Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pastorates Manuscript #12

(A word of explanation:  Much of my work at Central over the last several years has focused on "pastorates," which are mid-sized groups of 25-35 people of all ages meeting together in homes for worship, hearing God's word, sharing communion, and vibrant fellowship.  Pastorates have become a core practice for us at Central Lutheran Church, imitating the model developed at Holy Trinity Brompton in London.  This series of posts is taken from the rough draft of a manuscript on pastorates I'm writing.  My goal is to encourage and enable other churches to consider whether pastorates might be a good fit for them.  This is #12 in a series.  Eventually these posts will all be shared on this page when the manuscript is finished.)

Size, Schedule, and Newcomers

I often refer to pastorates as “mid-sized” groups to distinguish them from the “small” groups people are so familiar with.  However, a pastorate is not primarily defined by its size.  A group of 30 people meeting in a home may not be a pastorate if they function more or less like a small group.  A group of a dozen people might be a strong pastorate if they function like one.

Small groups usually function like a single-celled organism.  The emphasis in a small group is on being together -- together in the same conversation, together in a discussion about a Bible passage, together around a table enjoying a meal.  

One main principle of pastorates is that there is never just one conversation going on.  Tim Matthews, the pastor who has overseen the pastorates ministry at Holy Trinity Brompton for the last five years, says that when he sees his pastorate starting to all share in the same conversation, he’ll intentionally turn to someone next to him and start a new topic.  That way there are at least two conversations going on.

What’s the big deal?  Why worry about having more than one conversation at a time?  Simply this: If we function as a single cell, it limits how many people can function in leadership, how many people can comfortably join the group, and how many people’s needs can be met through the group’s time together.  Pastorates always function with more than one cell, more than one conversation.  

In every facet of a pastorate’s gathering, you’ll see this principle at work, with one possible exception.  The possible exception is that during worship and word time, the pastorate is usually all focused together, just as a larger congregation gathers as one unit to praise and to hear God’s word.  So in this way, a pastorate functions a little like the larger church gathering, the “celebration.”  In every other time, however, the pastorate functions with multiple cells:  During the meet-and-greet time, there will be a half dozen tiny knots of people enjoying independent conversations.  After hearing the word, the pastorate may separate into buzz groups for conversation and prayer.  Even going out into the neighborhood or into the world in mission, the pastorate usually has several smaller knots of people working together as multiple cells.  

It is often tempting to have one large group discussion in a pastorate.  However, this is a way of growing the pastorate down into a small group and should be avoided.  

Scheduling is another way pastorates function differently than small groups.  As noted above, pastorates meet twice each month for a three-month term, then take a month off (April, August, and December).  Because pastorates are significantly different from small groups, it’s wise to encourage people to form their own cell groups to complement the life of the pastorate.  At Central we call these cell groups D4D groups (Designed For Discipleship).  They are groups of two to five men or women -- groups are gender specific.  They are not expected to multiply, but rather to grow deep together into God’s word and into one another’s lives over time.  Most often they meet twice each month, ideally on the “off” week when the pastorate is not meeting.  D4D’s function most often as closed groups, not inviting newcomers in.  As people observe D4D’s and want their own, they’re encouraged and supported to form new groups.

So pastorates, by virtue of the fact that they’re always multi-celled, are inherently able to welcome newcomers.  D4D groups are not expected to do that.  Those who crave the stability, depth, and intimacy of the small group are able to experience it, and yet the pastorate provides an engine for evangelism, for mission, and for leadership development.  Pastorate leaders always try to cater to the newcomer so that the discussion avoids intensity that might be off-putting to a newcomer.  That kind of conversation is more appropriate to the cell group.

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