Resilience: The Benefit of a Little Help from a Friend

Credit: Hope Connolly / Thinkstock

Typically, scholars define resilience as the ability to bounce back when a debilitating shock occurs. In his research on clergy wellbeing, Dr. Michael Bloom has found that ministers tend to have lower levels of resilience than refugees and those in war zones. These lower levels of resilience result from the limited support systems, low pay, and few boundaries that ministry offers. Church leaders need to learn more healthy ways to cope with disappointment and respond to pain.

Recently, I attended a seminar at Duke Divinity School entitled “Nurturing Leaders for Resilience” as part of the Summer Institute for Reconciliation. I expected the seminar’s presenters, Rev. Dr. Alice Peterson and Ms. Milcah Lalam, to offer a series of systematic steps that, when followed, would allow church leaders to bounce back from trauma and disappointment. I planned to share these tips with you. Instead, I discovered an approach that was much more profound. [In a subsequent post, I will share some practical tips for resilience, but for the purposes of this article, I focus on an overall approach.]

For the first two days of the week-long gathering, Dr. Peterson and Ms. Lalam encouraged participants to connect with specific experiences of pain, disappointment, hurt, and shock. By recounting three instances of trauma that had occurred over the course of our lives, we identified the positive and negative ways each of us coped with our experiences of pain, recognizing the spiritual practices that enabled us to bounce back.

For me, the biggest take away from these first two days was the cathartic practice of being vulnerable with a group of trusted friends. Without judgement, the members of my small group listened to the burdens I carried. We each offered prayerful support for the other. Do you have a group of trusted friends with whom you can share your pain—a group that will help carry your burdens? Friendship of this sort may not only improve the quality of your ministry but also the quality of your life.


Thad Austin is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a PhD candidate at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and William and Edie Enright Fellow at The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving. Thad also serves as Editor of the Church Leader Collective for Seedbed. Thad served as Executive Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In his free time, Thad loves to travel (41 countries and all 50 states, thus far), hike (has hiked the 1,100 miles between Pennsylvania and Georgia), sail, and spend time with friends.