I participated in the “Encore” session of Doxology this past weekend and was blown away. I don’t think I can overstate the value of the experience for both pastors and laity.
For those who don’t know, the goal of Doxology is to “strengthen pastors so they can more faithfully pastor others.” The program is run by Dr. Harold Senkbeil who was a parish pastor and professor at Fort Wayne and Dr. Beverly Yahnke who was a practicing psychologist and is currently a professor at Concordia Wisconsin. The combination of a pastor with a tremendous amount of parish experience and a psychologist who cared for pastors as her patients gives each presentation such authority and credibility. God has truly blessed us by giving us this team and their combination of experiences which would be hard to replicate.
In January, to my understanding, the pastors met for a weekend to learn how to better handle various pastoral situations and how to better care for themselves. This past weekend the pastors were joined by lay leaders from their congregations with the emphasis for them being how to care for their pastors’. The lay leaders had a few joint sessions with the pastors, but the majority of the sessions were with the other laity to see how different congregations approached similar issues and to see if others had insights into unique situations. I wasn’t surprised that many congregations struggled with stewardship, attendance, and evangelism issues, but that others had the same specific issues surrounding preschools and communication caught me off-guard.
For me, the most dreaded words for me at these types of conferences is, “We’re going to break you into small groups to discuss …” There were plenty of these, but these were as valuable and in some cases more valuable than the presentations themselves. I highly suspect that Dr. Yahnke was involved in designing this aspect of each session. The breakout session discussions were well focused and designed in a way that focused on addressing possible solutions to problems rather than devolving into complaint session or allowing one person to get on a soapbox.
The highlight of the weekend for me was a small group session with pastors and laity from congregations other than my own. We talked about our biggest challenges as lay leaders and the pastors talked about their biggest challenges. For the pastors, the two biggest challenges were exactly ones described by Dr. Yahnke in an earlier session. One pastor said one of his challenges was the feeling of despair when there were no visible signs of success. Dr. Yahnke had told us in our session on pastoral burnout that this was a major cause and that they need to be reminded that success equals faithfulness. When I mentioned that phrase, the other pastor in our group thought it was a great line and that we needed to plaster it everywhere (I did admit that it was from Dr. Yahnke’s session:-)). The other concern the pastors had was care for their families. They both said they could take care of themselves (which Dr. Yahnke said they would say) but they really worried about who in the congregation was watching out for their wives.
Last but not least, the worship during this conference was outstanding. We used the LSB in ways I doubt we ever will in my congregation. Chanting Psalms and singing challenging hymns (apologies to all those around me).
This really just scratches the surface of what I got out the conference and my pastor told me how valuable the pastors only session was for him before this weekend. So, congregations, give your pastors and yourselves the gift of Doxology.