For the last year, I have been connecting with a group of about six to eight other pastors in a LEAD Cohort for a one-hour Zoom call every other week. Our group has a rather enlightened name: Nothing Group. It has an even more portentous goal: to talk about nothing. Despite such lofty aims, being with this group of pastors has been a continual source of genuine joy, generous truth and deep relationship. So, what good is a group about nothing?
Mark 3:14 makes a simple yet profound statement when Jesus called the 12 disciples: “And he appointed 12, whom he also called apostles, to be with him….” Jesus chose them specifically to be with him. In an increasingly divided and divisive world, this with-ness is missing from so much of our lives. Whether because of Covid-19, technology, the pace of life or a myriad of other factors, it seems less and less of our lives are spent with one another.
Not only that, but we continue to see deep fractures within our society and yes, even some fissures within our own denominational family. Communities have increasingly become tribalistic, wherein people are no longer looked upon as individuals but rather avatars of monolithic groups. How do we as peacemakers, called to the ministry of reconciliation, begin to mend those cracks?
It is this with-ness that is key. Yes, like our Lord and Savior, we must come with grace and truth (John 1:14), but we must be with people in order to do that. It is with people that our heart is moved to gracious compassion just as Emmanuel’s was when he came to be with us. It is only with people that we garner the courage, privilege and empathy to speak truth into another person’s life. It is only in this with-ness that we fulfill our mission of making followers of Jesus Christ.
What does this all have to do with a group of pastors who get together to talk about nothing? Well, we get together for nothing other than to be with one another. There is not much we have in common, except that we are each with Christ and therefore with one another. This kind of commitment is sorely lacking in so many of our relationships.
Colossians 3:12-15 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”
While Paul was writing to the church at Colossae, it equally applies to all Christian relationships. The text lends itself to the reality of Christian relationships as if the Bible knows what being human is really like. If we are going to have any meaningful relationship with one another that means there is going to be offense, disagreement and misunderstanding. In those spaces, we must figure out how to forgive one another and bear with one another. Groups such as the Nothing Group foster these deep, restorative relationships.
To get together with a group of fellow pastors and talk about nothing with one another is binding. As a young pastor, having fellow pastors that I can strive with together for the Lord’s kingdom is rejuvenating. To know that they neither want nor expect anything from me other than to walk together towards Jesus is freeing.
There are two “Nothing Group” cohorts for pastors in addition to several other LEAD Cohorts covering a wide variety of issues/topics/needs that are offered to all Mennonite Brethren, not just pastors. USMB provides these cohorts for the purpose of connection and relationship-building. A new lineup of LEAD cohorts will be offered in early September. Be watching for details about how to sign up.