In August 2023, seven Christian pastors came together at Wabash University to write Seek the Wellbeing of the City in a five-day Book Sprint facilitated by Barbara Ruehling. Community leaders in their own right, these men and women authored a book that transcends theological discourse, delves into the nitty-gritty of community leadership, and provides practical advice from the years of experience in various communities and backgrounds of these pastors.
This Book Sprint is only the second Book Sprint ever in the field of religion. The first one produced the book One Hope: Re-membering the body of Christ, which was successfully published with Augsburg Fortress and Liturgical Press. One of the authors, Derek Nelson, still remembered the experience of that first Book Sprints with many challenges and more rewards. Years later, as a professor at Wabash College, he organized this second Book Sprint for the Pastoral Leadership Program.
A Love Letter to Pastors
The pastors who participated in this unique Book Sprint all directed or participated in an inter-university Pastoral Leadership Program in the United States. This program is hosted by 15 different universities stretching across the country, bringing together a rich diversity of pastors from different backgrounds, experiences, and contexts that inform their own ministry. In distilling their collective wisdom from decades of experience organizing in their own communities, the hope for this book was that it would serve as a guide to other pastors early on in their own journeys of ministry. More than a guide, the authors call the book a love letter–
“This book is a love letter to pastors, however you define that word. It has been written by a group of people who have gathered, watched, encouraged, learned from, and celebrated with pastors over many years. … We hope this book confirms the joy and transformation you hope ministry will bring. And we pray it will prepare you for the challenges as well.”
From the Preface of Seeking the Wellbeing of the City
Pastoral Leadership as Community Leadership
The diversity of the experiences of the pastors was both the greatest strength and challenge they faced in this Book Sprint. It was through this diversity that they were able to tell stories of practical experience of different communities and their problems, ranging from water scarcity to queer youth support. It was also this diversity that required several days of discussions, thoughtful reflection, and peer editing before they arrived at the collective thesis of their experiences as community leaders.
Though coming from diverse backgrounds, these pastors shared a common conviction that the role of a pastor extends far beyond the walls of a church. Even though “community organizing” looked different for each pastor depending on their context and community needs, together they highlighted the importance of pastors engaging with their community members on the ground. They emphasized that pastors should take active part in their communities as leaders who understand the issues and concerns that plague their members, evaluate their resources at hand, and leverage these to offer guidance, support, and sustainable solutions for their communities.
Since the book draws on the real experiences of these pastors, the authors were also able to address how early career pastors might be able to manage tensions and resistance that often accompany efforts for change.
And perhaps most importantly, the authors and their stories told of the profound joy found in the midst of challenges, as the calling of a pastor extends far beyond theological sermons to the practical transformation of lives.
This book exemplifies the potential for pastors to become agents of change in the communities, and Book Sprints is honored to have been part of its inception. Keep an eye on this space for the published Seek the Wellbeing in the City!
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