Monday, September 9, 2013

Pastorates manuscript #7

I am utterly convinced that the Spirit of God is moving across the globe, creating a revolution in the church that is rooted in biblical community.  In many parts of the world these biblical communities are simply house churches.  In North America where we live with an image of “church” as a specially dedicated religious building, it might be more helpful to refer to these groups as “mid-sized communities” in order to distinguish them from the more familiar “small groups.”  

Small groups -- groups of 8-15 people -- have been popular in the church since the days of Serendipity in the 1970’s and before.  Without a doubt small groups have been a great vehicle to create deep relationships and in-depth biblical study in certain situations.  But pastorates, mid-sized communities, are quite different from small groups.  Traditional small groups have some significant weaknesses that have become all too familiar within church leadership circles.  Mid-sized groups like pastorates, properly led, are strong where small groups are weak.  One of the greatest temptations for churches considering pastorates is to build small groups -- possibly slightly larger than average small groups -- and call them pastorates.  Trouble is, there are certain dynamics to mid-sized groups that simply don’t happen in small groups.  So let’s take some time to distinguish between small groups and pastorates.  

There’s always a temptation to settle for smaller groups.  Small groups are more comfortable -- everyone can have a chair around the living room.  (Note:  The most common objection from people who first learn about pastorates is, “How do you find houses big enough for 30-40 people?”  I immediately tell people to stop counting the chairs in their living room and accept that it might be a good thing to have people sitting on the floor, the stairwell, the windowsills.  Almost any average sized house in North America is large enough to host a pastorate.  This minor bit of crowding helps people get beyond their personal space issues and creates a collective energy for worship and for the Spirit’s movement.)  Small groups allow everyone to participate in one big conversation.  Small groups allow us to really get to know each other intimately.  Trouble is, as we pointed out above, for exactly these reasons small groups don’t grow, and they don’t function to make new disciples.  We get used to each other and comfortable in “our little group.”  It’s awkward for newcomers because they don’t feel like they’re part of the group, and they will probably not return.  A small group may settle for just “Bible study.”  Bible study is good and valuable, but many groups have studied the Bible for decades without ever growing significantly in numbers, in faith, or in mission.  It’s easy for a small group never to serve beyond themselves.  

One young pastor in his first parish was quite excited to find that a small group had been studying their way through the entire Bible every year for six years.  They met together each week and dug into the Word under the leadership of one gifted teacher within their group.  When the new pastor encouraged the six members of this small group to begin to teach others, they were horrified.  “Oh, no!  We could never teach anyone else.  We don’t know enough yet!”  Their small group was comfortable and even though they had studied the entire Bible for six years, they did not want to reach out beyond themselves.  Perhaps less obvious but equally important, the small group allows people to maintain a distance from the need to develop and exercise their own gifts.  

So what can a pastorate do that a small group can’t?  Fact is, pastorates are better at many things than small groups.  As we’ll see later, pairing pastorates with a smaller-than-usual form of small groups makes a complementary structure that is hard to beat.

Pastorates are better at evangelism.
Small groups don’t do evangelism well.  Once a group is established, it’s hard for anyone else to join.  If you are bold enough to visit an established small group, you will bump up against inside jokes and conversations that leave you on the outside.  Group members already know a lot about each other and your presence as a newcomer makes conversations awkward.  This is why many small groups choose to be “closed” groups that don’t take in new members.  Pastorates are never closed.  If you visit a pastorate, you will find half a dozen small knots of conversation and you can be welcomed into any of them.  Relationships are more open, and people come and go from the group fairly regularly.  As a newcomer to a pastorate you’ve also got a better chance of finding someone you can connect with.  Because pastorates tend not to get as in-depth in Bible study and discussion as small groups do, newcomers are less likely to feel stupid, like everyone else knows the Bible through and through.  Since a pastorate is larger -- 2-3 times as large as  a small group -- there’s less pressure to know everyone’s name early on.  It’s much easier to be a newcomer.

Also pastorates tend to do more activities than small groups.  Small groups tend to focus on just one activity -- usually Bible study in church groups -- and that’s it.  Pastorates, however, have a social gathering three or four times each year.  Pastorates seek out mission activities like volunteering at a food shelf or landscaping a school’s flower bed or holding a garage sale to raise money to support a mission project.  These additional activities appeal to many people who would never come to a group that was just doing Bible study.

Pastorates are better at leadership development.
One person can lead a small group, but pastorates are far too diverse and too large for one person to lead.  At a minimum it takes a team to lead a pastorate, and if the leaders are wise, they’re constantly delegating tasks out to potential leaders within the pastorate.  Again, this kind of natural leadership development is structured into the pastorate model.  Over time, people’s spiritual gifts and natural strengths rise to the top within the pastorate.  Quite often, new leaders emerge who serve within the pastorate.  These individuals may find that their gifts grow as they are used, and they may find new opportunities to use their gifts in a larger context.  If their gifts allow, they can also feed back into the larger church, so the pastorate network becomes a leadership development engine for the whole church.  Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton in London says that when, for a short time in the 1990’s, they gave up pastorates in favor of small groups, their leadership development dried up as well.  When they went back to a pastorate structure after a few years, they began to see new leaders emerging once again.

This leadership development happens because the pastorate is too big for one person to lead.  Pastorate leaders have to intentionally recruit others as often as possible.  Over time the various activities and relationships within the pastorate become a potent place for new gifts to be identified, called out, and developed.

Another key to leadership development within pastorates is that the pastorate provides a perfect place to try new things and fail.  Most of us learn and grow far more from failure than we do from success.  A pastorate becomes a supportive community where failure is met with encouragement and the opportunity to try again.  Too many potential leaders don’t weather their first failure well, and they never dare to attempt anything of the sort in the future.  With the encouragement of a pastorate, fledgling leaders may see that what they perceived as failure was, in reality, simply the first shaky steps toward success.

Pastorates are better at multiplication.
Once a small group is established, it’s almost impossible to get it to multiply.   From the very start, pastorates talk about multiplication.  They actively seek to grow “too big” so that their pastorate can give birth to another.  Because the relationships within the pastorate are less intense, less intimate as a rule than those in a small group, multiplication becomes a real possibility.  Because leaders are growing and developing constantly within the pastorate, it’s natural to consider whether they’re ready to step out and lead a new pastorate on their own.  This multiplication creates a sense of expectancy and excitement.  The entire pastorate model drives toward this growth and multiplication.  A large part of this growth happens because of the new leaders that are being developed.  As individual leaders begin to realize their gifts, they are more confident to move into forming a new pastorate with the support of the larger congregation and the love and encouragement of their original pastorate.

Pastorates are better at mission.
Because small groups tend to focus on just one thing, it’s often hard to add in a missional aspect to the small group.  Pastorates, however, are diverse and there is often a person in a pastorate who functions as a “mission champion” keeping the pastorate focused outward toward some missional activity.  Some pastorates collectively sponsor an orphan through World Vision.  Others financially contribute to support a missionary.  Others adopt a local program to aid homeless people.  Others volunteer to host a worship service in the larger congregation, serving as ushers and greeters.  Others send some of their members to volunteer in the church’s Alpha course.  

Pastorates are better at getting beyond themselves.  Anyone who has tried to coordinate activities for a group knows how tough it can be to coordinate schedules.  Pastorates include enough people that even if not all the people can show up, enough will come to make the mission work worthwhile.  Recently one of our pastorates booked a day with a local organization, “Feed My Starving Children,” that packs non-perishable meals to be sent all over the world.  This pastorate committed to 96 slots, then invited a couple other pastorates to join in.  Not only did they step up and do this amazing activity together, but this evening of volunteering together drew in quite a few newcomers who experienced the joy and excitement and camaraderie of these pastorates.  Cooperative mission resulted in evangelism!

There is certainly a place for small groups within the church.  At Central we have emphasized both pastorates (groups of 25-35) and our own brand of small groups that we call D4D groups (groups of 3-5).  We find that these two kinds of groups, along with regular large-group celebrations, create a healthy sense of Jesus-centered community.  Pastorates focus on word and sacrament, multiplication, mission, and caring for one another.  The D4D groups focus on building in-depth relationships, digging deep in to Scripture, and creating community that includes a lot of accountability.  These two are complementary.   What effectively happens is that the church begins to function at three distinct but interrelated levels:  the “celebration” or large-group gathering of a few hundred for weekly worship; the “congregation” or pastorate, a mid-sized gathering; and the “cell” or very small group which meets for accountability and in-depth study.

Most often, it’s helpful for individuals to stagger their schedules.  What often happens is that a pastorate will meet twice a month on the first and third weeks; the D4D group will meet the second and fourth weeks.  This keeps overall time commitments manageable.

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