Aaron Stamper: My Experience With the Program

by Aaron StamperAaron Stamper - Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program

My experience growing up as a white American male, combined with living in and serving a white Lutheran congregation in rural Indiana, have carved out a particular theological path.

Ok, I’ll go ahead and call it a rut.

Ruts can be helpful in honoring the rich heritage and traditions established by predecessors in the faith. However, they can provide a false sense of safety and security and rarely intersect in any meaningful way with fellow pilgrims bearing their own experiences, traditions, insights, and rituals.

The witness of the Judeo-Christian scriptures offer little evidence that following the established and predictable path is a worthy task people of God are to follow. One only has to look around to observe that our ruts are clearly pointing us in the wrong direction––namely, leading us away from others.

Enter the WPLP

The Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program introduced me to individuals who have been uniquely valuable resources in my attempt to think more comprehensively and theologically about the myriad of issues facing our nation.

Each session introduced me to new questions and perspectives on topics that had direct implications on my congregation and community. The guest presenters were experts in their fields who communicated the stories, data, and unresolved issues of matters such as healthcare, education, immigration, poverty, to name a few. The presenters were open to our questions and always left us with contact information, encouraging us to continue the difficult conversations.

I never walked away from a session feeling like I had the answers; however, I felt like I was asking better questions.  

As grateful as I am for the esteemed guests the Wabash program provided (and let’s face it, where else does one have face-to-face interaction with a US Senator, a world-renowned self-described “lunatic, libertarian farmer,” a former police chief, a CEO of a tech company, a “Roving Listener,” a Federal Judge, and an influential pastor who fought against Apartheid in South Africa), it was my pastoral colleagues in the cohort who have made the lasting difference. 

Over the course of two years I benefitted from over a dozen perspectives from over a dozen people regarding over a dozen topics. We treated one another with respect, disagreed when our principles dictated, had a lot of fun together, and grew to genuinely care for one another as well as the communities that we all served. 

I regularly reach out to my Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program colleagues to help me make sense of and think through the events unfolding in our world today. My aforementioned theological ruts are still as real and tempting as ever. Therefore, it is a gift to be able to ask colleagues who walk different paths in a different communities how they are making sense of our world today.

More importantly, they help me understand how the decisions, attitudes, and actions of my faith community impact the people whom they serve. 

For example, when the White House announced its plans to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September of 2017, I called my colleague who serves as priest to a predominately Hispanic Roman Catholic parish. I needed to hear how a decision that seemed to have few direct ramifications for my white suburban congregation was impacting his parish.

In our brief conversation he communicated the pain, frustration, and hope that he and his parishioners were experiencing. As much as my parishioners might have felt that particular piece of “politics” had no place in our sanctuary, that Sunday I preached about the pain, frustration, and hope around the termination of the DACA program. Not because I had any personal experience, but because I trusted and was willing to learn from someone who had.

A few weeks later I was privileged to welcome parishioners from this Roman Catholic parish to speak with our Lutheran youth group. Our Catholic guests shared their rationale and experiences of crossing the US-Mexico border illegally, living as undocumented people, and not being able to return to their families south of the border because they would never be able to return to this place where they have worked, studied, and raised children––the place they had called home.

We didn’t solve the myriad of immigration-related issues that day, but I was profoundly grateful to hear the youth of my church starting to ask better questions and contemplate the issues from a different perspective. I look forward to more opportunities to reach out to pastoral colleagues and community leaders to help my congregation and me make sense of our world today.

I completed the initial two-year portion of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program and was blessed with binders of materials, fascinating books, captivating lectures and discussion, meaningful worship, as well as some pretty incredible pictures from our global travels. My most cherished blessing from the program, however, is the gift of friendship that will continue to carve out a new path for my life and my ministry.

My Experience in the Pastoral Leadership Program

by Aaron Hobbs
Cohort III

I am an emotional person. I regularly wear my emotions and my passions on my sleeve. As a pastor this occasionally gets me into trouble, but I have embraced this reality as the way I am, as the Psalmist says, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Throughout my time in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program I was encouraged to embrace my pastoral identity and gained confidence in using my passion in creative ways to the glory of God and for the good of all whom God loves. The program provided the time and space needed for me and my clergy colleagues (and now friends) to think critically about important issues facing our communities today, as well as, wonderful conversation partners who inspired us and instilled in us the courage and imagination necessary to engage these issues in our local contexts. I would not be the pastoral leader that I am today without this wonderful program, and there would be no Teter Organic Farm.

I am so thankful that the program stimulated my pastoral imagination. On our two study trips I witnessed how a variety of pastoral leaders were creatively engaging in ministry with those on the margins. During our North American Study Trip we visited an environmental stewardship organization called A Rocha Canada in suburban Vancouver, BC. Here I saw how environmental education, conservation, and community supported agriculture could build bridges among diverse populations and foster true community.

This was particularly impactful for me because at the same time my congregation was seeking a missional focus for a 120-acre property that had been donated to the church in 1981 by Ruth Teter, along with a substantial trust fund. Since that time the property had served as a seldom-used retreat center, and part of the land was cash rented to a neighbor who conventionally farmed corn and soybeans. After 34 years, however, the trust fund was about to be depleted and there was no plan for how to sustain the property once the money ran out. A wonderful gift was about to become a burden to the congregation.

While at A Roche Canada the vision for Teter Organic Farm began to take shape. I began to see how God might transform this underutilized property into a place that could be a centerpiece of community life focussed on combating food insecurity, reconnecting people to the land, and building life-giving relationships. When I returned to Indiana this vision was confirmed in countless ways, and in 2016 we grew 10,000 lbs. of organic produce on a ½ acre of land that was then donated to local food pantries and feeding programs.

After returning from our International Study Trip to South Africa, I felt God once again stretching me to expand the vision of Teter Organic Farm. After a year of farming under my belt I had begun to develop an affinity for agrarian imagery. So my ears perked up when we were blessed with a morning conversation with Peter Storey and he reminded us that, “You cannot arrive at the truth in a monoculture.” And in fact, even nature itself is a polyculture. Then he encouraged us to “find and fashion strategies of change that are consistent with the mind of Christ…without fear or favor.”

While we were doing good things growing food for hungry people, we needed to change our strategy to do more to build bridges among people. I knew that the monoculture of many farms today was eroding and poisoning the soil, and the monoculture of many of our communities – including my own – was eroding our sense of the common good and poisoning us against each other along racial, gender, age, class, economic, sexual identity, and religious lines. I realized biodiversity did not just apply to plants, and when applied to human flourishing, different people performing different functions allowed all to thrive.

So now while we have expanded our production to 2 ½ acres this year, we are doing so while intentionally building friendships with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, ESL students, inner-city and rural youth, as well as, congregation members. Together we are listening to, learning from, working with, and enjoying one another as precious children of God. Every day I give thanks for the pastoral imagination and courage to step out in ever expanding ways because of my experience in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.

New-Member Orientation in Congregations: A New Vision

Rev. Libby Davis Manning, Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program

By Rev. Libby Davis Manning
Associate Director of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program

When I served in parish ministry in Fishers, Indiana from 2008-2017, teaching new member class was one of my favorite activities. My pastoral colleague and I invited the new members into our homes for dinner and conversation (people love to see their pastors’ homes and living spaces, by the way), and over a series of three gatherings, we shared an overview of Lutheran theology, Christian discipleship practices, and an orientation to our building, grounds, and staff. It was lovely, and those conversations are some of my favorite memories of my years in parish ministry.

I’ve stepped out of parish ministry for a season to serve as Associate Director of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program and as a Consultant to the Religion Division of Lilly Endowment, but when I return to the parish one day, I think I’m going to structure new member class differently. I’m going to start new member class with a short history lesson of the community in which the church is situated, followed by an overview of the demographic information of the community (find this information for your own community at, and then commence a driving tour of the places that serve the marginalized in the community, the places of brokenness and division and hurt within the community.   

Why the change? Because only after the real nitty-gritty information has been covered and seen and named would I dive into the theology and discipleship practices with which I used to begin class. Only in the context of what God has done and is doing in this community to bring healing of divisions and restoration to the broken places does the need for and urgency toward good theology and deeply discipled Christ-followers make sense.   Since Christ is the center of the church, and since Christ operates on the margins, the church needs to go to the margins.

It’s curious to me that Jesus doesn’t speak much of the church. Jesus speaks mostly of the Kingdom of God, of God’s long-term project of rescuing the world and bringing salvation and wholeness to all creation.  What then, does this mean for the church, or for new member classes? It does not mean church-growth needs to be our primary focus, or that the church building needs to be our primary focus. As Rachel Held Evans said, “anything obsessed with its own growth is cancerous.” The question is not about our own growth. The question is, are we in touch with the marginalized of our community? Do we weep over the brokenness that God weeps over in our community? Do we even see the brokenness and injustice from within the four walls of our building?

Good theology acknowledges the deep complexity and brokenness of life.  I want to start new member orientation by naming the brokenness the new members see in our very own community all around us and then talk about the church’s possible response to it. I want to wrestle with the deep real complexity about how to live lives of discipleship in our community in the face of those complexities, and not ignore those nitty-gritty realities. I want to then talk about the role our lives have in this particular community, as vessels through which God lives and moves to provide healing and wholeness and salvation to this particular community, if we are open to being used by God. In other words, I want to talk about the role of the church, the very body of Christ in the world until Christ comes again, and her urgent, yet simultaneously immensely patient, mission in tending to the well-being of the local community. 

Top Ten takeaways of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program

by Mark Thompson
Pastor, First Baptist Church

10. No single denomination has all the answers

I enjoyed hearing about God working throughout the state of Indiana from other participants in the Cohort. Not only was God working before the Program began, God inspired new direction to each participant as we learned from each other and from the thoughtful content of the experience.

9. We are not alone

I have connected with other pastors in meaningful ways and will forever treasure our times together. I maintain connections and friendships established by our Cohort. The one thing I miss most is the regular gathering of my Cohort and the leaders Libby and Derek. Libby is the most gracious, yet purposeful person I have ever met. Derek is by far the most educated, yet fun person I have ever been around.

8. The needs of Indiana are complex

We were introduced to the leaders of our state in every area of importance. We had personal conversations with people we would never have been able to connect with outside of this program. Not only did we glean incredible insight from influential leaders, but they also wanted to hear from us, the local church pastor.

7. The needs of my community are complex

I have new eyes to view my own community. Before the Program, I felt under resourced. I knew problems existed, but I was not seeking help. I was focused on the marginalized of my community and those without resources. I was losing the fight. During the second gathering, I was challenged to engage my community from a different direction. I began connecting with my community leaders instead of focusing all of my time with those in need. I found people wanting to help. Due to my new inter-denominational experience of the Program, I was able to connect with other churches. Together, we are accomplishing amazing work for the Kingdom.

6. Technical change

I can identify technical changes and the need for technical fixes. I can now minimalize time and effort working toward solutions realizing the difference between technical and adaptive change. An example of technical change would be a food pantry to help those in poverty. If a church wants to feel like they are helping those in poverty, a technical solution would be a food pantry.

5. Adaptive change

Adaptive change is much more complex than technical. Adaptive change asks the “Why” question. More time is spent identifying the root causes and in depth solutions. Instead of a technical answer like a food pantry to help those in poverty, adaptive change will ask “why” is there poverty. The next step in adaptive change is theological. The questions emerges, “In light of who God is, what should we be doing?” to identify the direction taken. In my own context of ministry we hand deliver lunches every day of the summer to over 600 kids in my county. The delivery of lunch is a technical fix. In addition to lunch deliver, my church offers free child care to teenage mothers to help them stay in school. This service answers the question, “Why are kids in poverty and what can we do about it?” The answer takes more resources and happens at a slower rate. Both types of change are needed. Adaptive change is systemic. The Program helped me understand the needs of my community and what the church can do to meet the needs.

4. The Pacific Northwest

I learned so much about my own community exploring an area that seemingly looks nothing like the small city of Brazil, Indiana where I pastor. I learned many approaches and opportunities for ministry. I was moved to see the value of the church in a city whose inhabitants are known for no religious affiliation. I had the opportunity to worship with the Japanese Baptist Church. The church still holds on to many stories from World War II where many parishioners were held in internment camps and the church would take care of their homes and possessions.

3. South Africa

By visiting the most unequal place in the world, the inequalities of my own country became more apparent. South Africa is the most amazing place I have ever gone or will ever go in my life. I saw penguins and ostriches on the beach. Are you kidding me?
I also witnessed mass and extreme poverty on a level that is inhumane. I heard theologians take responsibility and ownership for the history of racial discrimination and hate. I understand rioting and violence and what drives those who participate to such extreme measures. I also was honored to sit in the wisdom of Rev. Peter Storey as he dispensed first-hand account of the aftermath of apartheid and its continuance today in another form. I met a local store owner who sounded much like a local store owner in Indiana. She complained about those in college who felt entitled to a free education just because they were black and in poverty. Twenty hours from home and I heard the same arguments except the gap of injustice in South Africa was much farther. But is it?

2. My ministry matters

I felt a call to ministry in high school. I was discouraged by many adults telling me I would be wasting the mind God gave me and that I should become a doctor or lawyer. I felt the local church pastor was the greatest career path I could take. I have always felt rewarded in the most altruistic sense, but this program showed great appreciation for this high-calling and honorable work. The cohort was treated with the utmost respect and dignity by all persons encountered from those who came to Wabash to meet us to those we traveled to meet. The leaders of the Cohort went beyond any expectation to accommodate our needs and to treat us as they would any celebrity. I learned more from this experience to understand my role as pastor to a community than I did from my time in seminary. Seminary helped me in orthodoxy and this Program was orthopraxy.

1. The redemptive work of the Lord through the local church is still the greatest hope

When we met with the representatives from the Lilly Foundation, we were told the Foundation believes the greatest way to help the local community was to help the local church through the pastor. I have always believed this. I was touched and pleasantly surprised to hear an organization of this caliber not only believe it and simply state it, but then resource it. The vision of this Program is to educate, lead, and feed the vision of the local church pastor. My community is a completely different place. Because of my participation in this Program, churches come together in Brazil to work as one and each time we meet, I see the true Body of Christ.

Following Jesus “Now”

Joel Weir - Pastoral Leadership ProgramLast week my best friend since elementary school and I met for coffee. As usual we did at least a little reminiscing about “back in the day” (cue “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen). We usually touch on some crazy story from high school, or some obscure pop cultural event that “you had to be there” to remember. This time around, though, the topic was a little more serious. I think it sprang from me sharing about my study trip with the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program to the Pacific Northwest, an area that is considered among the least “religious” places in the country. One of the reasons for visiting this area was to observe how churches and faith communities engaged with what is becoming a trend in our culture – an increase in people, especially young people, identifying as having “no religious affiliation”.

So my friend and I, both raised going to church, and both still going, talked about the differences between “then”and “now”. Back “then” there was a general assumption that most people were connected in some way to a church. Attendance might have varied, but to be completely unaffiliated, or even to have been raised without church being somehow involved was an anomaly. “Then” one could basically assume that most people knew what the Bible was, who Jesus was, and even some fundamental stories and teachings from scriptures (the ten commandments, or Noah’s Ark, for example). “Now” those things cannot be assumed. There is no longer the societal expectation or cultural norm that will bring people through the doors of the church. When considering this, especially in light of what I observed in Seattle, visiting churches and faith communities that are thriving in this “new norm” I think one conclusion I’ve come to is…the “Now” isn’t all bad.

To be clear, of course I want more people, everyone, to hear and receive the saving words of Jesus. But what I think is good about this “new norm” is that it requires followers of Jesus to really know why they believe, and, more importantly, it demands proof with action. It’s a time where belief is not expected or rewarded socially. Perhaps we are increasingly moving towards a place where being a follower of Jesus does not get you more votes, more business, or a bigger congregation. What could be good about this? Here’s the thing. Jesus never promised influence, success, or social acceptance to His followers.

It is why I question the reactive response by some politicians and church leaders to the “new norm” -the one that says we must “fight to get our nation back to the way it was”. I question it because I wonder what “getting it back” means. Is it about Jesus or is it about cultural acceptance and societal dominance? What should the response be, then?

I believe a return to the scriptures, especially the Gospel accounts and the Acts of the Apostles, can help point the way back to the central call of followers of Jesus. My friend and I recalled that while it was ‘easier’ to be a Christian “then”, it was also much easier for the church to become a club, and at worst a club that was defined on what it was as opposed to the other ‘clubs’. In Acts, before Jesus ascends He tells His followers that the Holy Spirit would come to them. His followers ask “will you then restore our kingdom (Israel).” The disciples imagined that things would be back to how they were“then” – in the way they imagined how great it would be if they were in cultural and societal dominance. Jesus must have surprised them when He said “When you receive the Holy Spirit you will be given the ability to be my witnesses in Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth!” In other words, it is not “the way things were” that you need to be concerned with. Rather, concern yourself with being a living witness now, in the place where you are, and then it will spread to the ends of the earth. Show people the Good News “Now”. To be His witnesses is to do as He did, bring healing, love, words of life, forgiveness and reconciliation and provision to all, especially those who are hungry, thirsty, poor, outcast, sick, mourning, and imprisoned. Cultural status or societal approval is irrelevant.

In Seattle I saw churches and faith communities working together on this shared task. Perhaps it is because they have to work together that there seemed to be less focus on differences and “who gets the credit”. I saw some wonderful examples of faith in action. If there is skepticism of churches there, it seems to thaw when people see the churches practicing what they preach, especially when it shows real care for the greater community, not just getting people through the doors of the church. The really good news is that I see this here, in our “place”, Montgomery County. The collaborative work of groups like MontCares, and the leadership faith communities have taken on issues like domestic abuse, addiction, and homelessness is exactly what, I believe, the response of followers of Jesus should be in the “Now”.

10 Ways the Pastoral Leadership Program Gifted Me + My Ministry

Jerry Ingalls - Pastoral Leadership ProgramThe top 10 ways my two years in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program were a gift to me and my ministry. A personal reflection from a Baptist minister.

10. Interfaith Engagement

Whether it was learning about the ministry of conflict resolution and reconciliation from a Muslim scholar who had travelled to Wabash College from England or sitting with an Imam in his Mosque in South Africa, my eyes were open to the importance of listening and learning from people of other cultures and faiths. How blessed our world would be to have sincere love and respect amongst the religious leadership of our communities.

9. Ecumenical Partnership

I was surrounded by ministers with such a willingness to partner with me even though we came from different denominational backgrounds. This was so unlike our local communities where the signs on the outside of the church prevent us from being the Church. Whereas in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, we experienced being the Church where Christ defined us more than the signs on the outside of our buildings. We worshipped together, ate together, learned together, travelled together, and experienced sacred moments together in South Africa, Mexico, and in Crawfordsville. How blessed our communities would be for such ecumenical partnerships. In Indiana, that starts at the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.

8. Theological Diversity

With a diversity of theological expressions represented in every gathering, our unity was nothing less than a work of the Holy Spirit. We were quickly grafted in common purpose, common experience, and mutual respect in a way that can only be God. Isn’t this what we all hope for in our churches, where our people are diverse in their social-economic status, recreational interests, political expressions, social views, and spiritual maturity. What a joy for us to be one as the Father and Son are one.

7. Academic Stimulation

With all the pastors having experienced the rigors of seminary and with the speakers engaging us with high-level presentations, I was stimulated in my academic interests. With a common language and mutual respect for one another’s aptitudes we engaged in meaningful conversations. Due to this high level of interaction and quality of content, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program stimulated me to consider my own abilities to get a doctorate. Today, I am a doctoral student thanks to the Wabash Program experience.

6. Financial Blessing

The Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, funded by the Lilly Endowment, was made available to me at a time in my ministry that I could not personally afford to pursue such a robust professional development and continuing education opportunity. This program exceeded my expectations for my own development. On top of that, we were blessed financially which was a gift to my spouse and three children who so lovingly allowed me to participate.

5. Receiving Hospitality

Between restful separation from the unrelenting ministry grind and the never-ending bountiful meals, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program knows how to do hospitality. I was always amazed at how well the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program lived up to their commitment to honor pastors for the hard work we do in our local congregations and communities. Our two years together were so healthy because every other month I got away to be with friends, retreat from the pressing weight of the pastorate, and grow as a person of God and minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As well, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program encouraged us to apply for the Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Program which makes available significant resources for sabbatical opportunities.

4. Community Wellbeing

These two words will take on a deeper significance to you personally and professionally after spending two years learning what they could mean to you and your ministry context. I gained a better understanding of Indiana’s civic issues and how those conversations apply to my church and community. I was encouraged and supported to understand and engage the complexities between education, health care, economics, and the justice system in my Indiana community. I now have a deeper sense of the underlying issues and realities of this dynamic conversation that is already happening all around the church. The question for you and your community is whether the church has a voice in the conversations regarding community wellbeing.

3. Pastoral Inspiration

Did I already tell you about the awesome colleagues who were in my cohort? If not, let me tell you about them. I love and respect the ministers of grace I sojourned with in Cohort III. We traveled around the world, met at Wabash College, met one another in our own churches, went out to meals together, stayed up late talking, and took walks in all seasons of life together. I was inspired by these men and women of God who taught me so much about ministry and life. Our continual contact with one another three years later continues to inspire and strengthen my ministry and life.

2. Personal Encouragement

I shouldn’t fail to honestly confess that I most likely would not be in my eighth year at my church ministering the gospel of grace if it was not for the personal encouragement and wise counsel that came from my pastoral friends in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program. Not only were my two years in the program transformative and life-giving, but in the years after our completion I continued to stay in touch and be encouraged. It is in the hardest times of ministry that trusted colleagues who truly know what it is to be in your shoes can be so necessary. I have already experienced how the unique friendships that are developed over these two years are essential to longevity in the pastorate.

1. Life-long Friendships

It was just the other night that my family was at the house of one of my Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program colleagues. My family got in the car and travelled to a different city to spend time together as ministry families. We just wanted to be together and connect our families. We are not the same gender, denominational affiliation, political party, or theological orientation, but we are life-long friends who have learned to have oneness in Christ above all else. Love drove out fear and the Kingdom of God came near as our families communed in her parsonage. These people are my tribe!

In conclusion, being a part of this life-giving and ministry-transforming program has breathed life into my soul personally and ministry professionally. I give God thanks on a regular basis for having been a part of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.

With gratitude,
Jerry Ingalls

Cohort 3 Rev. Dr. David Hampton Lecture Link: Religion, Race & Justice

Cohort 3 member Rev. Dr. David Hampton recently spoke at a Butler University seminar that sought answers from local faith community leaders, scholars, and activists to the following questions:

  • How have faith communities in Indianapolis responded to the national conversations on race in recent years?
  • How are these issues being played out in our city?

Here is the youtube link to David’s presentation.

Cohort 4 Rev. Nichele Washington: An Evening to Honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



Cohort 4 member Rev. Nichele Washington and WPL Associate Director Rev. Libby Davis Manning, along with other members of the Faith AME community in Fishers, recently hosted an evening of “musical celebration and prayerful reflection” in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The poster and program for the event may be viewed by clicking on the links below.

MLK Poster

MLK Program