7 Things a Protestant Minister Can Learn at a Benedictine Monastery

St. Benedict Center, Schuyler, Nebraska

I’ve been spending this week at a Benedictine Monastery in Nebraska taking my final class for ordination in the Evangelical Covenant Church. It has been a beautiful week of self-examination, spiritual direction, counseling, and pastoral health. I mean it when I say that churches are the better for it when their pastors are required to go through stuff like this, and surrounded by people like this. Hooking up with old friend and mentor Don Robinson has been sweet, and hanging out with other Covenant pastors from as far and wide as LA, Twin Cities, Colorado, Chicago, Oklahoma, has been really great. During our time here we are each required to individually visit with a “shrink” and in case you are wondering, yes, I am certifiably cuckoo. But all kidding aside, for pastors to have shrinks and therapists and counselors that work in tandem with the denomination’s coaches, spiritual directors, and mentors… this is a tremendous asset, because healthy pastors lead healthy churches.

Pastors Perry (San Jose) and Evan (Colorado) at evening Vespers with Benedictine Fathers and Brothers
Praying the Divine Hours in the true monastic style

So this leads to a few thoughts on what a Protestant minister can learn (while at) a Catholic monastery – while not necessarily things one can ONLY learn @ a monastery, these are things I’m learning while I just so happen to be at one (taking the Vocational Excellence class of the ECC). I think they are still congruent with the spirituality of the place…

  1. Adaptive Leadership is the key to success. In other words, ministry is not about copying success formulas from success patterns, but knowing how to, a) listen to God and b) listen to the people. There are so many unique situations in each parish that make for a myriad of pathways to success; conversely, getting stuck in one pattern or idea of success is to limit the compromising and adapting approach that crafts a beautifully unique parish.
  2. A Boundary Violation is when a pastor places his / her needs above those of a parishioner. This is not to dismiss that pastors have needs – we do, but it becomes potentially unhealthy to seek fulfillment of our emotional needs from our parishioners. Once we do that, roles become reversed, and weird enmeshments begin to happen. Conversely, however…
  3. A pastor is not just a professional, but a healthy human being who ministers professionally. The need is not just for someone to maintain a clerical office. The great need of the hour is for healthy men and women who are self-aware and can, in turn, minister professionally to others.
  4. Healthy pastors rarely get into trouble. This is a preventative measure. The best cure for moral failure is not a cure at all; rather it is prevention. Health. Trying to avoid trouble in this day and age is not about never screwing up; it is about being healthy so as to never need to screw up. In case you are wondering what “health” looks like:
  5. Self-knowledge is most important. It begins here. With honesty. Without self-deception and BS’ing oneself. Knowing when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired (HALT).
  6. Get it out in the beginning rather than getting into big trouble later on. Lots of times, ministers who drop out of the race further down the road may have deluded themselves early on that they don’t have a problem. Better to come clean early on – we are all human – than to experience discipline, loss of credentialing, and much worse, further down the road.
  7. Embracing conflict in the congregation. Conflict is something that can’t simply be managed, or resolved. It is just a part of ministry. Its disruptive presence has to be embraced. The key is learning different ways to navigate conflict, and not just in a single style that is exclusively confrontational, or collaborative, or compromising, but rather learning how to adapt different voices of navigating conflict in different situations.
The Grounds @ St. Benedict
Stations of the Cross

A Holy Moment of "Remembering our Baptism" - it was deeply cathartic for me
Our class - L to R: Jose (LA), Perry (San Jose), Jeremy (Twin Cities), Joon (Chicago), Bruce (Kansas City), me, Don (Seattle), Kris (Minnesota) - unpictured, Evan (Colorado Springs), Clark (Oklahoma), Joe (South Dakota)

So in the spirit of pastoral health, watch the video below describing how necessary it is to sustain those who sustain countless others:

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

4 thoughts on “7 Things a Protestant Minister Can Learn at a Benedictine Monastery

  1. Very cool to hear how things are going for you up there! i really like your list, in particular, item #1. The world is full of unique people and situations and leadership must to be ready to ebb and flow with it while always having a foundation in the Truth. Hope you enjoyed your birthday up there and looking forward to hearing about what else you learned!

  2. Very good list!!! In corporate settings, we call it “situational leadership”… I also like “embracing conflict”. We will have conflicts as we grow; however, embracing and having healthy resolution process is must. Glad to see that this week was meaningful to you. Travel safe!! See you soon. Know that you are loved and respected.

    1. thank you Dong – yes it seems there are several expressions of this adaptive / situational leadership. It is a beautiful way of describing “listening to the Holy Spirit” – c u back in Houston…

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