Churches Raising up Pastors in Sydney, Australia
I recently had the chance to talk with John Smuts, a pastor in the Sydney, Australia area, about how he and other local Baptist pastors are working together to raise up pastors through a partnership called The Noble Task. Their work is an excellent example of the kind of apostolic pastoring we commended in a recent 9Marks Journal.
I hope that many pastors will be encouraged, challenged, and equipped for similar work through learning from John’s experience.
Bobby Jamieson: Tell me a little bit about The Noble Task. What do you do?
John Smuts: A bunch of likeminded Baptist pastors in New South Wales (Australia) got together to form a network for the express purpose, under God’s grace, of raising up the next generation of Baptist pastors. Being a relational network means that while we are not seeking to be exclusive, we are all roughly on the same page theologically.
Bobby Jamieson: Why did you and other pastors in your area start The Noble Task?
John Smuts: In Sydney there has been a lot of good gospel ministry, particularly among students, that has encouraged a generation of believers to consider full-time ministry. Some of it has been inter-denominational and some of it has been amongst the strong denominations, such as the Sydney Anglicans. We thank God for all those initiatives and are keen to carry on partnering with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Nonetheless, it occurred to us that no one is going to encourage godly men to consider Baptist pastoral ministry in particular if we don’t. We are not in competition with other churches but simply acknowledge that they are not going to send guys our way. Why should they? Therefore we started The Noble Task to set up both a clear path into Baptist ministry and a network of likeminded churches to encourage people along the way.
Bobby Jamieson: How do you try to equip churches to raise up pastors? And could you give a few examples of how the local churches themselves are training men for ministry?
John Smuts: The Noble Task is very low maintenance. It is not an organisation with staff and an office. It is just a network. We’ve got two main strategies:
1. Recruiting and networking pastoral trainees. We do this through The Noble Task information evening, campus appearances and promotion, advice, and a job-openings network linked to the MTS traineeship paradigm (MTS = Ministry Training Strategy, based here in Sydney).
2. Equipping and resourcing pastoral trainers. We do this through The Noble Task pastors’ day and church networks.
Therefore the administration for The Noble Task is light. We have one event in November to recruit men to full-time Baptist pastoral ministry, and the pastors meet in June every year to share names of those in the process and to pray for the Lord to raise up gospel ministers. Mostly it functions as a relational network, but the key aspect is its intentionality.
We believe that the main work—the hard work—is done at the local church level. All the pastors are praying for and identifying gospel workers in their churches. Usually this starts with meeting up with them 1-to-1 while beginning to give them some ministry responsibility. Following on from that, several churches appoint pastoral trainees for one or two years. This can happen before or after formal theological training.
As an example, we have been privileged to see many guys going into ministry here at Petersham Baptist. It is exciting to meet up with pastors in Sydney and NSW who have staff members who were student pastors here just a few years ago. Currently both the pastor of our evening congregation and our female Children and Family worker were members at PBC before we appointed them to staff.
This year we have four student pastors, all studying at local theological colleges and training for ministry. We pay them only a little, basically a very generous book allowance, but give them some responsibility within the church. One key aspect of my role (and the evening congregation pastor’s role) is to train them. We cannot take the credit for all these people since the main reason why some of them are here is the proximity of our church to several evangelical Bible colleges. Nevertheless it does show what exciting things can happen, by God’s grace, when we are intentional about recruiting and training for gospel ministry.
Bobby Jamieson: What fruit have you seen so far?
John Smuts: Last time the pastors got together we came up with a rough list of thirty names of men at some point on the journey towards full-time pastoral ministry. I’m not great with numbers but I think we are praying for fifty new Baptist pastors here in NSW, from our network, by 2020.
Bobby Jamieson: Any lessons learned that might serve other pastors who are similarly trying to raise up pastors?
John Smuts: Leading a church is hard work. The overwhelming temptation is to devote all our efforts into keeping the wheels turning. It is costly to make this a priority. Am I most concerned with using my time for extra sermon prep and conference speaking and the things that make me look good? Or do I invest in training others to make them look good? Yet, according to Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2, this is how the church grows. Pastors find godly men to whom they can entrust the message, and then train them to pass it on to others. That is The Noble Task.