The route to pastoral leadership has long been a varied one. Some pastors know their passion for ministry early on while others take longer to explore and pursue their calling. Regardless of how a pastor finds themselves in leadership, studies and articles have shown feelings of burnout, compassion fatigue, and lack of motivation are becoming more commonplace among pastors and ministers.

One pastor at PLNU’s Center for Pastoral Leadership is working to combat these issues.

“The pastoral ministry is very isolating at times,” said Derek Taylor, associate director of strategic initiatives for the Center for Pastoral Leadership. “It can be very lonely.”

Taylor, who graduated from PLNU with his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology in 2004, has been advocating for better service to pastors dealing with these feelings of loneliness and isolation. The options were fairly limited, however, until he secured funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. through its Thriving in Ministry Initiative.

“I’d never written for a grant before,” said Taylor, who initially submitted a proposal to the Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation in 2018. His goal was to secure funding for the Center for Pastoral Leadership.

“Initially the proposal we put together wasn’t picked up in round one,” said Taylor, “But then, in a third round of Thriving in Ministry grantmaking, Lilly Endowment  circled back to us and asked us to apply again, and we were eventually awarded the money.”

Taylor and the Center for Pastoral Leadership team submitted a planning grant proposal that outlined research on what pastors need, as well as planning how to best meet those needs. The second proposal described the plan they designed as a result of the research. In November 2020, Lilly Endowment approved a $1 million grant to PLNU to fuel the Center for Pastoral Leadership’s project christened the Ministerial Coaching Initiative (MCI). 

Derek Taylor (back row, far right) and some of the MCI pastors at a recent training and development weekend.

“We’ve discovered our pastors are thirsty for relationships,” said Taylor. “Many of our pastors feel isolated and lonely, so we wanted to create opportunities for them to regularly engage with their peers.”

Pastors participating in the Ministerial Coaching Initiative receive nine to 10 months of one-on-one coaching with a personal development coach. Coaches and pastors work on a variety of skills including self-awareness, other-awareness, and congregational awareness.

“We work on a nomination system,” said Taylor. “Pastors are nominated for the program and then we reach out to them about participating.”

Nominations come in from a variety of sources, and anyone from local church leaders to denominational superintendents are invited to nominate a pastor. Once all nominations have been processed and a short list created, Taylor invites each of the nominated pastors to a one-on-one interview.

“The kind of learning communities we’re hosting involve a gathering of people who want to learn more about themselves,” said Taylor, who personally interviews each nominated pastor. “That’s something we try to protect.”

Taylor has found most pastors he interviews are thrilled to be invited to engage in the Ministerial Coaching Initiative. The latest class includes 60 pastors from seven states as well as one cohort from Peru and Mexico that conducts their work entirely in Spanish. 

“We’re seeing a great deal of deep connection between pastors and we’re watching them find a renewed sense of calling for ministry,” said Taylor. “The word ‘fresh’ has been used a number of times to describe how they feel.”

“We’re seeing a great deal of deep connection between pastors and we’re watching them find a renewed sense of calling for ministry. The word ‘fresh’ has been used a number of times to describe how they feel.”

That life-giving energy goes beyond the program’s participants, extending to Taylor himself.  

“It really feels like a calling to me,” said Taylor, who comes from a long line of pastoral leadership. “My father was a pastor and my grandfather and my uncle and I have a deep love for the work that pastors do. This gives me an opportunity to show that love.”

As a pastor from pastors who’s now leading other pastors, Taylor has developed three tenants he wants to continue to carry through the Ministerial Coaching Initiative: congruence, authenticity, and courage. 

“We all wrestle with the gap between our espoused values and our actions,” said Taylor. “The field of leadership development is especially concerned with that gap. We want to offer pastors the opportunity to revisit and reflect on what they value.”

The 2022 cohorts of the Ministerial Coaching Initiative started their first sessions at the end of March. Over the next nine months, they’ll receive individualized support with their leadership development coaches as well as the opportunity to connect with the other pastors participating in the program. 

Taylor and his team hope to continue expanding the Ministerial Coaching Initiative with the funds they’re set to receive in the coming years, ensuring the program is accessible on all levels including cost. 

“Most adults don’t continue their education because they aren’t presented with opportunities for continued learning,” said Taylor. “The coaching for our pastors is poised to support them in ensuring they are continuing to become the people they hope to be.”

Kendall Patton is a 2016 graduate of PLNU and a former student-athlete. She graduated with a degree in journalism and is a freelance writer for the Viewpoint.