Fuller’s Science, Theology, and Religion (STAR) office was recently awarded a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct activities to advance the relationship between psychology and ministry leaders through its Psychological Science Serving Ministry (PSSM) program. The STAR office began its work with the Templeton Foundation in November 2016 and will complete its findings in April 2018. The team includes Cynthia Eriksson, Brad Strawn, Justin Barrett, Rebecca Sok, and Brandi Weaver.
The PSSM office opened the contest to congregations and psychologists to propose projects that would support collaborative partnerships between psychological scientists and pastors. The project aims to create more positive familiarity with psychological science among ministry leaders, primarily Christians. Psychological research can shed light on discoveries that are helpful to the work of church leaders, but those leaders must become familiar with and understand the relevance of that research or it will have only minimal impact.
The winners chosen by PSSM are:
· Church by the Bridge in Sydney, Australia: The partnership between psychological scientist Lyn Worsley and pastoral staff member Sarah Condie will focus on very young members of their community. Brand new mothers will have the opportunity to learn skills to bolster their resilience, develop secure attachment with their new babies, and navigate the challenges of new motherhood. Lyn will model the two accredited psychosocial programs for Sarah, and then Sarah will take over to lead the programs as psychological models now embedded in a ministry setting. The project will examine the benefits these moms experience in their participation, both in terms of skills learned and used, their emotional adjustment, and how the experience influences their participation in other aspects of the church’s ministry.
· Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California: Even vibrant churches can learn a thing or two! Psychological scientist Alexis Abernethy will be partnering with Pastor Lucious Hicks to dive deeper into the newly formed Champion Recovery Ministry at Faithful Central Bible Church. Alexis will use the psychological science of habit formation to pinpoint important practical tools and behaviors in order to deepen Champion leaders’ understanding of recovery from addiction. Lucious and Alexis will also partner in developing training materials that capitalize on the science of healthy small group leadership to equip leaders as they walk with others through recovery. God gave us psychological science; let’s use it to enhance our ministry.
· First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley in Berkeley, California: Difficult conversations in the church about faithful discipleship in the midst of divisive social and political issues led church members at First Pres to acknowledge, “I don’t even know how to have this conversation.” Psychological scientist Kristen Gustavson and pastoral staff member Mark Stryker have responded to this need with a plan for a five-week small group experience titled “Deep Cries Out to Deep: Learning to Listen with the Heart of Jesus.” Using the psychological science examining the qualities of listening and conversation, Kristen and Mark have collaborated on a curriculum to teach skills of engaging difficult topics, listening for deeper content, and staying present in the midst of emotionally challenging dialogue. They will pilot the group model with three church cohorts, adapting, learning, and collaborating to create meaningful growth.
· Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Do your religious convictions give you security, or challenge you to grow? Does your political posture shape how you weigh decisions? How secure are you in your sense of connection to God? Psychological scientist Ron Wright is partnering with Pastor Jon Middendorf to guide the staff, leadership, and congregation of OKC First Church of the Nazarene into a personal dialogue on these issues. Ron and Jon will survey church members and leaders in these areas using measures associated with Terror Management Theory, Moral Foundations Theory, and Attachment with God. The team will use the data they collect to guide conversations and presentations connecting these characteristics of religious, moral, and spiritual formation to challenge the congregation to grow. Psychological science serving formation—sounds exciting!
· Pillar Church in Holland, Michigan: Psychological scientist Daryl Van Tongeren and Pastor Jon Brown believe that the church is the right place to challenge racial biases. Daryl and Jon will guide their church leadership through an examination of the psychological science associated with implicit biases. Using a test to identify one’s own implicit bias, the team will help leaders understand the ways that we are all influenced by social and cultural messages. The next step is to do something about it! The team will lead the Pillar community into an intervention to develop humility. Cultivating humility allows for an accurate self-perception, openness to the other, and a desire for justice. These are seeds for reconciliation, and it is encouraging to see how the science of humility and implicit bias might lead to deeper transformation in a community.
· South City Church in Mobile, Alabama: Leading a small group is a challenging role. Imagine the challenge if members disclose mental health crises, or face a life-changing trauma, or get caught in a conflict that threatens to rip apart longstanding relationships. Pastor Lance Nicholson has partnered with psychological scientists Chelsea Greer and Joe Currier to consult with and train the small group leaders in South City Church. Their curriculum will help leaders understand the physical, emotional, and relational dimensions of mental illness and trauma, as well as the steps to meaningful forgiveness. Leaders will also gain skills to respond in helpful ways and offer referrals for needed care. Chelsea, Lance, and Joe plan to reach out in their community and offer the training to other local pastors. Teaching, encouraging, and empowering are awesome ways for psychological science to serve ministry leaders.
“These collaborations span the breadth of our country's geography, but address real life problems that any community might face,” said project leader Cynthia Eriksson. “It is so exciting to see how psychological scientists can engage in thoughtful conversations with pastors about research, training, and interventions that seek to strengthen ministry.”
This project will create opportunities for learning, communication, and collaboration as a way to engage and empower psychological scientists in their service to ministry leaders. The grant activities will encourage psychological scientists to be more intentional about communicating new spiritual information to ministry leaders—increasing the skills of psychological scientists to write effectively for ministry audiences and creating incentives for them to engage in service in a local congregation with a collaborating pastor.
Brad Strawn, project coleader, says: “These collaborations between psychologists and pastors are exciting because they are done in real time, on the ground, where the rubber meets the road, with the goal of real change and transformation in peoples’ lives.”
For more information on PSSM visit here.
For more information visit STAR.