The Urban Pastor and his Rural Retreat!

Just got back from four days in the north of Scotland. It was very rural. And rather nice. A little flat but some lovely walks along the beaches of the Moray Firth.

I wasn’t alone. I went there with 16 fellow Co-Mission staff . We had a fairly full programme of talks and sessions. But we also had time for meals together, walks and clay pidgeon shooting!

I left behind a logistical nightmare for Rosslyn and a family who’d have preferred me to be at home. And yet it was worth doing for at least these three reasons.

1. Relationally it was beneficial

Going away with likeminded senior pastors is always hugely stimulating. We have the great advantage of singing off the same theological hymn sheet. And so lots of our foundational convictions can be assumed. I had some very useful conversations about how to run and grow churches. Occasionally you come away with some new ideas but often it’s just reassuring hearing that others are doing the same things, facing the same issues and toughing it out for the sake of the gospel. One or two of the  churches are at a similar stage to us and so it was good to be able to bounce ideas off one another. One or two of the congregations are a stage further back and so we try to reassure them that they’re doing the right things and encourage them to persevere. And one or two of the congregations are a stage or two ahead of us and so they’ve faced issues that we have no idea are coming and so it’s good to be forewarned. We know each other well enough now to have put the issues of testosterone and male competitiveness to one side. Most of us have coped with the hard yards of growing small vulnerable churches and so the delusions of grandeur are just that; delusions. We’re battle weary and value the encouragement of those who are also in the trenches.

But our relationships count for a whole load. We’re not really a staff team but we’re on the same team. The team we happen to be on is called Co-Mission and we’re about planting churches together in London. We work together but we also work apart. Together for the gospel in church planting but seperately in launching and running those church plants. It’s an odd dynamic. But we inevitably rub each other up the wrong way, misunderstand one another, get competitive over resources, become resentful when we feel neglected and have to make sacrifices for one another. And that’s so much easier to cope with when our relational links are strong. And there’s nothing like clay pidgeon shooting, a few big boys breakfasts and comedy moments round a large log fire to aid the bonding!

2. Spiritually it was refreshing

We had some first rate speakers with us. John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Phillip Jensen and Simon Manchester came along; virtually. It was great to be taught by someone else for a change. And then to be able to head off for some uncluttered time to pray. I really needed some spiritual refreshment and the Lord was kind enough to give it to me. In the past we’ve taken it in turns to expound a passage and that’s been helpful. But the emphasis this year was on minimising our preparation and so listening to some of the ‘greats’ expounding the scriptures was a real treat. In the evening we listened to some 9 Marks interviews. They were long and so they needed to be worthwhile. Mark Dever usually asks some great questions. The one with Phillip Jensen was more profitable than the one with Don Whitney.

3. Strategically it was necessary

We considered some of the big issues facing us as a network of churches at our stage of growth and development. We read Tim Keller’s paper on the dynamics of movements compared to institutions to better understand what we are and how we operate.  We read Tricia Neill’s little book ‘From Vision to Action’ and talked about refining our vision statement and what that would mean if it permeated every level of our organisation. We thought about training and what we’re trying to do with apprenticeships and preparing our pastor teachers for ministry. We read some papers by David Powlinson from CCEF and thought about how we train ourselves and others in Pastoral Theology. As you would imagine it’s pretty hard to come to a common mind on those things. But under God we made some real progress. We asked the hard questions even if we didn’t always like answering them and I think we’re in a better place than we were. We’re work in progress but at least we’re going somewhere. It’s incredible to think that Co-Mission is only five years old. Under God we’ve definitely done more together than we would on our own. We just need to work out how we can do more, more quickly, for the sake of the gospel!

It was a faff going away. Inverness isn’t just down the A3. It’s a hectic time of year. A Passion for Life looms. But it was so worth it. The benefits much outweigh the costs. I’m looking forward to returning to our rural retreat already. But I’m glad it’s a year away!

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