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Getting to Wellbeing in Pastoral Leadership




In December 2023, I had the honor of speaking, as a clergy exemplar, with a cohort of pastoral leaders who participated in The Moses Project. Our discussion focused on the authenticity necessary for “wellbeing” in pastoral leadership, framed around two books, Flourishing in Ministry: How to Cultivate Clergy Wellbeing (Roman & Littlefield, 2019), by Matt Bloom, and When Prophets Preach: Leadership and the Politics of the Pulpit (Fortress Press, 2023), by Yours Truly.

 

            To paraphrase Bloom’s work, wellbeing is a state the clergyperson reaches when there is a deep sense of fulfillment associated with day-to-day and week-to-week work. Normal operations move from being mundane and become meaningful, as there is a deep sense of professional (and ideally personal) fulfilment associated with the clergyperson’s leadership. Reaching this state often comes after working through adverse, and often trying, circumstances. As the church universal wrestles with the realities of postmodernism and what it means to be post-pandemic, all clergypersons in the cohort had a personal understanding of trying circumstances. 

 

Further, in highlighting the importance of authenticity as a prerequisite for achieving wellbeing, I spoke from the perspective of a minister who serves in the itineracy of Methodism. I have served four different congregations in my pastoral career and each one has been dramatically different from the others. Sometimes pastors and congregations “date” and other times they “get married.” Bloom highlights the importance of clergypersons being able to be their authentic selves, developing genuine relationships with parishioners, as their professional and personal lives take on a shared responsibility that goes to the core of wellbeing. Inasmuch as I have loved all the congregations I have served, having done everything I could to ensure they were better when I left than when I originally arrived, I have unquestionably reached a state of wellbeing, through genuine authenticity, as the senior pastor of St. Joseph AME Church in Durham, North Carolina.

 

In When Prophets Preach, my most recent book, I tell the story of my 2019 assignment to serve St. Joseph and, from a humble but honest assessment, success as the congregation’s 31st senior pastor. Part of that success stems from my ability to be authentic in my ministerial service, along with the development of a public persona, as a social justice leader, that is deeply aligned with my professional calling to ministry and personal identity. In other words, it all comes together for me at St. Joseph and my leadership has been widely noticed in the community. I’ve reached a place of wellbeing.

 

When Prophets Preach is really a book about ministerial leadership that also touches on preaching. It unpacks the Munus Triplex Doctrine, often called the threefold office, where pastoral leadership is categorized as “Prophet, Priest, or King.” In more practical and less gender-specific terms, the threefold office is described as “Prophetic, Priestly, or Royal.” Inasmuch as Jesus led perfectly in all three domains, I argue that humans will excel in one and possibly in another, with a typical avoidance of the third. Because St. Joseph is a congregation with a well-documented history of social justice advocacy, on behalf of marginalized communities, my strength in prophetic leadership allows me to be “authentic,” making my work much less laborious and much more fulfilling. New ministries have been birthed, major technological advancements made, many new members have joined the congregation, and St. Joseph is the preeminent social justice congregation in Durham, with the consistent media coverage to prove it.

 

Without question, as discussed in When Prophets Preach, not every congregation is like St. Joseph. Indeed, not every minister is like me. In therefore returning to the dating or marriage analogy of a pastor’s relationship with their respective congregation, the itineracy has taught me that there is a “good fit” for everyone. Part of achieving wellbeing in ministerial service means a willingness to find it!     

 

About the Author

 

Jay Augustine serves as senior pastor of St. Joseph AME Church (Durham, NC) and as general chaplain of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He is a member of the consulting faculty at Duke Divinity School, where he also serves on the Board of Visitors and works with the Duke Center for Reconciliation. More information about him is available at www.jayaugustine.com.                     

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