The date was May 21, 2008. I was meeting with a local pastor talking shop when an urgent phone call came in. On the other end of the phone was a police chaplain who lovingly shared with me that my parents had been involved in a terrible automobile accident. My mother was killed on the scene and my father was rushed to a local hospital via life-flight. I sat beside him as he died 5 days later.
In an instant I had become an orphan.
Three months later a dear friend and fellow pastor, who was also a member of my church, died of a sudden massive heart attack.
Four months later my uncle committed suicide.
Three months after this, one of my dearest friends and a much-loved leader in our church, died suddenly of a massive heart attack.
During all of this, one of my closest friends walked out of my life.
Like so many others who have dealt with sudden loss or tremendous pain, I buried myself in my work. As a pastor, I am constantly exposed to loss, grief and pain. At times, it seems there is more pain in this world than joy.
Over the months that followed many remarked at how well I seemed to be doing, but deep down a storm was brewing. A silent storm of the soul that was a result of unprocessed pain.
It wasn’t until I had an almost out of body incident of unexpected rage brought on by a relatively minor irritation, that I realized I needed help.
I sought professional counseling, which helped in many ways, but the most helpful thing I did during that season was I formed a pastor’s group.
As a pastor, I’ve been to dozens of networks, huddles, gatherings, associations and meetings. Each of these have their place, but what I was looking for was more of a small group experience where I could share openly and honestly my hurts, struggles and difficulties with a group of like-minded leaders who know the unique struggles that a pastor carries. A setting where we could “bear one another’s burdens” rather than compare each others numbers.
I formed the group by creating some simple ground rules:
- Talk about issues, principles and struggles, but avoid sharing numbers. I believe leadership issues and principles relate to any pastor and any church of any size.
- No cross promotion. Don’t use this group to recruit collaborative projects or advertise your church’s events. There are places to do that, but this group is designed for support, encouragement and growth.
- Time is critical for pastors. The gathering will be for 90 minutes strict.
Afterwards I personally invited each participant.
I have to tell you, at first each of the invited pastors were a little suspicious. A few pastors declined and I could even see the suspicion in their eyes. Sadly, as pastors, we are so often “recruited” that we have to be on guard. As a pastor it seems everyone “loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life/ministry.” After reassuring them that my motive was genuine, we began with about 6 local pastors from a variety of denominations. The gathering was so well received that after our first few gatherings each of the pastors began asking if they could bring another pastor they know “who could really use something like this!”
I have to tell you that since I began this little group six years ago, I have seen how desperately this is needed for every pastor. Pastors need a safe place where they can simply dump.
There is something so powerfully healing when you are able to honestly share your struggles with someone who knows exactly what you’re going through.
We don’t need advice, tips or suggestions half as much as we just need to be heard, validated and encouraged.
It’s why I believe so strongly in small groups.
It’s especially true for pastors.
It’s been so many years since the tragic events of 2008-2009.
Life hasn’t gotten much easier, but the load has gotten lighter due to this godly band of brothers.
I challenge you, if you don’t have a small group like that.
For your own sake FORM ONE!
What’s your small group story?