From Imagining Ministry to Pastoral Imagination

“The ongoing findings of the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project inform and inspire ministers at many stages of knowing, doing, and being for the sake of bringing the practice of ministry to life. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Christian Scharen St. Lydia's Dinner Church Contact Me
Eileen R. Campbell-Reed Union Theological Seminary Contact Me

About this project grant for researchers

The Learning Pastoral Imagination Project is the first longitudinal, national, and ecumenical study of ministry in practice, which: 1) follows pastoral leaders over the long arc of learning from seminary through their lives in ministry; 2) focuses on how, in a variety of congregations and contexts, ministers learn and embody pastoral imagination, an integrative spiritual and practical wisdom; and 3) responds to cultural complexity and fragmentation in theological education and religious life in the United States.

Begun in 2009, the LPI Project follows 50 diverse pastoral leaders from seminary into ministry, using day-long group interviews as well as follow-up congregational visits to deepen our understanding of the long arc of learning ministry. We interviewed the cohort of 50 in their last year of seminary, at two and a half years, five years, and now at the 10 year mark. In this fourth round of interviews, we aim to learn how pastoral imagination is deepened in the lives of ministers, pastors, activists, chaplains, and educators.

The rich diversity of the participants--in terms of denomination, race and ethnicity, gender, region, sexual orientation and age--offers compelling insight into how, in a variety of contexts, ministers learn and come to embody pastoral imagination. By pastoral imagination we mean the capacity for wise situational perception and judgment that is skilled and makes use of multiple ways of knowing about self, context, relationships of power, and ritual practices of ministry. The improvisational character of pastoral imagination strengthens the capacity of ministers to meet the challenges of the cultural complexity of congregational and religious life in the United States today. Articulating how ministers learn pastoral imagination over time presses theological education towards deeper integration of classroom learning and ministry practice, and better preparation of students for shifting from imaging ministry to pastoral imagination.