me that ABCNW is on the right track in providing Leadership Learning Communities for our pastors. LLCs are a great resource and they are working for us. I encourage every pastor to be an active participant in one. The next step for us in this journey with leadership clusters is the extension of their benefits to lay leaders. Concepts for doing this are being considered. So, stay tuned.

Thanks to Joe Kutter with ABC Ministers Council for directing me to this information. If you are interested in digging deeper into these findings go to Austin Presbyterian Seminary College of Pastoral Leaders.

2010 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest
[This article is from Dr. Revis’ blog,]

Jesus @ the Center

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

This morning I continued reading in the LLC book for March, The Relational Way by Scott Boren. Often I read chapters out of order. I will read the last chapters to get to the bottom line, and then later go back and read the rest. Today I was doing just that, reading Chapter 2, "Gathering Around the Presence."

Boren makes the point that we often subcumb to the temptation to organize small groups around a particular good thing, and then we expect them to thrive. In doing so we miss the true dynamo that creates Christian community. Jesus Christ is that power. Groups need to be centered first in Jesus Christ. The things that eclipse Christ's centrality can be "excellent curriculum", "dynamic group leaders", "the perfect small group organization system", and "the right group model." (He explains each of these in the chapter.)

As I thought about it, we can get tripped up by this temptation at any level within the church. We can "organize" our hopes for church transformation around great worship, attractive programs, charismatic personalities, tasty lattes, and the latest church growth techniques. We can become disillusioned and even embittered when none of these produce the results we were expecting, e.g., stopping decline, inreasing attendance, attracting young families, improving the finances, etc.

Consider the corrective to this expectation in the following quote from Boren. I've replaced the word "group" with "church." See if this doesn't have great implications for us:

"The job of the church leader is to take people to Jesus and to take Jesus to people. Jesus is the authority and only his keys matter. At the same time, Jesus provides practical ways to improve the church. He uses books and seminars to highlight activities and tools that work. However, these things are not the starting point. Jesus is. The books or seminars on church leadership describe the keys, but they do not provide them. A leader can only get these keys directly from Jesus. The keys are based upon the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus is the one who brings life to a congregation. He is the one who causes people to share honestly. He is the one who touches lives and changes people. He is the one who moves through the body to reach out to the unchurched. He is the one who raises up leaders who begin new ministries and new churches. Jesus is the key." (pp, 60-61)

Increasingly I am convinced that church vitality and effective disciple-making, will never happen until we experience a deep renewal in our love and devotion to Jesus Christ. He is the Center. Of creation. Of life. Of salvation. Of discipleship. And, of the Church. Apart from His life-giving vitality and presence, all of our efforts, even the good ones, are only so much hollow strivings. In His presence there is life, hope, joy, energy, direction, creative ministry initiatives, and dare I say it, FUN! (Read Boren's chapter and you will see why I put that last one in....)

One last quote to close this out: "If Jesus is the head of the church (Col 1:18), then the church is only the church of Jesus Christ when it is living in vitality with the head." (p, 47) Amen, and amen!

(If you would like to know what the Leadership Learning Communities are reading check out the book list at

2009 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest
[This article is from Dr. Revis’ blog,]