By Terry Timm
This spring I began serving as one of the Pittsburgh regional coordinators for Made to Flourish. While my co-conspirator, Jay Slocum and I have been involved in a variety of start-up activities, one of my deep joys is bringing together local church pastors around the table to share the Made to Flourish vision. Over the past month, we have had opportunity to gather groups of 15-20 church leaders for a meal and conversation and each time we meet, I walk away with a renewed sense of awe in the good work that God is doing here in our city.
The diversity has been rich – male and female; young and not so young; black, white, and Latino. Bright eyed church planters like Rob, who is in the early stages of an urban church plant, and seasoned veterans like Loren, who is still going strong 44 years into his pastoral ministry. Almost miraculously, EPC, PCA, and PCUSA pastors are breaking bread together. Anglicans and Episcopals are finding common ground. And yes, there has even been room at the table for Baptists, Pentecostals and non-denominational people like me. The Spirit of God is up to something and we are seeing a pastors network for the common good take shape right before our eyes.
What has impressed me most is the heart of these pastors – no pretense, no personal agendas – simply men and women committed to the common good with a deep desire to see our city and region thrive and flourish. And while we are still in the formative season of our Made to Flourish Network here in Pittsburgh, our gatherings have made one thing abundantly clear: we need one another.
As I reflect on our meeting, here are three significant things that these gatherings have been bringing into pastors lives: connection, reflection and collaboration.
Connection: Serving a local church is a demanding task, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The very nature of pastoral work can be isolating. Pastors can become so focused on the urgent demands upon them, that they can lose sight of the larger kingdom. One of the things we have been doing in our gatherings to address this reality, is creating space to share our stories. Without fail, energy is released in the room as people share what God is doing in their specific contexts of ministry. As people hear both the joys and struggles of pastoral work, the realization emerges that we have much more in common that what separates. This is producing a bond and unity that is creating a renewed sense of anticipation at what God might do in our city.Reflection: Pastors are wired up to think deeply and critically. It is an integral part of our seminary training and we take our responsibility to help our congregations think and act biblically and theologically very seriously. While we have opportunity to do this with our staffs and members of our congregation, something different happens when we roll up our sleeves with colleagues and reflect biblically and theologically. In a recent gathering, we took time to read through a section of the Economic Wisdom Project and the dialogue was rich as people shared from their particular theologically tradition around issues like stewardship, value creation, productivity and responsible action.
Collaboration: While pastoral work can be isolating, let’s be honest, it can also be competitive. While outwardly we may feign joy over a peer’s success, in our head and hearts too often we work from a sum zero mentality; your win becomes my loss. But something is happening when MTF pastors meet – I have watched pastors share with one another ideas, resources, words of encouragement and yes, even prayers. Our gatherings have reminded us that we are better together and that flourishing will come to our region as we stand shoulder to shoulder with one another.
This summer, the reality of Psalm 133 has been playing out right before my eyes, time and time again:
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133)
This post was originally published at Made to Flourish. Image: MTF.