Samford University has received a grant of $47,035 from Lilly Endowment, Inc., to fund a book on clergy peer learning groups. Samford’s Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence (RCPE) will manage the project and Dr. Penny L. Marler, professor of religion and RCPE grant and research coordinator, will coordinate the effort.
Dr. Marler will draw on her research into the impact of clergy peer groups to write portions of the book and edit chapters of other contributors who conducted research in different parts of the U.S. The book will provide descriptions of different types of peer learning approaches such as the Church of God, Cleveland’s pastor covenant groups, the Christian Reformed Church of America’s pastors’ peer groups, the Institute for Clergy Excellence’s faith and money peer groups, the Lott Carey Foreign Missions Program’s cross-cultural immersion groups and the Samaritan counseling Center of Raleigh’s narrative peer groups.
The book will be the final product of a three-year study of peer groups supported by Lilly’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program. The study was the first major investigation related to the impact of peer learning groups on clergy and their congregations. Marler presented a report on the first two years of the study at the 2010 Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Forum in Indianapolis, Ind., last May.
“This landmark study of the effects of peer learning on pastoral leaders included a survey of over 2,000 ministers involved in such groups over the past six years, two national studies of pastoral leaders (the Faith Communities Today, 2008, and the US Congregational Leader Survey, 2008), and in-depth studies of representative peer groups,” said Marler. “Among other things, we discovered that pastoral leaders who participate in peer learning groups are significantly more likely to lead congregations that are highly participatory, missional, and growing.”
RCPE Director Michael K. Wilson said interviews with groups begun through the RCPE revealed that ministers experience many benefits from their participation in clergy peer groups. “Of course, mutual encouragement and support are evident in these groups,” he said. “But there is a deeper, more significant support that comes as a result of the high level of trust and security participants develop.
“They are honest with one another. They help expose each other’s ministry ‘blind sides.’ They help each other deal with the difficult situations they experience in their churches, in their families, and, in the case of bi-vocational pastors, at their day jobs. These groups have had a significant positive impact on both the ministers and their churches.”