Blessed Connections: Relationships That Sustain Vital Ministry

Blessed ConnectionsSchwanz, Judith. Blessed Connections: Relationships That Sustain Vital Ministry. Herndon, Va: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.  197 pp. ISBN 13: 9781566993562

No minister intends to fail at the calling that has led them to serve in a local church often following years of preparation. Yet, according to some studies, 15-20% of pastors leave ministry in their first five years out of seminary. Certainly no one sets out to fail in this endeavor, yet some do. In many of these cases, the issue is a failure of relationships. By the same token, one of the best predictors of success in ministry is what Judith Schwanz calls “the relationship system of the minister’s life.”

Judith Schwanz is Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. She holds a Ph.D. from Portland State University as well as degrees from Northwestern University and Western Evangelical Seminary. She is a Certified Administrator of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and has served in both the local parish and a private counseling practice.

In Blessed Connections Schwanz offers an approach to preventing clergy burnout that attends to the relationship system of the minister’s life: relationship with self, with other people, and with God. The book is divided into three sections focusing on these key areas. In chapters 1-3 Schwanz considers what it means for a pastor to have a healthy self-understanding, knowing their strengths, gifts, growing edges, and personal vulnerabilities. Pastors are encouraged to discover and live out of their true selves rather than attempting to project an image, which is itself exhausting work.

Chapters 4-7 encourage building strong relationships with one’s spouse, one’s children, one’s friends, as well as with the congregation and with the community in which one serves. Finally, in chapters 8-11 Schwanz addresses the minister’s need for a deep and authentic relationship with God that sustains them with both the inner strength, courage, and peace necessary for facing difficult days of ministry and leadership. She discusses and commends practical disciplines and a regular engagement with Sabbath practices, including extended Sabbath practices such as retreats and sabbaticals.

Schwanz provides practical suggestions for growth in each of these three areas and offers questions for use in a personal Assessment Journal as the reader works through these chapters. She encourages the development of a Personal and Professional Growth Plan to help the minister grow forward, especially in the early years of ministry.  Schwanz brings to bear her extensive knowledge of and experience with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a means of helping the reader grow in self-understanding. She also includes a helpful bibliography for further reading on the topics and issues she discusses.

Both experienced and novice ministers will find wisdom and practical guidance in Blessed Connections. Heeding Judith Schwanz’s advice, may prove life saving.

Recommended by Dr. R. Robert Creech, Professor of Christian Ministries and Director of Pastoral Ministries at Truett Seminary