Yesterday I attended a small ministerial association in our area.  There was a time that black, hispanic and caucasian pastors came regularly for fellowship and inspiration.  The numbers peaked at 50 but never fell below 30.  We had a hard time finding a place to accommodate the numbers who attended.  Then something happened and the numbers began to dwindle.  No one could pinpoint exactly what the problem was.

I had noticed that there had been one difference in the format.  Several years ago, a few of the people in leadership wanted to introduce the local pastors to the various resources available hoping this would improve their overall ministry.  The people they brought into the monthly meetings were excellent.  They ranged from emergency care management experts to race relations coordinators.  Slowly and steadily the numbers faded to three or four people.  Most months there were the speakers, the person who invited them and me.  I must say that I learned from each presenter and completely enjoyed the programs.  That is why I kept coming back.  Yet, it was obvious that this was not supporting the needs of the other attendees.

Within the parachurch world there is a great hunger to get the word out about our particular ministry.  We hunger for people–and especially pastors–to understand how important our calling and population is.  It is difficult to keep our thoughts quiet.  However, the worst thing we can do is to attract too much attention to ourselves.

When I first began to attend minister’s meetings, I was always accompanied by our executive director.  I knew that he didn’t trust me to go by myself but I didn’t understand his rationale.  Before we went, he also lectured me, “Linda, don’t say a thing.”  I squirmed but kept silent while observing him.  He laughed a people’s jokes and interjected a word or two but he never talked about his ministry. 

This seemed strange to me because I knew that he had a healthy budget for a small parachurch ministry and even more impressive, there were almost 35 churches that supported The Special Gathering.  Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I asked, “Why don’t you talk about Special Gathering?  You almost bleed this ministry.  Why not let these minister know that you want their support.”

Without changing his expression, he said, “I have their support.  Pastors and churches support The Special Gathering because our members go to their churches.  The congregation knows their parents.  They also have come to trust me because they know me.  That is how you gain support.”

Frankly, I thought he was a bit crazy; but I followed his example as our Melbourne program slowly peeled away from the central Brevard programs.  Then I began to notice that other parachurch ministry would make long announcements and longer speels about their ministries.  I merely attended, laughing at the jokes and almost never interjecting anything.  I sat by the new members and tried to make them feel welcomed.  It was more than ten years before I was asked to speak to the group.  The other parachurch ministries went away after a visit or two.  They left when it became apparent that they weren’t going to instantly get support from the churches where these men and women pastored. 

As I kept coming, one pastor after another would come to me and ask, “Can I have your card?  We want to support your ministry.  I want to set up a time for you to meet with our missions’ committee.”  Now there are 37 churches that support The Special Gathering of Indian River.  They range from Pentecostal to Southern Baptist, from Episcopalian to Charismatic.  Most of the pastors approached me and asked me about their support.  It took years but out of friendship and faithfulness, the congregations learned to trust this ministry. 

At the close of our meeting yesterday,  the pastors opened into an honest discussion.   The few men and women who were there confessed that they needed fellowship and to be taught from God’s word from other pastors.  They wanted relationship–not politics or agenda.  They needed each other–not community outreach.  Keeping in touch while keeping my mouth shut has paid off in friendship and prayer support and in finding the resources to keep The Special Gathering going.