Coming Together: The Pastoral Fellowship for Practical Theology
Discouragement seems to be an epidemic among pastors today. This stems from many factors, one of the most common of which is loneliness. Pastors are notorious for isolating themselves in their churches and ministries. As a result, they are continually tempted to think they are the only ones who face the pressures and demands of the ministry.
The antidote to much of this discouragement can be found in deliberate and purposeful fellowship with other pastors. Not just any pastors, but likeminded pastors. Fostering this kind of fellowship was our aim when a pastor friend and I started a pastoral fellowship about two years ago, which we now call the Pastoral Fellowship for Practical Theology. In this article I will explain how we started this fellowship, who we intend to bring together, what we hope to accomplish, what our meetings consist of, and what fruit we’ve seen so far.
HOW WE STARTED A PASTORAL FELLOWSHIP
Very early in my ministry I was taught the importance of fellowship with other pastors. So when Jim, one of my dear pastor friends, approached me about getting a pastors’ fellowship started, I was very interested. We knew this would be a good idea for several reasons, but one that leaped to our minds was the fact that Jim and I each had our own network of pastors we knew but the other did not. So Jim and I agreed for us each to include one more pastor we knew well and trusted, and who we thought might be interested in meeting together to discuss the possibilities.
With the other two men we agreed to include, we began to meet once a month to get to know each other, fellowship together, pray for one another, and discuss whether a pastor’s fellowship was a wise and likely fruitful venture. Not only did we agree it would be a fruitful opportunity to meet and encourage other pastors, but we realized the four of us each strategically pastored in the four corners of the city, and each of us knew likeminded pastors the others did not. Thus began the leadership team that would launch the Pastoral Fellowship for Practical Theology.
WHO WE INTEND TO BRING TOGETHER
As we began to discuss who to invite, we realized we had to form a template that would allow us to rally pastors who are likeminded in what we consider essential areas of agreement without being too ridged, thus alienating pastors in need unnecessarily. We came to agree on these four main tenants to determine those who would be invited:
- A commitment to the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.
- A commitment to expositional preaching as the steady diet of a congregation.
- A commitment to the centrality of the local church.
- A commitment to the call of the pastor to shepherd the souls of his people as one who will give an account.
Although members of our group hold various positions regarding polity, baptism, and reformed theology, we decided that disagreements over these issues could coexist with enough likemindedness to make the fellowship meaningful. We also limited the invitation list to full-time and bi-vocational pastors, lay elders, and associate pastors, because we knew that the inclusion of pastoral interns and pastors-in-training might limit transparency. This is a parameter we still follow. We now have over 50 pastors involved in this fellowship with approximately 30-35 who attend each meeting.
WHAT WE HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH
Our main purpose is wrapped up in our name: the Pastoral Fellowship for Practical Theology. Our goal is to gather a group of likeminded pastors together for the sake of fellowship and encouragement by means of teaching and discussing matters of pastoral theology.
In other words, we want to wrestle together through the messy trench work that marks every faithful pastor’s ministry and the theological commitments which ground that work. Pastors need to know they are not alone as they try to care for difficult people, counsel deeply hurt people, struggle through preaching every week, resolve conflicts with leaders, battle personal sins, and attempt to love a wife and shepherd children through these pressures. And all pastors can afford to dig deeper theological foundations about issues that directly inform the work of pastoral ministry.
Over the past two years, I and the three other pastors who started this fellowship have been deeply encouraged by how this purpose, by God’s grace, has borne much fruit. More on that below.
WHAT OUR MEETINGS CONSIST OF
What do we do in our times together? Here’s what a typical meeting looks like.
We meet once every two months, taking summers off. Each meeting lasts from 12 pm to 2 pm. We provide lunch and hand out at least one free book. After we eat, we head to another room for a time of teaching, discussion, and prayer.
The four of us usually share the load as one will teach, one will lead the discussion, and then one will lead a prayer time that focuses on the topic discussed. When providence has allowed, we have also brought in special guest speakers who happened to be in town that week to address the pastors.
Jim and his church have graciously assumed the role of host and provider of the lunch. I typically have handled the book giveaway by contacting generous organizations (like 9Marks!) and publishers who desire to serve pastors by providing free books. There have been times the other three pastors’ churches have contributed a bit to offset any cost this time brings, but overall, there is minimal cost in comparison to the benefit we all receive from this time.
These times together have borne some unexpected fruits. I will mention two.
First, although the four pastors who started this fellowship hoped for increased affections for the others through this time, we would all confess how surprisingly deep our love for the others has grown. On the off months when our fellowship does not meet, the four of us have breakfast together to minister to each other. Without exception, the Lord meets us by his Spirit in very sweet and unexpected ways each time the four of us meet.
The second surprise is how far some pastors travel for our meeting and how many have connected with other pastors they had no idea were near them. As a result, they have begun meeting regularly. The way this time has multiplied other spin-off groups has been a huge encouragement to us and an unexpected joy.
PASTORS NEED EACH OTHER
Through our group, all of us have been reminded of something very important: pastors are discouraged and they need each other. We may pastor individual churches, but we are all called to the same under-shepherding task and we will answer to the same Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). The more we can lock arms and spur one another on to be steadfast until the Chief Shepherd appears, the better off every pastor will be on that day.