Report on my "Pastors of Excellence" experience

I recently filed a report on my continuing education adventures with my Presbytery. I though I would share that report here as well for those who are interested.

Report on Continuing Education to the Presbytery of Waterloo-Wellington

From W. Scott McAndless

Pastors of Excellence

From January 2013 to January 2014 I had the privilege of participating in the Pastors of Excellence program which is offered by the Ashland Theological Seminary which is based in Ashland, Ohio, USA.
The program included four three-day retreats in January, May and September 2013 and in January of 2014. The program was very formative for me and helped me to develop in my leadership and personal walk in a number of ways – too many to describe in a short report – but I would like to share some of the key parts with the Presbytery.

Self Knowledge

The first retreat was preceded by a battery of tests that were given to all participants. These tests (which are very expensive to obtain on their own) were designed to help us to evaluate our own leadership styles, how we dealt with stress in our lives and ministries, and to identify areas of our life that may be of concern. These results were processed with mentors and in a group environment in a way that established an excellent starting point for the work that we wanted and needed to do.

Group Work

Everything that we learned about ourselves and our tasks throughout the program was processed in a small group led by very competent mentor/leader. We learned that the greatest lack that many clergy face in their lives in ministry is that they do not have a group of peers that they can openly and honestly share their struggles with. This group became a very important influence and encouragement in my life and ministry  and will likely continue to be a nourishing part of my life into the future. The personal development in a group situation alone was worth the time and the trouble (and money) to participate in the program and I will value it for a very long time. One of the things that we learned in the program was that , in order to truly believe some of the things that God says about us, we often need to experience that truth within a loving and mutually supportive group environment.

The Healing Journey

A major focus of Pastors of Excellence is on the healing  journey that  all spiritual leaders are on. We have all been wounded in our lives and we all have ways in which those wound affect our lives and ministries in very detrimental ways. At our second and third retreat we took part in some very meaningful exercises that opened us up so that the Holy Spirit might  speak to us about the wounds that we carried and how they are affecting our lives

Revealing Lies

Because we have all been wounded, we have also all come to believe many lies about ourselves, our God and our world. For example, though we may preach and proclaim often that we are loved by God, deep inside we may still believe that we are unlovable because of the wounds that we carry. At our third retreat, in particular, some wonderful exercises and information helped us to identify some of the lies that we secretly believe and to begin to learn some ways to counter those lies and appropriate deeper truths.

Spiritual Practices

Also integral to the work of Pastors of Excellence was learning (or relearning) a number of spiritual practices that will continue to assist me in my spiritual life. We renewed our understanding of such practices as Lectio Divina, other forms of contemplation, breath prayers and examen prayers. I expect to continue to use these practices to deepen my experience of God and walk with God.

Conclusion

I could say many other things about the Pastors of Excellence program. It was very worthwhile. I would not say that I agreed with everything that I was taught and I will no doubt be translating some of what I learned to make it more useful in my Presbyterian context, but I have definitely grown through the experience. I would definitely recommend the program to many of my colleagues.
The program and my group particularly helped to build me up in my confidence in leadership. One example of that is the following:
Over many years, before this program, I had been writing a book, believing that God had given me some very important ideas about Luke's nativity story that needed to be shared. But I had not had the confidence to truly put my book out to the world. It is no coincidence that I finally took the bold step of publishing my book, "Caesar's Census, God's Jubilee," during my year with Pastors of Excellence.  I would not claim that the program was the only thing that gave me confidence to do this, but it was definitely a part of the story.

Clergy and other church leaders may only participate in Pastors of Excellence by being nominated by a past participant. If anyone is particularly interested in participating in this program, I would be happy to speak with them and potentially to nominate them. Going forward, Ashland is planning to hold the program at one of its satellite sites in Detroit Michigan which may well make it easier for Canadian clergy to participate.

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