I have had the privilege of being involved in a number of pastors fraternal meetings. The following four elements are a summary of what I’ve found to work best.
The Preparation of the Pastors Fraternal
Every good fraternal meeting needs a great co-ordinator. This person is the admin-heavy guy who simply puts the email list together and requests and allocates the necessary elements below. He needs to consider the following:
- Who – this should be as broad as possible welcoming all pastors even elders in the area. There should be no theological or color filtering here. This is an area fraternal not a theological fraternal or a racial fraternal. There is no doubt that not everyone invited will come (and the reasons are many) but the door must be known to be open and all pastors genuinely felt welcome.
- Where – the co-ordinator must request for people to host the fraternal. The hosting of the fraternal by others has a number of intrinsic benefits; the weight of the fraternal is shared becoming our fraternal as opposed to the one I attend, the pastor at whose church/home the fraternal meets prepares the devotion and leads the discussion (see The Process below), the task of hosting the fraternal is not too much for one person. The co-ordinator needs to share time and place (with street address / GPS co-ordinates is included in the email) and giving the RSVP name and email address ahead of time.
- Why – the ministry is tough. This provides a space for belonging, growing, sharing and praying.
- When – Time of meeting and address must be circulated to all and reminders given inviting the pastors to RSVP back to the person hosting the meeting not to the co-ordinator primarily, although he (and maybe even everyone on the list) can and should be copied. I have found that two hours together once a month is adequate and not too onerous.
- What – What to do when you meet will become the norm, but initially the co-ordinator should point in the direction the meetings should go. This includes selecting a good common interest book for reading. Over the years, a number of good theological or books relating to the church, the calling or the process of shepherding can be read and processed together. Once a book is chosen, the chapter is indicated such that the guys read the chapter before they get together at the fraternal and come prepared to discuss or question that which was read (see “The Process” below).
Once the preparation is done, you’re well on your way to a good meeting. At this point, the co-ordinator’s role is done and he simply becomes one of the guys at the meeting itself.
The Place of the Pastors Fraternal
Whether the place is a church or a home, one of the pastor’s (usually the hosting pastor) takes the lead for all the following aspects:
- Host – He needs to give thought to that preparing the venue and the food and drinks. This usually takes planning and discussion with spouse, church leaders or members. He should not try to take care of this by himself as he needs to focus primarily on the next point. The venue should be comfortable, and conducive to eating, discussing and praying. Special thought must be given to seating.
- Lead – By the timethe pastors arrive, he should have read the chapter, and readied himself to lead the time together. This will involve leading the pastors through “The Process” below.
The People of the Pastors Fraternal
Pastors are people too. They have challenges. They have imperfections and short-comings. I have generally found that pastors sit somewhere on a scale between the poles of “Theology First” and “People First.” A good pastor is always both (and strives to be both) but the poles and the personalitie
s exist. Regardless of where people are, there must be willingness to “love the brothers” with considerable adequate proofs.
This may be a learning curve for some, but it is crucial, in order to build a meaningful and lasting “connection” and belonging beyond the local church. The basis and thinking must be, “These are brothers alongside of me fighting the same war, but in a different trench.” Thus, there must be not be “friendly fire” and if there is, it must be attempted only on the basis of a good relationship (which always involves a history), a same-pagedness awareness and a genuine love and concern for the person and the flock that they shepherd. A fraternal must be a shelter from the storm not another storm. And this takes time to cultivate. So each should commit for the long haul and reap the rewards as a result. If they do plug out, it should be deeply considered first and a conscience issue second. Thus,
theological same-paged-ness and genuine love for one
another takes time to grow. Give it time
The Process of the Pastors Fraternal
What do we do when we meet together? I believe there must be at least these four elements:
- Time for connecting – This takes the form of an informal, unstructured introductions and catching up. A good
pastor knows that names are important, he should learn the names of each person and eventually those of his family and some of the details of his life. This time must be planned initially and kept until everyone knows and becomes used to the fact that this is the format and it is necessary and good.
- Time for eating – we think we eat together because we are Baptists but the reality is that we eat together because we’re family – we have the same Father. Jesus ate with his disciples and the value of this is readily recognised today. A group of pastors who love one another will overlook the differing levels of food quality and quantity. This is not a competition.
- Time for leading and discussing – adequate time must be planned for working through the discussion of the chapter of the book and considering the implications in our own South African context. I have found that if the leader talks too much or too little, the time spent together is less profitable than when many engage -its a personal observation. Thus, if the guys have not read the chapter when they come, they will be on the back foot in terms of engaging initially.
- Time for praying – to meet together and not to recognise Jesus presence is foolish and short-sighted. The end of every discussion of personal character, of an aspect of theology or of the church must be “Help us, Father!”
“The Process” is the big deal. It requires all the other elements (preparation, place and people) too, in order for “The Process” to happen and thus, should not be overlooked. But “The Process” is the Thing – It is the purpose of a fraternal. It is the process of experiencing God in community and growing beyond the local church and it is hard to achieve. But it is well worth striving for. I praise God for the many good fraternal that God has placed me in. May there be many, many more!