"Look, It's the Church's Job"
Too often men called to the gospel ministry graduate from seminary with a stellar record but proceed into the pastorate clueless.
Gratefully, they emerge from seminary knowledgeable in Greek and Hebrew grammar, church history, and systematic theology. They are able to decline their nouns and parse their verbs. They know what happened at the Council of Chalcedon and its effect on the doctrine of Christ. All this is great.
But are they ready for the multi-faceted responsibilities of being a pastor?
Many quickly find themselves in difficulty with their churches, not because of theological error or moral failure, but because of undeveloped leadership and relationship skills. It’s not that their theological training was unnecessary or wrong; it’s just incomplete.
I am persuaded that training for pastoral ministry, as it’s currently practiced in the United States, does not adequately prepare God-called pastors for service in our churches. Therefore, I would recommend a return to church-based theological training for those called to pastoral ministry.
Jesus, the master teacher, is our model in equipping for ministry. For three years he equipped twelve ordinary men for kingdom ministry. Day after day they were with Jesus as he taught about the kingdom of God. They learned to pray, heal the sick, and cast out demons by observing Jesus in action. The disciples enjoyed on-the-job training at its best.
IN-HOUSE THEOLOGICAL TRAINING
It was these convictions that led me in 1980 to begin a weekly meeting with a group of students from Auburn University (which is near my church, Lakeview Baptist) who had been called into the gospel ministry.
Each semester I select a topic for study. Over the past 28 years we have studied evangelism, preaching, missions, leadership, apologetics, theology, prayer, pastoral ministry, and much more. Every class begins with the “lesson before the lesson.” I identify some current issue at Lakeview Baptist and explain how, by God’s grace and wisdom, the church is dealing with the issue. In this way, the young men get an inside look at how a healthy church functions.
In addition to the ongoing weekly class for Auburn University students, our church offers an internship in conjunction with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Since 1996, we have accepted a cohort of six to ten interns every three years who work alongside the Lakeview Baptist Church equipping staff. These interns are also enrolled at Southern Seminary.
During their three years on staff our interns receive a classical theological education as they work toward the master of divinity degree. Southern Seminary faculty members travel to Auburn four to five times each semester to teach. I also teach one class each semester except for the sixth semester.
IN-HOUSE PRACTICAL TRAINING
While their formal theological studies are foundational to their preparation for ministry, the distinctive offered at Lakeview is the hands-on training provided by our church staff. It’s here that the theoretical becomes practical and is fleshed out in the life of the church.
Each semester an intern is assigned to be mentored by two members of the Lakeview equipping staff. Over the course of three years, he will work under staff in the areas of prayer and evangelism, congregational care, missions, music, internationals, families, preschool, children, youth, college and administration.
When an intern spends his semester with the preschool ministry, for example, he will learn the theology upon which the preschool ministry is established. He will learn the preschool security system that protects children from predators. And he will learn how to change diapers of the babies in the nursery! At this point, hands-on training takes on a whole new meaning.
EVERY DIMENSION OF THE CHURCH
Our goal is to expose the interns to every dimension of the life of Lakeview Baptist Church. They sit in most staff meetings and deacons meetings. They observe (and to some degree participate in) the challenges of working with church leaders on a weekly basis. They witness firsthand pastors and deacons struggling in prayer to know the mind of Christ for real life situations. They are exposed to the innermost workings of church life with all of its agony and glory. These kinds of experiences cannot be captured in a classroom setting, but our interns experience them week after week.
The summer following their first year, our interns serve with the North American Mission Board in church planting. (The first four classes served, respectively, in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Nevada, and New York.) The summer following their second year, they work with the International Mission Board. (The first four classes served, respectively, in Costa Rica, Ghana, and several places in Sub-Saharan Africa.) These cross-cultural missions experiences have proved to be highly effective in giving them a passion to declare the glory of God to all the nations.
WHAT I GET OUT OF IT!
As their pastor and primary mentor, I confess that I have found the ministry of mentoring future pastors and missionaries to be extraordinarily rewarding. To be able to multiply my ministry in the lives of the next generation is a privilege for which I give thanks to God.
It leaves me fatigued at times, but the satisfaction of seeing God-called men go out to serve Christ and his church is well worth all the time and energy. I commend to my fellow pastors the work of mentoring the next generation of church leaders for the glory of God and the building up of Christ’s church.