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Despite their tarrished reputations, ministerial gatherings present golden opportunities for more than coffee and competition.

The dreaded announcement arrives; another ministerial meeting has rolled around. You know you should put in an appearance. After all, it's been a while. But excuses instantly come to mind: This has been a hectic week or I really need more time on my sermon. In the end you decide to go, but you sit through the meeting convinced you're wasting your time. The agenda bores you, and you wouldn't choose to spend time with these people otherwise.

If that's your reaction to ministerial gatherings, you're not alone. I know the feeling. But now I am part of two very different ministerial fellowships, and (dare I say it?) I actually enjoy them both.

First, I'm involved with that oft-decried group, the local ministerium, complete with officers, agendas, and committee work. I don't always know everyone at the meetings, and the conversation occasionally turns superficial. Our only common bond is that we happen to be pastors in the same city.

I also belong to a more intimate group of five pastors who look ...

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