Christian leadership in the rural context is often a lonely and isolating experience. Many rural leaders face issues of burnout, frustration, boredom and becoming ‘stuck’ as to how to overcome certain challenges they face. I was listening to a podcast the other day, where the speaker was telling the story of ‘The inklings’, a group of successful writers and poets who met together regularly for support, encouragement and the exchange of ideas.
The group included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams amongst the members. The podcast went on to describe the time when Tolkien had encountered what could be best described as writer’s block, and couldn't get past the opening words he had written about the ‘Hobbits’. C. S Lewis, who was one of the Inklings, suggested to Tolkien that Hobbits only got interesting when they were out of The Shire. This sparked the imagination of Tolkien, who then went off and began writing the first of the books which became ‘The Lord of the Rings.’
I cannot help but wonder if we perhaps have something to learn from this story, and indeed the business world where such groups, called ‘Mastermind Groups,’ are becoming increasingly popular. These groups are made up of 4-6 people who meet regularly to get better at their craft through honest feedback, mutual support and accountability. They tackle challenges and problems together, leaning on one another for advice, creative ideas, wise decision making, and accountability regarding goals set. The main principal is through the coordination of two or more people; a third way is found; this is called the ‘master mind.’
From a Christian perspective, I would liken this third way to discerning together the mind of Christ and I can see how there could be so many benefits of drawing together a small group of Christian leaders from similar and differing contexts, for mutual support, sharing different views and perspectives, and maximising the missional opportunities in ministry. Perhaps the Apostle Paul encountered something similar, leading him to advise the church at Philippi to not “…look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:4)
If this concept sounds interesting, you may want to form your own mastermind group. To do this I would look for between 3 and 5 leaders, who have similar drive and commitment towards making a Gospel impact. I would deliberately identify those who have different gifts and strengths to my own; for example, if you are very analytical and approach things from a scientific point of view, I would be intentionally locating creative types to join the group. I would seek those who are active problem solvers, and willing to learn from others. I would suggest that the group commits to meeting regularly; for some weekly may be helpful for others a monthly pattern may be more workable. I would personally advise meeting over food, and limiting your time to just a couple of hours.
When you have identified such a group, then the next task would involve establishing a very basic structure. The following three questions may be useful as you begin:
1. What are you working on?
2. What have you learnt?
3. What do you need help with?
As the group evolves you will no doubt develop other more focussed and context specific questions. Hearing different views of your fellow mastermind participants may enable you to see issues in your ministry, and approach to goals, that you wouldn’t otherwise become aware of. Whether you agree with their assessment or not, invariably it will give you a better understanding of how you might improve your approach. The words of Proverbs 27 v17 seem apposite: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”