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Peer power

Some years ago, medical researchers at Vanderbilt considered how best to intervene with doctors whose patients had complained about their unprofessional behavior. What worked in most cases, they found (pdf), was not an official reprimand, but the "cup of coffee" method--a one-to-one conversation with a peer, who simply pointed out to the doctor what had been observed and urged them to reflect on it.

Learning excellence in the art of doctoring turns out to have a lot to do with the influence of peers.

This finding is even more relevant when it comes to the art of ministry. A decade-long project funded by the Lilly Endowment to support pastoral excellence concluded that pastors flourish when they have sustained, honest conversations with peers in ministry.

Pastors need other pastors with whom they can share their wisdom and resources--and their conflicts and failures. Pastors also need peers to whom they are accountable not as employees but as friends and fellow believers.

Some evidence suggests that having such a peer group helps pastors avoid behavior that leads to a professional reprimand. Abundant evidence suggests that having a peer group keeps pastors energized for ministry and helps them avoid the morass of lonely frustration.

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