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Summoning the Courage to Lead

Seasons of life require courage and right angle.

In the face of upheavals in the church and in the nation, The Michigan Conference Office of Clergy Excellence is hosting three Courage to Lead retreats.


Senior Content Editor

The theme of the 2019 Michigan Annual Conference was “Bold and Effective Leaders.” That was not a coincidence. That was a vision. The Vision of The Michigan Conference states the organization’s intent to “equip and connect through: Christ-centered mission and ministry; bold effective leaders; and vital congregations.”

Jennifer Browne, Director of Clergy Excellence for The Michigan Conference, has a passion for helping clergy leaders become bolder and more effective. Not easy but very necessary in times such as these.

Browne says, “Our nation and our church are both experiencing major upheavals right now. These are the moments when people turn to their clergy leaders for wisdom and guidance. Many of us sense that these are times calling for bold and effective leadership…and, we wonder if we’re capable of meeting that challenge.”

The director adds, “Continually finding the courage to lead requires ‘soul time,’ time set apart for prayer, conversation, and reflection. This is, as one of my favorite ministry centers says, ‘solitary work that cannot be done alone.’”

Over the next nine months, the Office of Clergy Excellence is helping provide such set-apart time. They are underwriting three 3-day Courage to Lead Retreats, hoping to make this opportunity accessible to all clergy leaders in The Michigan Conference.

The first retreat is at St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, March 25-27. The second and third will take place at Lake Huron Retreat Center in Burtchville, October 26-28 and 28-30. The costs vary from $300 to $400. 

Guides for the experience are Sarah Hescheles and Nathan Kirkpatrick, both talented and experienced retreat leaders who will provide the structure and safety needed by the retreat participants to dig deep and look anew at themselves and their ministries. “They are deeply faithful church leaders themselves, committed to helping other disciples live out the healthy future that God desires for us and to which God calls us,” Browne says.

Sarah Hescheles speaks to the importance of these retreat opportunities. “The Michigan Conference has made a significant commitment to invest in clergy renewal and clergy leadership at a time when leading a congregation is both challenging and rewarding work.”  

The Michigan Conference began operation as an organization on January 1, 2019. Growing into a new conference at a personal level, involving identity and relationships, will take some time and intentionality.

Hescheles notes, “Michigan clergy are entering into yet another season of change and transition with the upcoming General Conference in May 2020. We are grateful to partner with the Conference to provide an opportunity for clergy to reflect on their ministries and on their own leadership, and to reconnect with the sense of calling that brought them into ministry in the beginning, explore the multiple callings upon their lives in the present, and offer an opportunity to come together amidst the many changes in the Michigan Conference and denomination.”

She offers three ways the Courage to Lead retreats will help pastors cope with the uncertainties of life as a United Methodist in 2020. “First, a common response to uncertainty is to isolate and insulate, and clergy are prone to living and serving in silos anyway,” Hescheles explains. “In a time of uncertainty, that impulse is dangerous. So, we will invite people into meaningful relationship – the kind of relationship that can support and sustain whatever the future holds.”

She lists tangible tools as the second important facet of the retreats. “These tools equip us to understand ourselves and our various approaches to change leadership and grow our ability to listen, both to God within us and all people we speak with more deeply.” The retreat is designed to help clergy identify their “default responses to ambiguity,” making them better able to lead others.

Then Hescheles issues an unexpected invitation, “Come and take a nap!” because “seasons of uncertainty are wearing and wearying. Part of this retreat will be sabbath rest.”

Why should a pastor, already experiencing too many tasks with too little time, make a three-day commitment to participate in Courage to Lead?

 Sarah Hescheles speaks for herself and her co-facilitator Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick in response to that question. “We know the pressures on clergy calendars, and we know the demands of clergy lives. What we believe, though, is that these few days spent on retreat will be renewing, inspiring, and equipping for every participant.”

She emphasizes that “these are practical days” and describes the tone. “There’s no Pollyanna (‘it’s all getting better’) and no doom and gloom (‘it’s all over’) here.” Thanks to the format, “these are Sabbath days. There is an expansive schedule that places rest as a defining element of retreat.” There’s added value because “these are connectional days. Time to re-connect with oneself amid many demands which require us to fulfill roles that frequently isolate us, divest us, and yet, also encourage us to be the best self we can be.”

The most important reason to invest three days in participating in Courage to Lead is that “these are inspirational days. Growing in an understanding of who the clergy person is as an individual, the multiple ways in which they are faithfully serving God through their unique callings, and hope for what the future holds – personally and professionally.”

Additional details about how the Courage to Lead experience can help a clergyperson find “true north,” can be found on the event website.

Hescheles concludes, “We want to be clear-eyed about the challenges and opportunities before the church and clergy. We believe that, in a company of fellow pastors, these days will be an investment in leadership and spiritual development so that we might all be faithful leaders of God’s people in this season.”

Last Updated on November 1, 2023

The Michigan Conference