The Role of Peer Groups in Pastoral Formation during a Pandemic

“. Studying the ways pastors were able to stay engaged with one another, and continue to thrive in ministry despite the pandemic may offer a way to proactively provide support to pastors during times of cultural and ecclesial upheaval. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Karen Russell First Presbyterian Church, Palestine, IL Contact Me

About this pastoral study project

I spent more than a decade reflecting on the spiritual life of a pastor and the role it plays in pastoral resiliency and flourishing. The unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 revealed a dire need to develop new routes of spiritual formation when we cannot support one another in person. An expanded use of technology opens up new avenues of engagement and support, even as the pandemic has highlighted the importance of peer groups and pastoral formation but leaves us with this question: what constitutes peer group-based disciplines and formation when pastors cannot gather in person for support and learning?
Prior to March, 2020 many pastors – especially rural pastors – were already feeling isolated. The abrupt and critical need to find new ways to serve and worship created additional challenges to pastors; many of the skills developed over their careers were ineffective. Some were able to create new ways of interacting and engaging peers, but the limits of available technology often made that technology inadequate for the task. Pastors who were thriving in ministry prior to March, 2020 found themselves without normal peer support options (retreats, governing body events, in person meetings, study groups, etc.).
The reality of pastoring during a pandemic created different frustrations for pastors: new demands on our time have changed the nature of pastoral work, creating longer, less flexible work days that become increasingly more taxing over time. There is an ever-increasing need to solve urgent problems, leaving less time to tend to the important things, including personal faith development. The upheaval of COVID-19 created a landscape full of new challenges and questions concerning pastoral formation and resiliency. Finding ways to meet these challenges and support pastoral leaders will help form resilient pastors for the next challenges that await us.