By Carl Stagner
At 14,000 feet, the views are breathtaking, but so is the air. Lower levels of oxygen—considered “thin” air—combined with unpredictable weather and potentially hazardous trail conditions, can pose health risks, at minimum, to even the most avid athlete. Hiking alone is not recommended at such altitudes, though many insist on doing so. Church of God pastors Tom Pelt and Jonathan Absher have reveled in the mountaintop experience among Colorado’s highest peaks and have recognized the vivid parallels to ministry. In an effort to see pastors minister at their peak, they’ve championed the holistic health vital to the daily climb. Without reinventing the wheel, but with intentionality and a genuine love for fellow pastors, they’ve taken specific strides in recent years to come alongside pastors, pull them out of isolation into community, and help them reach new heights of wholeness and wellness.
Tom Pelt, interim lead pastor at The Church at Bradenton in Bradenton, Florida, and Jonathan Absher, senior pastor of Rock Creek Church of God in Bessemer, Alabama, are the best of friends. Many might not know, though, that they’re actually family through marriage; Tom is married to Jonathan’s sister. In fact, Jonathan was part of the youth group at the church where his father Wayne served as senior pastor while Tom served as Jonathan’s youth pastor. “Jonathan has now been in ministry almost twenty years and I have long since been looking to him for advice,” Tom explains. “He is an amazing leader.”
Jonathan’s coaching ministry several years ago utilized what the two have dubbed the “heart, soul, mind, and strength” format to help pastors holistically. About a decade ago, Tom also led a ministry that focused on coaching churches. Today, their experiences, including Jonathan’s coaching format, have become the basis for their ministry to pastors today, known appropriately as Peak Pastors. Though Jonathan’s contributions are inextricable to the work of Peak Pastors today, it was actually Tom and his son Andrew who were listening to the Spirit together when the call from God came for such a venture.
“My son Andrew—student/young adult pastor at The Church at Bradenton—and I were hiking in Kentucky about five years ago, and we were dreaming and brainstorming about all things ministry,” Tom recounts. “It was one of those ‘What if?’ conversations. Peak Pastors really started in our hearts during that hike. We were filled with a sense of both the passion and pain associated with ministry leadership and wanted to do our part to speak into it, maybe even do something about it, even if just for a handful of pastors.”
Peak Pastors developed over a period of several years and continues to develop. The online community experience aims to promote the health of the pastor’s heart, soul, mind, and body. Through online coaching, accountability, friendship, and fun—yes, the opportunity to summit 14,000-foot peaks in the Rocky Mountains is a challenging and fun reality—Peak Pastors is already having an impact. Tom acknowledges that the concepts that drive their ministry aren’t new or exclusive to Peak Pastors; however, he insists that the rise in ministry drop-out rates and the disturbingly high number of pastors living in isolation suggests there’s much more to be done. “No part of Peak Pastors is totally original,” Tom explains. “We’re not necessarily called to change the landscape of pastors in Western culture. But if we can do something….”
Furthermore, many cohort-style ministries don’t emphasize the physical health of the pastor; Peak Pastors does! “It’s a shame that pastors aren’t generally known as the best examples of holistic health, particularly physical health,” Tom reflects. “Perhaps the old tradition of potluck dinners is to blame!” he quips, then takes a more serious tone. “The lifestyle of a pastor is anything but 9 to 5, and demands a high level of personal and organizational intentionality to live and lead healthy. ‘Bodily exercise profits little…’ (2 Timothy 4:8) but it does profit!”
To that end, Peak Pastors welcomes Christ-centered experts to the experience to inspire and challenge participating pastors to honor God with their physical fitness. “Besides,” Tom adds, “there is a direct correlation between being physically active, and our spiritual, emotional, relational, and intellectual well-being.”
Coinciding with the mountain motif, the cohort conveners are known as “trail guides.” A veteran of life and ministry facilitates monthly online video conversations, which center on one or more of the four focuses—heart, soul, mind, and strength. A literal trail guide will offer a summertime expedition in the mountains of Colorado, beginning in 2020, but these spiritual trail guides offer life-changing encouragement and exhortation throughout the year.
“Generations in our families have served in pastoral ministry,” Tom concludes. “Because of this our hearts have always beat and bled for pastors and their families…. If other leaders can benefit from what we have learned from both experience and the many incredible leaders we have done life with, it’s a win.”
Discover the opportunities Peak Pastors has to offer, including an inspirational blog, at www.peakpastors.com.