Leaders gathered at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel for a clergy retreat led by Dr. Laura Brantley. Photo courtesy of Amy Hurd.

By Tyler Sprouse, TWK Communications Specialist


If, as a clergyperson or lay leader, you have recently felt ground down or burned out, you’re likely not alone.

Feel like there’s no way out? Fear not! The newly opened Center for Spiritual Life and Leadership is here to help.

According to the Center’s Director, Dr. Laura Brantley, the Center exists to help clergy develop as spiritual leaders and restore to them a rich inner life, one that will buoy and empower them through the ebbs and flows of their vocation.

Easy enough. After all, is this not central in the job description of a pastor, to help her people grow in faith and develop the life of the spirit? According to Brantley, however, it is not so straightforward. 

“Due to the daily demands of the pastorate,” said Brantley, “clergy often lose connection with the spiritual core at the heart of their work.”

Utilizing the writings of Dr. Eugene Peterson, Brantley distinguishes between “corporate” and “spiritual” emphases in the work of faith leaders, and holds that, while not mutually exclusive, the former can easily overshadow the latter. “Through no fault of their own, pastors can fall into habits of acting like CEOs instead of spiritual leaders.

“Most pastors strive to be spiritual leaders,” continued Brantley, “but they get swept up in the daily onslaught of administrative tasks and other parish business, leaving little time to dedicate themselves to their own deeper spiritual work.”

This is precisely wherein Brantley’s passion lies: to help remind lay and clergy leaders of their calling.

“We are a voice pushing back against this grind culture within pastoral life,” Brantley said. “Of course, this is part of a larger ‘systems’ problem: We have allowed this to emerge because of what we have expected of pastors in churches.”

In order to change the culture, Brantley stresses the importance of returning to the spiritual disciplines.

“We want to help lay and clergy leaders in this journey,” Brantley said. “Sometimes, it’s about knowing how to best connect with spiritual practices. Other times, it’s just a matter of getting back in that rhythm.”

According to Brantley, the overall scope of the center’s mission encapsulates the whole church, not just the leadership. 

Dr. Laura Brantley leads retreat participants in a reflection. Photo courtesy of Amy Hurd.

“One reason we are starting with leaders, lay and clergy,” said Brantley, “is because it is our hope that this work will grow spiritual depth in leaders that will overflow into their congregations and other circles of influence. We see this as a movement aimed to revitalize the church by changing the culture of how we lead, beginning with supporting one another as we intentionally seek to connect to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.”  

The Center for Spiritual Life and Leadership will continue to develop and offer retreats, classes, and other seminars in leadership and spiritual formation. They developed and led one such event on August 17-19, in which the TWK Conference leadership was invited to participate in a clergy retreat at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. 

Their hope is for these offerings to blossom into continued, self-led practices on the part of participants, both personally and in small groups.

“Ultimately, through these sustainable and affordable offerings, we hope to instill a sense of the processes and practices that will benefit each person in their own context,” said Brantley. “We are trusting the Spirit to help people discern what will work best for them–and we want our work to be aligned with that focus.”

For more information on the center’s programs, contact Dr. Laura Brantley at laura@thecenterforspirituallife.org or by phone: 615-823-3800.


Note: The Center for Spiritual Life and Leadership is located in the Counseling Center on Brentwood UMC’s campus in Nashville.