"She left today. Went out and rented an apartment. I don't know what I should do. I don't think she's coming back." The call came Thanksgiving Day from Steve, the pastor of a thriving church in Phoenix. The marital crisis surfaced when he returned from an overseas missionary trip only to find his wife more dissatisfied than ever with what she perceived as his lack of attention.
"I felt her demands were unrealistic, but never realized how deeply hurt she was," Steve admitted. Heated discussions and finger pointing climaxed into separation, so Steve took a sabbatical from ministry and worked on putting their marriage back together.
"I've learned a lot through my marriage crisis," Steve says. "I now know that I have been too much of a lone ranger. I need a closer relationship with my wife, and I need friends who can help me hold steady during personal and organizational difficulties. I need other ministers in my life."
More than 500,000 serve as pastors in the United States, according to a Barna survey. Other national surveys indicate that ministers are possibly the most frustrated and neglected professional group in the country. Forty percent of surveyed pastors express a desire to leave the pastorate. Out of 1,400 ministers questioned, fewer than 20 percent report receiving any kind of annual recognition. H.B. London Jr. says, "We have found that most members of the clergy feel isolated, insecure and only rarely affirmed."
For these reasons, in 1995, Gary Kinnaman, pastor of Word of Grace Church in Mesa, Ariz., gathered with a group of local pastors to meet their needs for relational accountability and friendship. This initial gathering formed the first Pastors in Covenant group (PIC).
Today, 13 PIC groups exist in Austin, Texas, and Phoenix with more than 46 ministry leaders from different denominations, doctrines and ethnic groups. Most ministers involved have experienced an extraordinary influence on their lives. As one member says, "I've stayed in ministry because of our group. I wanted out of [pastoral] ministry just a few years ago, but my group has held me steady."
"In relationship-based accountability groups, leaders are able to discuss problems and encourage each other as well as learn from each other's mistakes," Kinnaman says. "Since the first covenant group began in Phoenix, we've seen pastors' leadership abilities and confidence increase."
"A lot of discouragement goes on in pastors' lives," says Dan Scott of the Valley Cathedral in Phoenix. "The covenant group is a safe place to share with and pray for one another. Real friendships have developed in the groups. These brothers are friends I can count on."
In 1997, pastors and Christian leaders from four states convened to develop a structure for PIC (see "Pastors in Covenant Basics," below). Six months later, there was enough commitment to begin an interdenominational covenant group and expand the PIC groups to Austin, Texas.
"A major purpose of these groups is to help us become more human," Austin PIC leader Dan Davis says. "I have needed what Pastors in Covenant promotes — a safe place to be connected with the assurance that this is not just another organizational solution. Coming together around tasks does not sustain relationships, but sustained relationships can lead to effective Kingdom ventures."
Kinnaman believes that the diversity of Christian leaders within the groups is in line with what God is doing to unite the church and break down barriers. For example, one group includes three charismatic pastors, a Bible church pastor, a Willow Creek-style pastor, an Episcopal priest and a Nazarene pastor.
"Deep personal and spiritual growth cannot happen outside of significant intentional relationships," Kinnaman says. "When we fellowship with each other, we touch the heart of God."
A social concern committee can be of great assistance to any pastor in understanding and addressing cultural issues. It is like Nehemiah on the wall — a watchman on behalf of the church and the community it serves.
A life of personal holiness is not easy. But it is important -- both for the Christian himself, for those he encounters and for those whose lives he might someday touch.
Who intercedes for you? For whom do you intercede? Someone has said, "Praying for others is one of the best ways of loving people." I agree.