Category Archives: Church

Meaningful Mentorship for Ministry

As I talk with friends and acquaintances who believe that God has gifted them for pastoral ministry but aren’t there yet, I’ve picked up on some common themes. One of the biggest is this: “My church doesn’t have a plan to mentor me toward ministry. Or if they do, I’m not aware of it.” Okay, it’s not usually said that bluntly. But you can frequently elicit this conclusion by asking someone what path they’re being guided down, what kind of pastoral mentorship they’re receiving, what counsel they’re getting on next steps, and what the church’s timeline is for sending them.

Let’s take a step back and look at the less-than-meaningful method of handling up and coming servants in the church and then suggest some correctives.

They give me service for service’s sake

Men and women with a heart for ministry will do anything—yes, anything—if their pastor asks them to do it. I know guys who’ve had their hearts set on ministry and have spent years plunging toilets or teaching kids. Don’t get me wrong, these are awesome ministries. But tossing a dude a service ministry in hopes that he shuts up or learns on his own is an absolute death sentence for future pastors, planters, and missionaries. If the guy is passive, he’ll stay and serve in frustration, waiting on you to clear him for other opportunities. If the guy is hyper-passionate, he’ll quickly burn out or blow you off and move on to another ministry. Either situation isn’t great for developing next generation leaders in your church.

Instead, give those next generation leaders a variety of opportunities as they are faithful and willing. Let them try their hand at greeting, teaching, technology, nursery, counseling, music, or administration. You’ll never understand the impact of this question: “What areas could you use opportunities to develop your gifts?” Try asking one of the young leaders in your church that question this week. They’ll appreciate it far more than you can imagine.

They don’t give me much/any feedback

Once someone passionate for ministry gets assigned to serve, they get little, if any, feedback from their pastors. They serve in silence. The only feedback they get is if something didn’t turn out well. Good feedback from church leaders is one of the most effective ways for a person to nail down aspects of calling and gifting. By not giving feedback, pastors avoid offering the next generation the clarity that they desperately desire regarding God’s will for their lives.

Take time to give feedback to young leaders. No, this doesn’t always mean that you have to sit in their class or visit their small group. Just start by asking questions of those who serve alongside them or those who sit under their teaching. Collect what you hear and talk it over with him or her. It’s really not super hard. A teachable servant of the church will soak up the feedback and be open to critique. Be cautious about forming internal opinions about the young leader without discussing critiques and giving them clear ways to improve. If they’re consistently dropping the ball and you think they need to put ministry ambitions on hold (or reshape those ambitions in some way), clearly tell them as much. They’ll thank you for it later.

Pairing the idea of feedback with the previous idea of meaningful service, I’d recommend using a two-year leadership development plan. Let a young leader serve in a number of general ways in the church for a year with basic feedback and accountability. Then evaluate their fitness for Gospel ministry. If it makes sense, then do a year of directed and intense service with more robust feedback and follow-up. The goal at the end of the second year is to launch that leader into pastoral ministry. With intentional planning like this, it won’t take long for the word to get out and you won’t know what to do with all the men and women looking for an opportunity for meaningful mentorship for ministry.

They gave me a book to read

Among many evangelical churches in the US, head training is one of the things we do well. We have great books. We attend great conferences. We have great seminaries. It’s all great knowledge at arm’s length. So when a young guy seems to have a passion to plant churches, he’s often given a book (or a stack of them). Sometimes a pastor will meet with him and discuss theology. But who is talking with him about spiritual formation, calling, gifting, and ministerial challenges? Who’s prodding him about his sin struggles and spiritual disciplines?

Assign an elder to meet weekly or bi-weekly with next generation leaders. Use a programmatic tool to guide discussions to ensure that you’re equipping young leaders on a broad scale of topics and issues.

They told me to move and attend seminary

Sometimes I wonder if churches understand what they’re doing when they tell a young leader to leave and go to seminary. Often this advice demonstrates that the church leadership frankly doesn’t know with a young, aspiring leader. It essentially says that the church’s role in a leader’s development ends where seminary begins. Here are some of the bad results of this advice:

  • Young leaders leave their spiritual community, with plenty of potentially ruinous spiritual effects. The doctrinal and spiritual mooring of a local church can be helpful to young leaders as they weigh what they learn in seminary.
  • Young leaders lack the locale to practice the hands-on aspects of ministry. Enough said.
  • Young leaders lose a sense of sending and arrive at a sense of searching. Sending is when a church has your back. Searching is when you’re trying to find your own way. Sending is awesome. Searching sucks. Send your next-up leaders. Don’t leave them searching.
  • Young leaders are driven to non-relational networking to find pastoral ministry opportunities. Most of the ministry roles worth having are not the ones you find with a resume. They’re ones that are either forged through planting/revitalizing or initiated by others who know you well.
  • Young leaders make poor decisions about where to attend seminary. When telling a guy to go to seminary is a “check-out” move by a church, guys often make dumb decisions about where to go. What many guys don’t realize is that seminaries set them up to serve in and be heard by particular audiences or denominations. Stay involved in the process and visit a seminary or two with your young leaders. Make helpful recommendations based on what you know of them.

If your default is to tell a guy to pack his things, consider changing to more of an apprentice model. Can he take hybrid or online courses? Can he commute? Is there any possible way he can get a theological education while undergoing spiritual formation and pastoral training in your church? If you feel willing to train a next generation leader but lack the resources or ability, try asking about other churches in the area that do this well and forging a partnership with them. Do your utmost to retain the God-given task of pastoral training within the local assembly.

Someday, by God’s grace, I hope I can start meeting with more next generation leaders who can tell me: “One of my pastors and I meet weekly for accountability and discussing pastoral responsibilities, and I’m on a two-year track to be sent to revitalize a church in a nearby city.”

Principles to Remember when Discussing the “Gray Areas”

How to view the entire discussion

  1. You hold no responsibility to win converts to your position.
  2.  There is no “safe” position. You’re either at risk of legalism or license.
  3.  Your personal practices can remain as such. That’s between you and God.
  4. On any given subject you may actually be the weaker brother.
  5. Nowhere does the Bible say that the weaker brother is to remain in that state in perpetuity.
  6. It is just as wrong to permit what God prohibits as it is to prohibit what God permits.

How to know when you’re off track

  1. If the debate consumes more of your time than your interaction with God in prayer and the Word, you’re doing something wrong.
  2. If you find yourself getting worked up and angry, you may have taken it too far.
  3. Have you convinced yourself that the Gospel will rise or fall on someone agreeing with you on this topic?
  4. Is this a hill worth taking, or is this something you are willing to die for?
  5. Is a fellow-believer truly going to be in sin if they do not share your position on this issue?

 

How to consider the other side

  1. Be willing to listen closely to what the other side is saying without thinking about how you will respond.
  2. Be willing to admit that there are good Christians on the other side of the issue.
  3. Always remember that “esteem others better than ourselves” and “living peaceably with all men” is a two-way street.
  4. Don’t expect someone to change their mind in the middle of an online debate.
  5. Look for a possible middle ground.
  6. Understand the position of the other person.
  7. Make sure they agree with the way you’ve stated their position.

How to communicate your position

  1. Before wading into any discussion on gray areas, sit down, read Romans 14, and pray.
  2. You may hold a better application, but, if you force it on others, you’re actually sinning.
  3.  Avoid speaking where the Bible doesn’t or speaking loudly where the Bible is quiet.
  4.  Don’t say too much too forcefully so that you’ll have less to take back if you change your position.
  5. Be careful with terms like “wise” or “conservative” when describing your own position; these may lend more weight to your position than warranted.
  6. Be careful about dealing with these issues in front of non-believers.

Constructing a Philosophy of Teaching for Your Church

Four reasons to do it

1. Because teaching should matter to the church.

This kind of careful attention to the teaching ministry of the church is absolutely warranted given the high value ascribed to teaching in Scripture (Matt. 28.20; Deut. 6.7; Heb. 5.12-14; James 3:1; 2 Tim. 1.13-14).  Teaching in the early church was carried out substantially by elders in each city, and overseers like Timothy and Titus were tasked with ensuring that the teaching in the city adhered to the apostolic teachings which they had received. Teaching can be a conduit for truth or error, heresy or orthodoxy, and for churches to have a nonchalant approach stands in stark contrast to the directives of Scripture and the practice of the early church.

2. Because church shouldn’t be a fly-by-night enterprise.

I think a lot of people fear mission or philosophy or purpose statements because those sorts of things seem to be more appropriate in the business world. But if you think about it, businesses use mission or philosophy or purpose statements because they make sense. They realize the biblical principle of Prov. 29.18, “where there is no vision, people are unrestrained.” Propositional directives are a must in daily life, in business, and in the ministry of the church.

3. Because you don’t need to wait until problems occur in order to standardize expectations.

A teacher who’s been teaching for several years ends up telling a class that he’s not certain about biblical inerrancy. A teacher ends up carrying out a knock-down-drag-out discussion regarding the Christian’s use of alcohol. A woman volunteers to lead a mixed gender Bible study. Your church may have varying levels of concern for each of these cases, but hopefully you recognize the need to have a philosophy that addresses where your church stands on all of these issues before the questions arise. Setting the bar upfront will save you the headache of trying to fix an issue gone awry further down the trail.

4. Because Jesus serves as a model for a teaching philosophy.

Jesus wasn’t just the model teacher, he modeled a practical teaching philosophy for the disciples. He had specific reasons why he used parables on various occasions. He revealed certain teachings in systematic manners to his disciples. He relied on certain specific modes of questioning and logic. All of these facts and more point to the idea that Jesus had a particular philosophy of teaching in mind as he instructed his disciples. If Jesus had a defined approach to teaching, so should we!

Six questions to ask in order to construct it

1. What is the purpose of the teaching ministry?

Your purpose for the teaching ministry should be an outflow of the overall purpose statement for the church. A church purpose statement could read as follows: “____ Church exists to bring God glory by lifting up the Gospel in our teaching, edification, and worship, and by equipping saints to love and evangelize their community.” A followup teaching purpose statement could read as follows: “The purpose of the teaching ministry of ____ Church is to aid Christians in pursing spiritual maturity by teaching them to center their lives on the Gospel.”

2. What are the objectives of the teaching ministry?

In other words, you should be asking: what concrete steps must be taken in order to fulfill the purpose statement? Deconstruct your purpose statement and tackle it piece by piece. Typical objectives will include teaching content (breakdown of proportion of biblical, systematic, historical content), application (e.g., teaching for change), direction (e.g., Gospel-centered), and engagement (expectations of interaction, etc.). It is essential to build out what the Bible says about teaching and its importance in the church in this section.

3. What curriculum will we use?

This flows from the content section in your objectives. If you primarily let teachers instruct on books of the Bible or various topic, then you can provide direction on how they should be approaching these books. How should they determine what to include and exclude? Are there topics that should be avoided? Is there a preferred teaching method (lecture, Socratic, or hybrid)? Is there a system of books or topics that you see should be taught through? Some churches have a 5-year program that takes the congregation through the entire Bible. Other churches may alternate between biblical/systematic/historical theology during various seasons or years. This is where that program should be articulated. If you primarily provide material for your teachers, this would be an appropriate place to list that material.

4. Who can teach?

Most churches have varying approaches at different levels of the church. What kinds of qualifications or background checks are you looking for in teachers for children’s church or kids Sunday School? What about small group teachers or those teaching at the congregational level? What venues/age groups do you believe are acceptable for women to teach in? How long does someone need to be a member in order to begin teaching? What doctrinal beliefs do teachers need to assent to? Are there special behavioral guidelines that you expect for teachers? Who (specifically, what role) evaluates whether or not individuals are allowed to teach in the church? It may also be helpful to articulate ongoing methods for evaluation of teachers.

5. What is the method behind the madness?

This is different than articulating the objectives. This involves examining the existing or planned teaching events and charting a course that ends up at the family or individual level. This lowest common denominator is where churches should be aiming their teaching to be replicated by parents. Many churches use a funnel method in order to make sense of their teaching. For example, what is preached is applied and expanded on in small groups, and what is handled in small groups should end up applied and taught in the home. If you have an ideal flow such as this, here’s where you can articulate it so that your church can be on the same page with the leadership.

6. What roles do the various teaching venues play?

Think of this in terms of: (a) how they fulfill the purpose, (b) which objectives they meet, (c) implementation of curriculum for each, (d) what role oversees the teaching and teachers, and (e) how they fit into the method/flow of teaching with the church. Each teaching venue should include at least a two sentence summary that explains its role. Avoid being redundant, but rely on concepts and terms that you’ve already defined in the previous sections. As part of this process, you may ascertain that certain teaching venues are lacking or are unnecessary. This is an excellent opportunity to begin making programmatic shifts based on the prior conclusions. Categorize your teaching venues. Possible methods include: on-campus/off-campus, adult/teen/children/pre-K, men’s/women’s, Sunday/weekday, and/or lecture/discussion-based. Ideally these could be laid out on a spreadsheet prior to the final construction of the philosophy statement. The better you are able to categorize your teaching venues, the better you can fit them into the overall teaching program or perhaps see gaps in your existing teaching structure.