Sunday, March 11, 2012

Leadership Training in a Local Church Context

I recently posted an article about how lay people would be more willing to help in the church if they were trained properly. Some of the feedback I got from pastors was that there was no Bible school or training center nearby. While I place a high value on formal education and have two advanced degrees myself, I think the church has got a bit carried away with formal education. I believe that too often we place so great an emphasis on formal theological training that we have missed the role the church was designed to fill in training people for ministry.

In the New Testament, the local church was the primary training experience for ministry. In order to build effective leadership teams, the church must once again become the preeminent place for ministry training. That is not to say that formal theological training has no value and should not be pursued. It simply means that when such training occurs in isolation from the local church, it has significantly less value than church-based training.

2 Timothy 2:1-2 speaks about this issue. In that passage Paul writes, “Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others (NLT).” This passage specifically instructs Timothy to educate leaders so they can train others. This is not just preaching to the congregation; this is training new leaders who will teach the congregation. This training occurred in the context of the local church.

Current thinking about leadership training in churches often follows this scenario; people express a call to vocational ministry, they are encouraged to go away to various seminaries to learn how to fulfill their calling, they graduate from seminary, then churches hire them to serve as pastoral leaders. Though there is nothing inherently wrong this system, it is very different from how people were trained in the New Testament. Most of the leaders of the New Testament church were trained on the job as they served alongside other leaders. The local church was the primary training experience for ministry.

Churches need to regain their understanding of Titus 1:5-9, “The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: someone who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. For an overseer, as God's manager, must be blameless, not arrogant, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it (HCSB).”

This passage indicates that Paul left Titus on Crete to finish what was left undone, which was the appointment and training of leaders for the churches. Notice that Titus was not instructed to accomplish this by gathering the leaders together and sending them off to some formal seminary in a distant place. The indication is that he was to train them in place.

These leaders were not just secondary helpers charged with menial tasks that Titus did not want to do. They were to be overseers of the church with significant responsibilities. These leaders were given the charge to teach the scriptures to the congregations they led. They were also given the charge to refute those who were teaching false doctrine. It is one thing to be able to give a proper lesson to those who agree with you. It is quite another to rebuke a person who is teaching a false theology. The fact that the overseers were expected to do this speaks to the highly developed level of their training and abilities, all of which was formed in the context of the local church.

Many people who sense God calling them to a deeper level of service will be unable to attend a formal seminary. Though many will be able to take advantage of on-line programs and distance learning, the reality is that the needs of small churches across America are so great that we need people to be training in place and in context so they can help lead while they train. Some schools have figured this out and have started adding this component to their formal education programs. But ultimately, it is not the schools’ jobs to solve this problem. It is the church’s job to train leaders. Though we may use some formal courses or partner with Bible colleges in the process, ultimately each church must accept responsibility for training their own leaders. When that begins to happen on a regular basis, churches will be healthier and more people will come to faith in Christ.

These ideas are adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, which is being used by nearly 3,000 pastors to train leaders in their own churches.

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