Pastoral life and practice is infamously, undeniably, and essentially complicated. The ambiguity and ambivalence which are necessary and enduring conditions of the vocation of religious leadership seem even more pronounced in our own plural and rapidly changing context. What insights and outlooks, habits of mind and heart make it possible for some pastors to thrive amidst the myriad demands of contemporary parish life — even finding themselves energized by its complexity - while others equally gifted and educated are disoriented and dispirited by similar circumstances?
While current scholarship offers insight into the historical, theological and social scientific contexts for our current practice of ministry, the living testimonies of contemporary ministers do not figure prominently in these explorations. This research project investigates the complex experience of contemporary religious leadership by listening closely to the inhabitants of these complicated identities - the ministers themselves. To that end, the first phase of this work (already completed) includes an extensive literature review, the development of a interview model, the completion of a dozen narrative interviews with effective clergy, and the facilitation of two clergy development workshops based on the same interview model.
The interviews reveal that pastors who minister effectively in complicated settings are themselves complex: that is, they evidence multiple interests, inhabit multiple roles, interact in multiple settings. While it seems that this ability to move nimbly and creatively between roles and worlds often funds innovative pastoral practice, this essential multiplicity has been ignored in the formation and support of clergy. The proposed book project will unpack this idea of multiplicity theologically and psychologically, exegeting rich and complicated clergy narratives to underscore multiplicity's role in the continual cultivation of the pastoral imagination.