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Iron sharpens iron: Georgia revives age-old concept to help pastors excel in ministry

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CORDELE, Ga. – Georgia pastors are embracing the concept of "learning communities," an initiative that traces back to Old Testament times but that had largely fallen out of vogue with ministers in modern America.

The objective is to put small groups of pastors together regularly to discuss problems, to brainstorm solutions, to hash out sermon ideas, to share what is working well in their ministries, to learn from one another.

People in other professions, including public school teachers who want to sharpen their classroom skills, have kept the concept alive over the years. Now, a growing number of ministers are being reintroduced to the importance of regular get-togethers to hone their pulpit skills.

Scott Sullivan, discipleship catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said learning communities date back thousands of years and were an integral part of the early church.

The concept is based in part on Proverbs 27:17, which says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Sullivan will be promoting the learning community concept during a presentation at the Georgia Baptist Convention’s annual meeting Nov. 8-9 at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, hoping pastors across the state will get involved.  

Pastors who gathered in a learning community setting last weekend at Lake Blackshear Resort & Golf Club in Cordele reported that they came away feeling better prepared and more energized for their ministries.

“There are times I feel like I am on an island, and it is refreshing to have this group of men who I know are in the same boat,” said Alan Sanders, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dawson. “We can encourage, challenge, and lift each other up.”

Sanders said he considers the learning community he’s involved with a crucial part of his continued growth as a pastor.

A primary emphasis for our discipleship team is to set up at least four to six learning communities in each region to sharpen, encourage, resource leaders through relational engagement and to discuss best practices,” Sullivan said. “We currently have 40 learning communities set up across Georgia with over 225 leaders gathering regularly.”

Sullivan said the plan is start several more learning communities so that every Georgia Baptist pastor and church leader has a group to connect with personally and professionally.

“Learning communities can be the secret sauce for leaders who want to lead consistently at a high level and finish strong,” he said.

Chris Roberts, pastor of Bridge Church in Blackshear, said he sees learning communities as an invaluable network that allows church leaders to accomplish far more than they ever could alone.

“This is huge,” Roberts said. “So many men are isolated, and, through the learning communities, they are now building relationships with other like-minded pastors.”

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