I’m currently with 23 other ministers at the Montserrat Jesuit Retreat Center near Dallas. We are here as part of the Contemplative Ministers’ Initiative, coordinated and directed by the Siburt Institute at Abilene Christian University.
CMI is now in its third year. As the name suggests, the aim of the program is to form contemplative ministers whose ministry flows out of a deep centeredness in Christ. Each year, 12 new ministers begin the two-year program, with four three-day residencies here at the Jesuit Retreat over the course of those years.
In the first retreat, we spent considerable time processing our personality profiles under the direction of Dr. Carson Reed. Intending to make us more self-aware of our interpersonal tendencies, his insights left all of us with a stronger awareness of who we are. Self-examination is critical to a lasting ministry.
In our second retreat, Randy Harris took us deeper into prayer than most of us had traveled before. Dr. Jeff Childers surveyed with us many of the spiritual masters in the church’s history, paying special attention to their direction on prayer. Contemplation is a type of prayer that has opened new vistas for me personally, as well as for many here.
In the third retreat we focused on suffering. Dr. Dan McGregor took us through a profound exercise in artwork of Christ’s crucifixion. We were then fortunate to spend time with Dr. John Mark Hicks on the theology and spirituality of suffering. The ministers gathered also shared about their suffering in ministry and life. The third retreat will be forever memorable for me.
In this last retreat we’ve focused on leadership. So many entrepreneurs and church executives have written much on leadership, discussed it at length on podcasts, and hosted entire conferences on the topic. And yet our conversation, on the heels of the three retreats before it, was markedly different. Leadership from a centered, cruciform, contemplative can’t be articulated in a 20-minute podcast. Mike Cope and Dr. Jackie Halstead have walked with us this week as we are seeing leadership in new ways.
Will we be better ministers? I am sure we already are.
The evidence won’t be immediately apparent to most. It will be subtle at best. More tempered responses to the frustrated parishioner after a sermon. More patience in elder meetings. More calm at the bedside of a dying brother or sister,
Maybe a sermon or two will be better. But that’s not what matters most.
What matters most is that the ones pointing our churches to the spring of living water, are drinking deeply from it themselves.
I, and the other ministers gathered here this week, are tremendously thankful for the Siburt Institute, ACU, and the generous benefactors who have made CMI possible without financial burden on the ministers who attend.
Thank you for your investment in each of us, and (hopefully) in our churches.
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.