by Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation
How do we sharpen who we are? We do it in relationship with others. One person encounters another and there is an interchange of ideas, feelings, and values. Isolated from others, we become dull—our thinking, our feelings, even our faith, becomes blunted. The remedy is to routinely rub lives with other people: generating heat, sparking new thoughts, sharpening ourselves as people and as pastors.
Such has been the experience of a Learning Community I’m a part of. Encouraged by Randy Heacock and partially funded by Franconia Conference, our group of four pastors (Jessica Miller from Perkasie congregation, KrisAnne Swartley from Doylestown congregation, Franco Salvatori from Rocky Ridge congregation, and myself) has met together monthly for conversation, prayer, personal/pastoral development, and the kind of sharpening that comes from sharing our lives with one another. Walter Sawatzky (Plains congregation) serves as our coach and facilitator.
This circle has been deeply meaningful for each of us, despite the fact that we come from very different contexts. We’re not all the same age. We don’t all share the same theology. We don’t all have the same experiences. We don’t all come from Mennonite backgrounds. We serve very different kinds of churches.
However, despite these differences, we have much in common. As Jessica observes, “We all wonder about the best way to lead the church forward in the 21st century. We all seem to have an itch to experiment and try new things. We all share a deep love for the work of the kingdom and sharing God’s love with the world. We’ve all been frustrated by congregational politics, yet we have stayed in ministry. We all want God’s best for the people we serve.”
Finding a place where what unites us is a higher priority than what divides us has been refreshing for my soul and has sharpened me as a person and pastor.
In addition to the common values we share, our circle has discovered a camaraderie rooted in mutual trust. Franco articulates the importance of this dynamic: “In a political, social, and religious environment where people are functioning out of suspicion and fear, it is nice to have a group who can discuss a wide range of very personal and professional topics with a level of trust that mitigates fear.”
Pastors often function with varying levels of keeping up their guard, but as Franco points out and the rest of us affirm, our circle quickly became a place where those guards were lowered so that thoughtful, intelligent, informed reflection could take place.
This is not the first “pastors’ group” I’ve participated in over the years, but it is one of the most meaningful I’ve experienced. Part of the reason for its success is the intentional and professional coaching offered by Walter. He often provides research/analysis from leadership and church studies that allow us to interpret our local issues within the context of broader discussions. Furthermore, he encourages us to look inward toward the underlying passions, motivations, and assumptions that undergird our personalities and leadership.
KrisAnne reflects on the value Walter adds to our Learning Community by noting how “his non-judgmental listening, his thoughtful questions, and the way he connects different aspects of a situation to reveal what’s going on underneath all gently guide our group toward greater maturity in relationships and in leadership.”
How do we sharpen who we are? We do it in relationship with others, and one of the most sharpening places for me in the past year and a half has been this Learning Community. I pray that we all find places of decreased isolation and increased sharpening in the years ahead.