What is this? There are times in his ministry when Jesus takes only his inner circle with him to share significant experiences. Peter, James, and John accompany Our Lord to the top of Mt. Tabor for the Transfiguration, to the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader, to raise his daughter from the dead, and to the Garden of Gethsemane to keep watch the night before his crucifixion. Given the magnitude and miracles involved, these are way beyond significant. Peter, James, and John are Jesus’ inner circle, this is his personal posse within the larger group of disciples. An inner circle is defined as a small, intimate group, more of “my people” and less of “clique” as I am using it. In the last six months, I have become a member of two small groups. One is an eclectic collection of pastors, from different traditions with diverse personalities and varied faith stories. We meet monthly and our agenda is mostly to share what is going on in our ministries, families, and our own souls. This group has been an absolute godsend, I had not realized how much I needed a healthy colleague group. Just by the nature of pastoral work, it is a lonely profession. People will unload their troubles, confessions, and fears. Your responsibility is to keep that confidential and you do carry that load, no matter how well you are able to compartmentalize. With these colleagues who understand the struggles and stresses, I feel free to let go of the pastor role. That is hard to do.
What does this mean? That is an essential element of an inner circle, a safe place with safe people where vulnerability is possible and grace is evident. Jesus’ inner circle was a safe place or at least they had the freedom to fail. They all fall asleep at Gethsemane and Peter denies Jesus three times. This morning I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I do this a couple times a year to remember my family history of alcohol. I am always refreshed with the raw honesty and humble nature of AA. These people are in the fight of their lives, so they come together with fellow survivors urgently trying to follow the 12 steps, are accountable to each other, and continue in recovery. Always amazes me how prevalent Higher Power is in AA conversation, which I, of course, believe to be Jesus Christ. The Church has much to learn from AA about small group ministry. I also meet with a group of men from our church that are trying to grow in faith and character. We use an article on a topic like regrets or legacy as the basis for our study, then try to share insights and offer comments to build up the group. This is a more directed agenda, where our common purpose is to not just share but to intentionally move forward in our life of faith. Like an AA meeting, a key theme has been, as our trust level progresses, to call out one another’s or confess our own arrogance. Time and again, at the heart of these inner circles it is so essential to learn humility and be transparent. Only then are you actually teachable, available to learn something, maybe even change.
What is the takeaway? In Genesis, God says it is not good for man or woman to be alone. This is not just about marriage, it’s also about community. For most of us, we have a crowd where we circulate, like church, school, or workplace. Genesis is talking about more intimate relationship needs. You and I need an inner circle, a band of brothers or an assembly of sisters, a small group you can call “my people”. Whether you are a parent, pastor, or plumber, you need a safe place with select people who you know are on your side. Getting together with your crew can be like a time-out from all your demands, duties, and difficulties. My son, Mark, has a regular Friday afternoon appointment in Silverdale with his ABA therapist. While he is at his therapy I am often at my therapy session eating chicken wings with some old friends from my former congregation. This group is more about fellowship than faith formation, more focused on laughing than learning. This group of guys is just for fun, to catch up, inhale the wings, and remember the we were cool, we are cool, and we will always be cool, or so we tell each other. With all these small groups, where do I find the time and energy to accomplish pastoral tasks, take care of family responsibilities, and make a living?! Well, my answer is without my inner circles, I don’t believe I could be a good pastor, fulfill my obligations as a father and husband, and have much fun making a living. Who is your inner circle? Who are those people you can really count on? When you are lonely (and we all get lonely) whose company do you seek? If Jesus had an inner circle, you need an inner circle.