GROWING IN GRACE
I want to tell you about the smartest decision I’ve made in ministry. The decision has nothing to do with a finance committee meeting. It has nothing to do with a perfect children’s minister I’ve hired. And it has nothing to do with a five-step evangelism plan. The smartest decision I’ve made in ministry was almost two years ago when I decided to form an S3 Group.
What is S3, you ask?
From the information on our conference website:
S3 is a program for sustaining excellence in ministry sponsored by the South Georgia Order of Elders and the Board of Ordained Ministry. S3 is a collaborative, small group, action learning experience that will help sustain/promote excellence in ordained ministry. You and your peer group develop and implement a two-year long small group learning experience focused on three areas: Sabbath, Study, and Service.
While that’s the official description, I want to share with you what S3 has come to mean to me. My S3 group was formed almost two years ago in about two hours. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. It was a whirlwind. I had been wanting to start a group for a couple of years but had found every reason in the book to not do it: it would be too time consuming; it would take me away from my local church and my family.
But one ordinary Tuesday afternoon Dr. Ben Martin called me and told me a first-year group had backed out of attending the annual S3 training retreat. It was just a few days until the retreat and they needed a first-year group. Ben promised me they would help us complete the application and prep work during the retreat if I could get a group together. With a short deadline offered, I decided to take the leap and accept Ben’s challenge to find a group. So I proceeded to work through my contacts in my cell phone, looking for friends who were not already part of a group. Within two hours, we magically formed what became Group 13 in the South Georgia S3 program.
Over the last almost two years, our group has morphed from a sociological experiment to a group of people who enjoyed taking retreats together to a true band of brothers. These “brothers from other mothers” have walked together through family struggles, new babies being born, tough appointments, and appointment changes. All of this not to mention the daily frustration of tough decision, tough meetings, and tough people to deal with. We’ve offered honest feedback in one another’s preaching, called one another out when we were about to say something dumb or make a careless leadership decision in our local church, and we’ve laughed together at the silly stuff only church people can do. We’ve cheered at the pinnacle of the highest highs of success in ministry. And we’ve faithfully sat on the ash heap of despair as different ones have played the role of Job. All the while we have grown to genuinely love one another, admire one another, compete with one another (in the healthiest of ways), and cheer for one another both in ministry as well as in life.
In short, we’ve learned to do the scariest things a pastor could ever do – we’ve learned how to take off the mask of “pastor” and dared to be vulnerable and bare our souls together.
As I reflect on these first two years and think ahead to the many, many years yet to be that we have together, I can’t help but be struck with wonder at the grace of God. Rev. Creede Hinshaw was right when he wrote, “The S3 experience is the difference between wandering through a barren land all alone or traveling with deeply loyal friends.”
And Bishop Bryan is right when he regularly reminds us of the words of Paul that we are “alive together in Christ” (Eph. 2:5 emphasis mine). Because as Paul says in completing his thought – this “alive together” is a sign of how we are saved by grace. It is that same grace that allowed our group to come together on a random Tuesday afternoon. It is that same grace that allows us to serve in a conference that cares deeply about the need for clergy to form deep and abiding relationships together. It is that same grace — God’s saving grace — that allows me now to enjoy seven brothers who will have my back and walk with me through this crazy and life-giving journey we call ministry. Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at email@example.com.