What makes an excellent pastor: Long hours on the job? A significant prayer life? A special way with people? What about educational preparation? An in-depth knowledge of Scripture?
A new research project that Eastern Mennonite Seminary professor Lawrence M. Yoder is undertaking should provide some answers.
As part of that research, Dr. Yoder, professor of missiology at EMS, will conduct a study of "pastoral habits" in an attempt to identify the factors that make some pastors "excellent."
Yoder and a yet unidentified research partner will seek to learn from 25 pastors who have been identified by their conference ministers and the office of Congregational and Ministerial Leadership of Mennonite Church USA as fruitful and effective leaders. Then, using a model created to identify skills and habits needed for church planting, Yoder will begin a series of in-depth interviews.
"The idea is that you talk to a person and you ask them to describe what they do in all different aspects of their work," said Yoder, "not to give you their theory, but to describe what they do from day to day, from week to week, over the range of their ministry.
"We will approach all the interviews in the same way. We will ask the pastors to tell us what they give their time and energy to," said Yoder. "We will get them to tell stories, so that for each person we end up with what we could call a ‘thick description’ of their ministry."
This information will then be compiled and Yoder and his colleague will use it to develop a profile of excellent Mennonite pastoral leadership.
"Our Mennonite seminaries will then review the information and decide if there are gaps in their programs, consider what happens in seminary education and discern to what degree seminaries form, teach and train people in the skills and habits that have been identified as necessary for excellent pastors," Yoder noted.
Through a cycle of colloquies and other exchanges, professors and pastors will create a feedback loop that strengthens the effectiveness of both groups.
Yoder’s research, part of a $1.6 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded to Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary of Elkhart, Ind., has practical implications for both teaching organizations and individual pastors and other church leaders.
"We owe our congratulations to Lawrence for his leadership in designing a piece of the research," said Eastern Mennonite Seminary Dean Ervin R. Stutzman. "This project will help us unlock the secrets of pastoral excellence for seminaries, students and pastors themselves, and in the process help EMS become even more effective in training church leaders."