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How Continuing Education Influences Clergy Vitality

Continuing education is positively correlated to long-term clergy vitality and passion. However, not all continuing education programs are equal, and some types of continuing education do a much better job of promoting clergy health and professional vitality.

Research shows that congregations that expect their clergy to be involved in continuing education and provide funds to support that expectation are "significantly more likely to have pastoral leaders involved in peer learning." Where pastoral leaders are active in peer learning, continuing education returns to influence the congregation "so that laity are more actively involved in their congregations and in their communities," says Penny Long Marler, a former professor of religion at Samford University who has been involved in programs that promote professional and spiritual growth among congregational leaders for 20 years.

In an interview conducted by Tracy Schier for Resources for American Christianity, a site that provides information for leaders and participants in Christian communities to better understand the impact, trends, and trajectories of Christianity in American society, Marler notes that female clergy more often join peer groups because they are isolated in their ministry by geography and/or by virtue of being a minority in their denominations. Women clergy are also more likely to be single, have spouses that also work, and to be empty nesters, all of which increases their sense of isolation.

Male clergy typically have the support of families, are participating in groups closer to their homes, and are more likely to be in groups that are circumscribed by denomination. However, peer groups that are denominationally determined, that allow little input from participants, are not as attractive or as associated with positive outcomes. Adults learn best, and value learning, when that learning originates at the level of peers and emerges out of common concerns and needs. It is the "joint wisdom and mutual accountability" of peer learning that produces personal and professional benefits.

In other words, pastors best help each other thrive. For additional perspective on clergy peer groups, read our feature article, "Finding Renewal through Fellowship." For resources on clergy continuing education, see our feature article, "Best Resources for Continuing Education."

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