The Value of a Fraternal

Article
06.11.2014

Off the back of the conversations about accountability, one of the issues that I think many pastors face is that they just don’t know others well enough to have such accountibility. If you have a mature group of elders within your congregation you may find one such brother with whom you can share openly. I am delighted that Dean, our youth pastor is a model of such openness within our eldership and makes it easy to be open back.

For others, your church situation may be such that there is a need for other mature Christians outside of the congregation to be the people you turn to. And that is going to be hard if you haven’t maintained good ongoing relationships with people outside the congregation. If you have a sin that wants to hide anyway, picking up the phone to a guy you were at Seminary with 15 years ago but haven’t spoken much since, is not going to be likely.

For about seven years I’ve had the privilege of being part of a ministry fraternal. This is not some weird college society with strange initiation rites, but a group of eight pastors: Graham, Ed, Daff, Orlando, Will, Neil, John and me. We have been meeting up for 24 hours three times per year for the last 7 years.

When we started we didn’t all know each other. In fact only Graham knew everyone. He brought the group together. But we have grown in our friendship over some years now.

This is what we do when we get together.

11am Arrive at Leamington Spa to the home Margot, Ed’s amazing Mother-in-law, who bakes for England. We’re just in time for Elevenses. Drink coffee and eat the excellent FlorentinesFlapjacks (of the English variety), and shortbread she prepares. Over coffee each of us shares for prayer, and we pray for each brother in turn. This takes about 2 hours until…

1pm Eat the wonderful lunch Margot’s prepared and talk further over lunch, usually rounded off by apple crumble.

2pm Go for a walk in the English countryside. This gives time for follow-up conversations on what we’ve shared in the share and pray. This is also a great time to talk one on one conversations about joys and struggles.

4:30. Return to Margot’s for tea, FlorentinesFlapjacks (of the English variety), and shortbread and victoria sponge.

5pm Have a first of two sessions discussing a book that we’ve all read. We try to vary the book from more pastoral/practical to more theological. Some we’ll agree with. Others we won’t at all, but there may be people in our constituencies who are being influenced by the book.

Books we’ve read recently include: The Christian’s Great Interest, William Guthrie. Reformed is not enough, Douglas Wilson. The Future of Justificaiton, John Piper.

7pm. Phone home to say goodnight to wives and children, and thank them for sparing us for 24 hours.

7:30pm Start walking into the centre of Leamington Spa where we will argue about where we’ll eat for supper. Orlando will plead “Please, anywhere but Chemical Ali’s!” We look at menus outside other restaurants as our path leads inevitably to Bath Street.

8pm Sit down for supper at Chemical Ali’s (the name we’ve given the curry restaurant where the colour of the food is far from natural, but it’s cheap, tasty, and nobody has yet been ill.)

10pm Head to Margot’s for horlicks or tea and cake.

8am Porridge and tea for Breakfast, over which we’ll discuss what book we’ll read next time, and who will lead the discussion.

9am Second discussion on the book we’ve already read.

11am. Elevenses again: Coffee, more FlorentinesFlapjacks (of the English variety), and shortbread before heading home.

This group has been one of the biggest encouragements to my ministry. If you’re not part of such a group, start one. I’d suggest having at least 4 in the group and at most 8. 8 has worked pretty well for us, because we can not always all make it (at the moment one of the group is living overseas, and can come back only occasionally. I was overseas for 3 years.) Any bigger than 8 and I think it would be hard for the friendships to develop well.

By:
Mike Gilbart-Smith

Mike Gilbart-Smith is the pastor of Twynholm Baptist Church in Fulham, England. You can find him on Twitter at @MGilbartSmith.