Rescued from Isolation: The Columbia Baptist Minister’s Association
Pastor, I’ve got good news for you: you are not alone! By God’s grace there are other pastors just like you on the other side of town, and profound blessings await if you simply make a habit of meeting together for lunch.
That obvious truth is easy to overlook. I certainly ignored it for too long.
PASTORAL FELLOWSHIP: RELIEF FROM MY SELF-INFLICTED MISERY
When I arrived at my church in Maryland fresh out of seminary, I disregarded my great need for pastoral fellowship. All I needed to do, I thought, was learn about my church, capture the vision, and begin the work of revitalizing this small Baptist church. I convinced myself I didn’t have time to meet with other pastors. I was so eager, and so foolish.
It didn’t take long before my youthful enthusiasm crumbled before the enormity of the task. The more I learned about my church, the larger the problems loomed. In response, I intensified my isolation, focusing even more intently on my church. My great zeal had crippling consequences. I cut myself off from the wisdom and sustaining fellowship of other pastors.
That summer I traveled alone to Louisville, Kentucky for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I arrived frustrated, confused, and thoroughly discouraged. Yet God had mercy on my self-inflicted misery. At that convention, I briefly met Mark Dever while he was passing out books in the lobby. Unknown to me at the time, that little encounter would unlock the nourishing grace of regular pastoral support.
Months before our meeting, Mark had started to envision bringing together Southern Baptist pastors in the Washington, DC area for mutual encouragement. Seeing the scarcity of theologically grounded fellowship, Mark set out to build a network of likeminded pastors. His goal was to fill this crucial void with ministry-enriching fellowship.
So, once Mark discovered I was a new pastor in the DC area, he immediately plugged me into this newly formed network of pastors. Shortly thereafter I found myself, along with a dozen other men, eating Subway sandwiches in Mark’s study. The Columbia Baptist Minister’s Association (CBMA) had officially begun.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE CBMA
Since its beginning in August of 2009, the CBMA has been meeting regularly to provide encouragement and support. The meetings are informal in nature, but edifying in tone. Here are the details.
- We gather in Mark’s study at 11:30and eat Subway sandwiches for lunch.
- We begin each meeting by introducing ourselves and giving updates on our ministries.
- We ask questions, give insights, and share prayer requests.
- We discuss pressing issues within our churches and broader evangelicalism in general.
- Occasionally we read a book and discuss it together.
- Each meeting lasts between 2-3 hours.
- We try to meet monthly.
Since its inception, the CBMA has been a continual source of encouragement for me and for the other pastors involved. We’ve shared ministry struggles and ministry successes. We’ve seen new pastors join—the group has doubled in size. And we’ve forged a little community in the fragmented world of DC ministry.
SIX BENEFITS OF MY TIME IN THE CBMA
Looking back on my time so far within the CBMA, I see many enriching benefits of this fellowship. Let me highlight six:
1. The Fuel of Pastoral Fellowship
Pastoral ministry is isolating and lonely. It is also often difficult and slow. This dangerous combination can easily lead to debilitating discouragement. The CBMA has provided me with a community of likeminded pastors whom I can turn to for support. Fellowshipping with them fuels my strength to persevere.
2. The Wisdom of a Longer Perspective
Few things destabilize a pastor’s ministry like impatience. Through the fellowship of the CBMA, I am routinely reminded of the decades-long perspective pastors must have.
Occasionally after attending a CBMA meeting I have had to press pause on a plan my impatient heart was about to unleash upon my church. By hearing updates from other pastors who are committed to long-term growth, I am repeatedly reminded that our goal is not a fast ministry, but a faithful one.
3. The Joy of a Broader Perspective
The CBMA has enabled me to broaden my perspective beyond my church. By regularly meeting with local pastors, I’ve been able to lead my church to love other local churches. We’ve begun to regularly pray for the ministries of other area churches. Additionally, we’ve been able to financially support two local church plants within this past year. Without this broader perspective I would have been blind to the ways my church can joyfully serve other churches.
4. The Encouragement of Other Pastors’ Struggles
I know it sounds cruel, but it is often encouraging to know that there are other pastors who are laboring slowly in difficult fields. Fellowshipping with them reminds me that my ministry is not an anomaly. Going to the CBMA and routinely hearing other pastors’ struggles has encouraged me to press on during the tough times, just as they are.
5. The Hope of Other Pastors’ Successes
It is often difficult to detect the fruit of your own ministry. So, seeing God’s grace shine through other pastors’ ministries enlarges my hope. Through the CBMA, I can clearly see the fruit of God’s grace in other pastors’ successes. Seeing God’s faithfulness in their ministries helps me to rejoice in his faithfulness to mine, even when that faithfulness appears hidden.
6. The Clarity of Theological Conversations
Listening to the dialogue at the CBMA meetings has helped teach me how to think rightly about pastoral ministry. I have never been involved in a healthy church, so leading a church to health has been a journey filled with uncertainty and missteps. Yet spending time in the CBMA has been a grace-saturated journey of refinement and clarification. I am a different pastor—a better pastor—because of the fellowship of the CBMA.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
So brothers, rejoice because you are not alone. There are other pastors in your area who are just like you. Having enjoyed the benefits of regular pastoral fellowship, I encourage you to do the same. You will be a better pastor because of it.