The letter made my day! A colleague whose ministry I've observed for over fifteen years recently submit ted the names of 100 fellow pastors to receive a complimentary subscription to Ministry.
He wrote, "I have been in this community for ten years and have developed a good relationship with nearly all these pastors. I believe that Ministry magazine and the professional growth seminars is a marvelous way to continue building bridges!"
Over twenty years ago, when Bob Spangler and Roland Hegstad visioned the idea of Ministry going to clergy of all denominations, even their bold dreams did not encompass the eventual, simultaneous satellite down linking of high-quality continuing education to 7,000 attendees in 530 different locations (March 1998).
Rather, they saw the benefit of fellow pastors coming together in fellowship to learn from each other, to pray together, and to seek beneficial answers to the mutual challenges we all share.
Recently, I asked Roland Hegstad, our two Ministry editors Will Eva and Julia Norcott, and Nikolaus Satelmajer, coordinator for professional growth, "Why should a pastor become involved in his or her local ministerial association?"
A variety of responses came back that I will share with you, especially as we look forward to the next satellite event, April 20,1999.
Why join your ministerial association?
• To enjoy fellowship with others who seek fellowship with God
• To learn their, and share my, concepts of God and ministry
• To seek their prayers for me and to share my prayers for them
• To keep up-to-date on the concerns of colleagues in ministry regarding community moral issues and to compare and critique attitudes and actions regarding legislation, whether local, state, or national
• To achieve a "fellowship of hearts" in which Scriptural truths held in common may be mutually enjoyed; personal needs shared in confidence, and friendships nurtured
• To gain greater appreciation for my own denomination as other pastors share the challenges they face and the way of doing things in their organizations
• To learn that our traditional approach is not the only way to solve all pastoral challenges and that, regardless of denomination, we each share mutual burdens
• To compare systems such as conference management of pastoral placement and remuneration versus the sometimes awkward necessity for a pastor to negotiate salaries and benefits directly with the congregation
• To learn together that none of us has all the answers and most of us even lack all the questions
But our beliefs differ
Writing about practical ways to avoid burnout (November 1998), Nazarene pastor, J. Grant Swank, Jr., said, "Fellowship with clergy of other denominations. These persons cannot harm you ecclesiastically, because they are not of your official circle. There is no political string they can pull to undo you."
Nik Satelmajer said, "The first local ministerial alliance to which I belonged was one of the most diverse groups in which I have ever participated. We represented a very broad spectrum of theology and church organization. Yet that group was one of the most profitable, with a strong sense of fellowship. We respected each other and each other's faiths even though we often vigorously discussed our differences."
Roland Hegstad elaborates on his "fellowship of hearts" concept in which beliefs distinctive to Adventists or another faith may be prayerfully explored. He says, "Professional preparation, ministerial experience, and sensitivity in cultivating human relationships will determine the degree to which one is learner or teacher."
In noting the benefit of a confidant, Swank encourages, "Be realistic about your vocation. Do not try to put a happy face on everything or everyone. Express your feelings to a trusted friend, but be careful. Know for certain that the individual can be trusted. It is often best to find such a confidant outside the system." What better place to enjoy such fellowship than with another pastor.
The time factor
Pastors are busy. Most pastors are too busy. Doesn't participation in a local ministerial association waste too much valuable time?
Most ministerial associations meet once a month, usually over lunch. The time together, beyond the actual mealtime, is usually an hour or less. On those occasions when I found it difficult to attend, it was usually because I did not plan my schedule.
But there are long-range benefits beyond the immediate fellowship with other pastors. For example, when a special event comes along or a community issue arises, as pastors we have already established common bonds of unity in purpose to seek and follow God's will. At such times, we can appropriately unite together in continuing-education opportunities, prophetic warning regarding moral issues such as alcohol ism, pornography, or abuse and violence, or jointly share our mutual faith in a community Thanksgiving service.
How to get started
To borrow the Nike motto, "just do it!" If you are moving to a new community, determine whether your predecessor has been a member of the local ministerial association. If so, ask to be introduced to the members. See that your fellow pastors receive a complimentary subscription to Ministry. It is likely that ministers who are already receiving it are already your friends.
Your fellow pastors will have opportunity to know you and your congregation firsthand rather than from third parties, and you will learn much more than you will teach as you come together in mutual fellowship.
A few years ago, David Newman, Rex Edwards, and I hosted the pastors of our surrounding community to a luncheon at the General Conference. We wondered if it might seem artificial since our colleagues were all pastors or chaplains and we were all three bureaucrats at church headquarters. Such concerns quickly evaporated. Following a good meal, we enjoyed comparing challenges and identifying common opportunities for ministering to our community and unique situations about which we shared and received good counsel.
Of course, you will enjoy inviting your colleagues to a special event such as the satellite professional-growth seminar, but much beyond that, you will enjoy spiritual and professional growth to enhance your own ministry.