Thinking and looking ahead to ministry I’m challenged by the high burnout and dropout rates of clergy of all denominations whether through moral failure or loss of faith. I’m also challenged by the need to be vulnerable and accountable to others as a necessary part of discipleship – as a sinner saved by grace I know God loves me and accepts me completely as I am, but as a human being with a fallen nature who can’t discern his own faults I need good friends around who can lovingly and patiently challenge me about my behaviour and attitudes in order to help me grow with God’s help into Christlikeness.
At Wycliffe, we’re put into fellowship groups of about 12, and then into cell groups of about 3 or 4 to pray together and support each other through training. These provide a measure of vulnerability and accountability but given that membership is compulsory, and people have different expectations of the purpose of the group, my experience is that these aren’t really places where people are happy being completely open and accountable. Also, each group lasts only for the academic year so it really would be very easy to hide in a Wycliffe cell group if you wanted to.
To sustain us in ministry we then group into leavers cell groups to support each other through the final term at college, with the aim that these groups then meet together fairly regularly once everyone is in parish. The only problem with this is that there is only a term to get to know each other and to invest in each others growth, which presumably means that there is at least a possibility that the relationships are still quite shallow by the end of college.
As a result, several of us formed prayer triplets last year to go deeper with each other and to work at forming deep and lasting and accountable friendships. Despite a constant battle to stay real with each other the group I’m part of works really well and has really been a place of growth and a healing for me personally. I know others who feel the same. We’re planning to keep meeting post college as a leavers group, but with the advantage that we’ve already invested a year plus into getting to know each other on a deep level. Which begs the question of how do we as a prayer group transition from college to ministry? I think we could do worse than learn from the pastor gospel group that Jared Wilson and Ray Ortlund have started in Nashville: The Gospel-Driven Church: A Blueprint for a Pastors’ Gospel Group.
I’ll let you know what we decide and how we get on.