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Leading and Living Well in a Presidential Election Year


Rev. Dr. Bill Kincaid, the Herald B. Monroe Professor of Leadership and Ministry Studies for the CTS School of Theology, is no stranger to teaching and practicing leadership. In his 16 years at CTS, he has taught a variety of courses related to pastoral leadership, congregational dynamics and mission, contextual engagement, and spirituality; he has also served in leadership roles including Interim President (2017-2019), Interim Dean (2014-2016), and Director of Field Education (2008-2014). This month, Kincaid will lead a retreat titled “Leading and Living Well in a Presidential Election Year” for pastors in the early stages of their ministry careers.

The retreat is part of the First Season Project, a program for which Kincaid serves as Director. The First Season Project (FSP), supported by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. and sponsored by CTS, seeks to strengthen the life and leadership of local congregations by accompanying and supporting new pastors during their transition into ministry after seminary. The program’s name comes from the recognition that a pastoral career includes several distinctive seasons. The initiative is for new pastors who are entering their “first season” after seminary, those critical years of transition and evolution in pastoral identity and practice when pastors encounter new challenges, entertain unexpected questions, and begin to establish sustainable, life-giving patterns for all future season.

Pastors selected for FSP participate in semi-annual retreats like the one Kincaid will lead later this month. These three-day retreats create space for participants to engage material from Kincaid’s book Like Stepping Into A Canoe: Nimbleness and the Transition into Ministry, share in local immersion experiences together, discuss best ministry practices, join in prayer and other spiritual disciplines, and cultivate supportive, collegial friendships with other new pastors and seasoned pastoral leaders. Ongoing support and connection are facilitated in between retreats.

This retreat’s topic “Leading and Living Well in a Presidential Election Year” seeks to balance timeless leadership principles with timely practical application. Plans for the retreat includes Bible studies led by Dr. Amy Lindeman Allen (CTS School of Theology); presentations from Dr. Joseph Tucker Edmonds (Professor at IUPUI) on White Nationalism, the influence of the religiously unaffiliated, and opportunities for alliances and partnerships in a contentious time; conversations with Dr. Carlos Perkins (AME Pastor and Member of the Indianapolis City-County Council) about how he navigates ministry as an elected official and how he navigates serving in an elected role as a minister; discussions about trauma, how to recognize it, and how to deal with it with Dr. Christina Jones Davis (CTS School of Counseling); and an immersion experience with Pastor Ron Nunez and the people of Woodruff Place Baptist Church.

“What I don’t want to happen is for first season pastors to get to mid-October and just be completely overwhelmed and exhausted, struggling to carry on. Unless people are really disciplined with their phones, it’s really hard to escape the divisive rhetoric of this election cycle. The air we breathe is so saturated with it that it’s hard to escape,” shares Kincaid. That type of inundation affects all areas of community life, and congregations are not immune to the ways it can cause tension and division. Pastors must navigate a difficult role of leadership in order to provide pastoral care for all members of their congregation, including when those congregants disagree with one another. Although political rhetoric feels particularly heated and divisive these days, there are tried and true lessons today’s pastors can learn from those who have faced similar challenges.

As he plans courses and retreats for pastors early in their careers, Kincaid draws from exemplary leaders of the past and present and from his own experience as an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He also prioritizes immersion experiences so that pastors and students can learn about exemplary leaders in context of place, time, and community. Past immersion experiences led by Kincaid include a civil rights pilgrimage to Selma, Alabama, visits to the Abbey of Gethsemani, and trips to the L’Arche community in Clinton, Iowa.

Kincaid is hopeful this retreat will have an immediate impact on the pastors attending, as well as on their congregations and communities when they return home. He notes how difficult it can be to pastor congregations during a particularly divisive election cycle. “When people feel challenged or threatened in emotional dimensions of belonging, it creates a gap of disconnect from shared humanity,” he says. “How we attempt to live and lead in that gap without being crushed is one of the things this retreat hopes to offer.”

Rev. Dr. Bill Kincaid is the Herald B. Monroe Professor of Leadership and Ministry Studies and the Director of the First Seasons Project at Christian Theological Seminary. Examples of courses taught by Dr. Kincaid include:

  • Pastor, Leading through Transitions
  • Conflict in the Bible and the Church
  • Ministerial Ethics
  • Creative and Organizational Leadership
  • Pastoral Leadership amid Difference and Polarization
  • New Models of Church
  • Thomas Merton and Contemporary Life