By Tony Webb
Fraternity – honoring each other. The Scriptures are full of texts that talk about how we are to relate to each other. There are scores of “one another” passages; passages that focus on our love for each other; passages that express how we are to relate to one another when we are not getting along very well.
Fraternity is a very important concept as I work to engage the formation of new Grace Brethren churches. Ministry can be toxic. It can be very damaging and hurtful. It was to Jesus and His disciples. The Gospels are full of examples in which Jesus was in difficult situations ultimately leading to His death (and resurrection). We have a High Priest who can sympathize with our difficult situations. Many situations we face are replete with hurt and pain; we also have many situations in which we enjoy great pleasure and kindness.
In my work in VisionOhio, I am blessed to have many expressions of fraternity that help keep me going, help me prepare for the fight and engage the spiritual battle.
My most significant expression of fraternity is in my VisionOhio ministry team or covenant group. In 2008 VisionOhio switched to a covenant group approach to doing ministry. That means is I am privileged to meet monthly with my ministry team in close fraternity. The purpose is to first relate to each other in life and, second, in ministry needs or demands.
When I say we work to meet each other in life, I mean we spend the majority of our time together talking about our lives and praying together about where we are, the struggles we are facing etc. Our covenant arrangement sets boundaries around which we relate. These boundaries are what move this beyond only accountability. These boundaries are the power for the impact. I open my life up to these men and them to me. The intuition this environment breeds is amazing. Our commitment is to stay open and honest. The impact is energizing and transformational.
My call is to engage in transformation ministries the rest of my life and to shadow Jesus in developing a church a day in Ohio. This type of fraternity is transformational and key to my personal fulfillment. I am privileged to be surrounded by the sharpest men! Nothing gets by them! We work hard to be praying for each other, to know well what each other is doing, what struggles we are each facing etc. This empowers and dramatically focuses us on each other in life connection. It is powerful fraternity. The men who are on this journey with me are Ron Boehm, Martin Guerena, Nathan Wells, and Andy Shank.
I also am blessed to have fraternity support from my district small group. I am in the North Central Ohio District of Grace Brethren Churches. A few years ago, we developed small groups among the pastors of the district. In time I became a leader of one of those groups and ultimately engaged the possibility of moving our small group to a more focused covenant group. I have enjoyed this journey tremendously. To have deeper relationship with men I love and who love me, to engage and be engaged monthly with five other men is likewise transformational. It is powerful fraternity.
Two other key expressions of fraternity in my church planting world are the relationships with which we strive to surround a church planter. Another is the fraternity involved in working in a regional focus for church planting.
When a church planter goes on the field, one of the key activities is to surround the planter with five key relationships: supervisor, coach, mentor, trainer, and counselor. These five key relationships are very helpful to the health of the planter and his family.
The supervisor is the money guy (if there is any); he is also the big boss overseeing the plant. The coach is charged with being non-directive and is to focus on skill development. The mentor is to focus on character development. The coach has at his “ready” a trainer for any areas where the planter may need further training and the mentor has a counselor to assist.
I am typically involved in the coaching area and love coaching church planters. This level of fraternity is likewise powerful and even transformational as it is engaged.
In terms of movemental work or engaging a new region (including developing church planting capacity or building a greater “culture” for church planting), we depend heavily on this triplet: vision, fraternity, and prayer.
Vision discovery is always powerful and necessary; nothing (absolutely nothing lasting) happens without prayer. The glue to both vision and community prayer is fraternity.
The need is great for us to connect in growing fraternity, to discover and form vision together and build greater community prayer. The key is fraternity. We need to be willing to come together in a regional focus – seeing beyond our own local churches into a region where we can have direct impact in sharing the gospel – just like the Thessalonians did. In 1 Thessalonians 1:8, the gospel sounded forth like a trumpet in all of Macedonia and Achaia.
I was curious as to how much land Macedonia and Achaia cover – I Googled it and found that today, Macedonia and Achaia stretch over 43,600 square miles (if boundaries are relatively similar to Paul’s day). Then I Googled Ohio’s geography and was shocked to learn the Buckeye State is 40,953 square miles. It is amazing what can happen in fraternity like Paul talks about. One local church somehow had impact on a geographical region larger than Ohio!
Fraternity has saved “my goose” which had been cooked many times. Fraternity in my covenant groups has led me, directed me, shown me how to best respond to very hard things . . . and it has all been amazing and honoring to each other.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Tony Webb is the executive director of VisionOhio, a church planting organization in the Buckeye State. Previously, he pastored the Southwest Grace Brethren Church in Grove City, Ohio. He and his wife, Cathy, live in Johnstown, Ohio, where they are working with several developing congregations. This article first appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of FGBC World magazine.