“We are God’s servants, working together.” (1 Corinthians 3:9)
This declaration by Paul follows his discussion of how the members of the church aligned themselves with one leader vs. another – Paul vs. Apollos vs. Peter vs. even Jesus. Paul responds not by adjudicating the relative merits of those leaders around whom people were gravitating, but by pointing out that they were all working together. Any movement to divide around preferred leaders was doomed to fail, because they were indivisible in their ministries.
The work of leading God’s people is far too important for us to try to conduct it alone. Jethro warned Moses that working alone would wear him out. (Exodus 18:13-23) In one of the most well-known stories of the Exodus, Moses relies on two aides to help him keep his hands aloft, which is necessary for Israel to win its battle. (Exodus 17:11-13) Jesus needed companions to sustain him in his ministry. He called them first “to be with him,” and only second to be his emissaries. (Mark 3:13-15) He sent his disciples out not singly, but in pairs. The earliest Christian mission work was done by apostles working together – “Peter and John,” “Paul and Barnabas,” etc.
If the leaders of the Bible needed colleagues to help them accomplish their mission, why would we need anything less?
This is why, in our ordination promises, the church asks us, “Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them…” (Book of Order W-4.0404e) Our quick “I will” is important say, but far more important to live out.
In the first congregation I served, the staff gathered weekly for reading, study, and prayer. That led to us often meeting socially. We were a community of colleagues that became a band of friends. Some in our congregation preferred the preaching of one pastor over another, but that didn’t matter to us. I learned there, in my formative vocational years, the habit and power of being in company continually with my partners in ministry.
My next call was as a solo pastor. Eventually we called an Associate Pastor, but at first I was on my own. So instinctively I called on colleagues from nearby congregations to form a weekly group of prayer and study. I needed their help, and they hopefully benefited from mine. When a major family crisis erupted for me, I had colleagues who stood ardently at my side and fervently prayed with me, and that’s what got me through. I did the same in my next call. Those collegial relationships continue to be precious to me to this day.
I have maintained that practice throughout my ministry, and I am infinitely stronger for it. It is surely a key to my thriving, and perhaps even to my surviving, in ministry. Our presbytery staff meets weekly for reading, study, and prayer, and only subsequently do we attend to our business. It is a lifeline for us. I cannot imagine trying to do ministry apart from it. And yes, we enjoy playing together too!
Let me be as plain as I can – if you are in ministry of any kind, I believe you also need a weekly gathering for reading, study, and prayer with colleagues. If you are in a multiple staff situation, your staff needs to gather weekly for reading, study, and prayer. If it doesn’t, you will miss out on one of the core conditions for faithful, fulfilling, and fruitful ministry.
Alas, this is not a universal habit among church leaders. Our isolation during the pandemic made it easier to avoid gathering, even though we all had Zoom at our disposal. Our presbytery staff continued meeting weekly over Zoom. We are now back in the office to worship and work together in person, and find great delight in that.
Many of the fissures that eventually fracture the church are formed and widened by failure to do as Paul did in face of the nascent divisions in Corinth. Double up on the commitment to work indivisibly. Be public about it. Meet, study, pray, and play together. We need it. The church needs it. The vitality of our witness is at stake. What are we doing to meet that challenge in our current situation?
Yours in working together,