Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Blueprint for a Pastors' Gospel Group

Ray Ortlund and I, along with Element's administrative director David McLemore, dreamed up an idea last year to create a pastors' group that was not about networking or trading tips or what-have-you, but specifically for a few gospel-driven ministers we know to have the opportunity to "gospel" each other. It's accountability, brotherhood, Life Together. That kind of thing. I call it a "pastors gospel group." Here's the blueprint we adopted. Feel free to steal it, adapt it, and start your own group.
A Blueprint for The Gospel Group for Pastors

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Gal. 6:2

Pastoral Brokenness

According to statistics gleaned from sources like Pastor to Pastor, Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ and the Global Pastors Network, it can be extremely lonely and painful serving as the pastor of a local church:

1. Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.

2. Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.

3. Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

4. Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. Ninety percent of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a fair to poor job preparing them for ministry.

5. Ninety percent said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they entered the ministry.

6. Seventy percent felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only fifty percent still felt called.

7. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

Anecdotally, we all know pastors for whom the weight of the office and its responsibilities can be crushing and are taking a toll on their health, their families, and even their relationship with God.

As pastors, we know how rewarding serving the cause of Christ in the feeding of the sheep can be. We also know how ironically lonely it can be, even when our communities are relatively healthy, our spouses are supportive, our friends are loving, and our staffs/teams are motivated. Being the leader can make one feel quite “alone up front.”

This is why we need a “gospel group” for pastors.

Pastoral Brotherhood

It is not good for a pastor to be alone. We don’t often share our unique battles with our spouses for fear of burdening them, and we don’t often share these struggles with those in our communities for fear of disappointing or discouraging them. Often only other pastors can understand the unique demands and burdens on our hearts. But, for a variety of reasons, pastors rarely share these burdens or offer to carry them for their fellow workmen in the fields. Cooperation is needed.

The gospel group for pastors means to reach across communities, to extend hands of friendship and mutual trust and respect, and to work at battling the loneliness or the seeds of loneliness often inherent in modern pastoral work, but also to provide a small network of mutual burden-sharing and burden-bearing for the cause of encouragement, edification, restoration, and relational intimacy. The personal result will be great, but the benefits to our congregations and subsequently to our respective Nashville mission fields will be just as great.

The gospel group will be for authenticity, vulnerability, confession, encouragement, support, and cooperation. You will know and be known in a place designed around the goodness of the gospel of grace. All of this will largely be managed by strong doses of prayer with and for each other. We will "gospel" each other.

How the Gospel Group for Pastors Works

1. Organizers extend invitation to 1-3 other pastors each, initially to an informal, no-obligations lunch where we can all meet and get to know each other.

2. The concept/plan for the group is shared with the invitees at the lunch.

3. Those who are willing to participate commit to a once-a-month meeting at a mutually agreed-upon private location for a “test drive” period of 4-6 months. Reevaluation of participation will occur at that time to see if longer commitment is desired.

4. Actual meetings are somewhat unstructured but involve the means for authenticity, vulnerability, sharing stories and struggles (and victories!), praying for each other, reading Scripture together, confessing sins, encouraging each other, offering advice to each other, and otherwise serving each other. The group is designed for mutual support and accountability. It is not a networking group or a “just shoot the breeze” coffee. Its aim is to provide a space to expect the gospel from each other and share the gospel with each other, for the display of Christ's glory in our lives and ministries.

5. Two primary ground rules for the group to work with integrity: a) be honest, and b) nothing personal/confessional leaves the room. This means nothing shared in the group may be shared even with wives. This is to protect the space, its purposed vulnerability, and the hearts of the pastors involved.

1 comment:

Jake Meador said...

Jared - longtime reader, first time commenter... love the blog :).

I really enjoyed this post and it was interesting you brought it up today. I'm in a class on the life and thought of John Calvin at my university right now and just today we talked about the company of pastors in Geneva. Essentially, all the city's pastors met once a week to discuss how the church's ministry was going and talk about how they were doing individually. Honestly, it sounds very similar to what you're doing.

It sounds like a great model too, I don't know why more churches don't try it.

Thanks for writing!