Building a Community of Practice for First Call Pastors

By Zeki Salah
Facilitator, Mutual Aid Collaborative

2019 Chicago Peace Fellow, Pastor Robert Biekman, is piloting a Community of Practice with communities of faith. Pastor Biekman, or Pastor B., is utilizing the GATHER platform to foster peer-to-peer learning amongst newly ordained pastors and church planters. The majority of these pastors have been serving their congregations for less than three years and are gaining practical experience and building relationships through this cohort. This cohort represents an investment in the future of the church.

The GATHER mobile platform effectively facilitates shared learning and a curriculum for faith community leaders with a desire to build on the talents of their neighbors and the assets of their community.

Fifteen (15) pastors are using the GATHER platform to look beyond the walls of their congregations’ and engage their communities. GATHER’s mobile classroom and toolkit for building individual and community leadership capacity has allowed these active pastors to integrate the learning journey into their schedules.


The inaugural cohort of pastors began meeting in March of 2022 and will complete their 9-month program in December. Reverend Colin Cranmer who serves as pastor at St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois shared,

I have been engaged in this community of practice cohort for the last year and have truly enjoyed engaging with colleagues, asking critical questions about the community in which our church sits, and thinking from a 10,000-foot perspective of how God has specifically designed our church to's so comforting to know I'm not the only one struggling to understand the context of my church's culture and the community around me...Through this leadership community, I have received support and ideas to keep me going at each stage of the game. I highly recommend it!”


When Pastor Biekman was in the Peace Fellows program, he found value in the GATHER curriculum’s emphasis on collaboration and experience-based learning that he hopes to share with not only Lutheran but with faith leaders of other traditions. Creating a Community of Practice can potentially equip these pastors with practical knowledge of ministry and connect them with practitioner-experts.

As the first call pastors progress through the GATHER curriculum, they have two touchpoints with their Community of Practice each month: a roundtable, and a deeper dive into a subject such as asset mapping with an experienced practitioner. Through these regular meetings, the pastors discuss what work they will engage their communities in with one another.


During “touchpoint” meetings, pastors have shared successes and challenges as they work to connect with people outside their church walls. As pastors shared their experiences, they spoke to the successes of meeting their communities where they are, rather than just engaging them within the church itself.

The Reverend Maria Rojas Banda, who serves a predominantly LGBTQ+ Latinx congregation in Berwyn, Illinois spoke to the success of creating a walking group called caminando juntos—Spanish for “walking together.” Reflecting on the cohort, she said,

The Workshops with different community leaders have been an excellent opportunity to see how other processes work in different contexts. The opportunity to read about my peers and connect with them is a great way to build up knowledge and relationships.


The GATHER program is customizable and can be accessed remotely as a self-paced curriculum. Pastor Biekman modified GATHER by crafting the opening reflection to approach each step of the “learning journey” through a theological lens. This has provided a common frame of reference for the pastors engaging with the material.

Additionally, the self-paced learning of the GATHER platform delivered in a hybrid format is accommodating for people’s various needs considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Combining custom material for first call pastors with a self-paced learning environment has created an inclusive Community of Practice that accommodates differences in capacity, while also uniting individuals around a common platform.


Pastor Pam Voves serves the people of Evanston, Illinois as pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, thinking about her participation with the cohort she says,

“I am grateful for the Community of Practice learning experience...the balance of expertise by veteran practitioners in the field of ministry and the cohort support from other pastors in my geographic area were most helpful...GATHER provided an easy-to-use platform...(and) also helped me connect with my pastoral colleagues outside the online sessions. The new ideas and relationships will stay with me as I continue pastoral ministry.”

What has been essential to this Community of Practice is cooperation and partnership with the various expressions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Creating an accessible environment for grassroots leaders to partner with one another facilitates new partnerships and a broader community to be reached.


This pilot Community of Practice for Lutheran pastors and church planters is made possible through a Holy Innovation Grant awarded by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Christian Community & Leadership Home Area.

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