“PLI Checked All the Boxes”: Continuing the Conversation with Cheryl Gieseke

Published: February 6, 2024

This week I’m continuing my conversation with Cheryl Gieseke, a champion for young pastors and spouses. But first, a word from one of the young pastors who has benefited from Cheryl’s generosity:

My wife and I are able to attend PLI because of the faithful gift that an anonymous donor gave. Words cannot express my gratitude, as both my wife and I are able not only to learn and grow as both Christians and leaders in the church, but also establish connections and friendships with other pastors.

PLI is more than just learning strategies and plans to improve a church or to better myself as a leader. Though it has done that and more, it has given me confidence in my own unique leadership abilities and style and connected me with fellow pastors as we grow together. After the pandemic, all churches are facing real and similar problems and challenges, and PLI is helping not only me, but also others, in finding the opportunities to address them in the light of Jesus Christ.

Hailey and Pastor Matthew Kusch


Cheryl, during your education career you were responsible for the teacher mentoring program in your school district as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. I love that you brought every ounce of your background into the adventure of investing in training and mentoring newer pastoral couples.

Cheryl: I was only 5 years into my career when I moved into public school administration. We had a seasoned faculty! They didn’t make it easy for me, but I had good mentors, good administrators, and a tremendous team around me.

Early on, I was dying in my new role in administration. They picked me up. Helped me out! It’s the same thing for newer pastors. So many of our newer pastors are placed into very challenging contexts and might have little or none of the support they might need. I didn’t want to duplicate or compete with anything that our own denomination was already doing and wanted to make sure they knew that.

Thanks to many of the generous donors in PLI, we’ve been able to gift a 12-month coaching experience for first-year pastors and spouses. The feedback we get on this from the participants and sometimes their congregation members is phenomenal. Let’s dig into this!

Cheryl: We found that new teachers in our school district for the most part were strong in their content area but it was other things. There’s more to education than being “the sage on the stage.” How do I fill up a 50-minute class period each time? How do I become a master of my craft as an educator?

Pastors are strong in their content area. They know the Word of God! And they should, right? It’s so many other things where they often need help. It’s all about making disciples. Connecting with your people. The relationship thing.

You developed 23 topics and goals that would encompass a quality mentoring/ development training experience for pastors. How did you go about this?

Cheryl: First, I needed to reacquaint myself with the latest thinking around professional development for teachers and mentoring since I retired. Only this time I was reviewing literature through the lens of “Does this apply to pastors? Is this transferable?” By my estimation, Kansas State has distinguished themselves as the leaders in teacher mentoring and teacher support in their early years. They are nationally known. I have great respect for them in this area.

From my research I developed a set of questions that I used for interviewing pastors that were roughly six years into ministry. Same exact questions. In education, we found that the first four years were critical in the shaping of an educator.

A Few of Cheryl’s Questions for Pastors

1. Take a moment to recall the expectations you had for your first years of ministry after receiving your first call. How did those expectations compare with the reality you experienced in those first years? For what were you best prepared? For what were you less prepared? What totally blindsided you?

2. To whom or what did you feel or know you could turn to for help with those things for which you were less prepared?

3. What help would you have liked to have had that was not available to you?

4. How did you attend to your own spiritual growth during your first years of ministry?

From there I worked backwards. They told me their successes. Struggles. What they needed that they received, or didn’t receive. What would have been useful. This led to the 3 goals and 23 topics (a few of which are listed below) that were identified.

Goal 1: Pastors will be supported in establishing ministries grounded in the mission of the Church as defined by the Great Commission and Great Commandment

Topics may include:

Developing a clear understanding of the Great Commission
Growing missional mindsets
Developing and sharing your church’s vision, mission, and passion
Engaging in spiritual conversations

Goal 2: Pastors will be supported in growing in basic ministry skills such as preaching, teaching, effective communication, leadership, and relationship building with stakeholders in the congregation and community.

Topics may include:

Identifying strengths and weaknesses in yourself and others
Learning to lead
Developing leaders and leadership teams in the church
Developing and implementing a multi-year ministry roadmap

Goal 3: Pastors will be supported in laying a solid foundation for life-long spiritual and professional growth.

Topics may include:

Participating in ongoing/lifetime professional development
Being a person of prayer
Attending to the social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of yourself and your family.

PLI checked all of the boxes! The willingness to learn and commitment to grow and get really clear about how God has uniquely designed me to lead out of who I am…and the focus on the mission…the discipling of people.

People in churches will never know how to share the Gospel and build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus if the pastor is not learning to do it themselves.

(If you’d like to see the full list of Cheryl’s questions and her goals/topics, you can find that here.)

From your “Wind of the Spirit” fund (more next week on this) you generously provided scholarships to four pastors and spouses in PLI’s Leadership Essentials Learning Community in Lincoln, NE. They’re about half way through the two and a half year Learning Community. You had a chance to follow up with them.

Cheryl: I could not be more pleased! We posed questions about insights they were gaining into effective leadership and growing a missional focus. They described activities that especially resonated with them and in some cases how they used the activities to gather feedback and insight from key people in their churches. They also spoke highly about the value of the coaching huddles that meet electronically between the on-site sessions in Lincoln.

The next Midwest PLI Leadership Essentials launches in Detroit in fall 2024. It’s not in your backyard but it’s closer than the bilingual one that just started in Southern California and the one that started in Singapore.

Cheryl: I’m hoping I can help at least as many or more pastors and spouses for Detroit as I did Lincoln. I want to help as many in our area as I can be the best leaders focused on the mission of God leading their churches as I can. They’re facing enormous challenges and so many of our congregations are struggling and need great leadership.

A personal word…

Gail and I led PLI for 10 years together. She’s since founded Multipli that’s equipping the people of God to live boldly into what they’ve always sensed God was calling them to do in their everyday lives but didn’t know what or how to do it. (Find out more and sign up for an upcoming Genesis Leader information session.) During these years, not only have we trained thousands of pastors and spouses across the country and around the globe (for 25 years this year!) but I’ve also met so many “Cheryls” who generously made the training of pastors and spouses a reality. If you’re one of those folks, we thank you. Once in a while when I teach in PLI I’ll simply say, “There’s a whole bunch of people that love you, believe in you and give so that you can become better, healthier leaders for the sake of the Gospel.” And, I know a lot of times those words fall on painful journeys, sacrifices no one knows about and usually quite a few “I wish I would have known then what I’m learning now.”

So, would you do me a favor?

  • Forward this to a pastor or spouse or a church leader and tell them: Detroit Fall 2024!
  • Share a little love or a “thank you” toward a pastor or a spouse that you know.
  • Sign up for one of Multipli’s information meetings. Invite some friends and stop expecting your pastor to do a better job of recreating yesterday as the path to tomorrow.