by Judy Daniels
How was your pastor trained for leadership in ministry?
It’s likely that he graduated from a seminary or Bible college. He may have been an intern on a church staff or was mentored by a veteran pastor or church leader. He has probably attended seminars and conferences or taken advantage of online programs.
If your church staff includes several pastors in various roles, most of them have likely had leadership training/education, as well.
But what about others in leadership positions in the congregation? How is an elder/overseer, an Adult Bible Fellowship (ABF) teacher, a missions committee chairman, or a children’s ministry director trained for his or her role? These positions are usually filled by volunteers-lay leaders-who are strongly committed to serving the Lord. But their work in the church is in addition to their jobs, family responsibilities, and other commitments. They are essential to the ministry of the church, but may not have had opportunities for formal training or preparation.
Is it important for lay leaders to have some sort of leadership training?
“Lay leadership development is indispensable for the church because the lay leaders are the ‘joints and ligaments’ that hold the church together and give it unity and growth,” explains Tom Julien, executive director emeritus of Grace Brethren International Missions. Julien has had extensive experience in leadership development and is currently the discipling pastor at the Winona Lake (Ind.) Grace Brethren Church.
“The Lord gives leaders to the church,” Julien continues, “for preparing God’s people for works of service, ‘so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 4:12-13). From Christ, ‘the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work’ (Eph. 4:16.).
“The test of those in pastoral leadership is not how well they do ministry, but how well they prepare others to do ministry,” he adds.
But there are obstacles that often prevent effective lay leadership training.
“Probably the main one is that since the church’s leaders have seminary training, the laypeople may feel inferior and that they are incapable of assuming leadership,” says Julien. “This is related to another major obstacle: the fact that the majority of churches do not have an ‘equipping’ culture. The paid staff is supposed to do the ministry, because that is why they are hired. [Also] many churches have no way of effectively recognizing lay people for leadership functions. Of course, the busy schedules of most church members make it difficult for some of the key lay leaders to devote the time necessary to become involved.”
Yet, there are churches in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC) that are overcoming the obstacles. One is the New Beginnings Grace Brethren Church in Myerstown, Pa., led by Dr. Keith Shearer, senior pastor.
Shearer was involved in leadership training in his previous pastorate in Osceola, Ind.
“I have held leadership training as a high priority in my ministry all along,” he stresses. “I especially have focused on the training of elders, mission leaders, and future pastors and missionaries. When I came to Myerstown in 1994, I brought these goals and practices with me and have continued them.”
New Beginnings offers training for a variety of leadership areas: elders, missions, ABF, and youth/children’s ministries, as well for future pastors and missionaries. One example of the scope of training is the program for elders. Shearer says it includes “five in-depth sessions on biblical eldership, a mastery of the FGBC Statement of Faith with pertinent scriptures, various assigned readings (e.g. The Measure of a Man by Getz or Spiritual Leadership by Sanders), and working through our adaptation of Grace Brethren International Mission’s ACT Strategy and principles of SALT (conceptual learning model).”
Dan Jackson, director of shepherding and church ministries at New Beginnings, adds, “Nothing happens without leaders, either formal or informal.” He and Julien both refer to 2 Timothy 2:2 as a key verse on the subject of training local church leaders: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Jackson sees the church’s good progress in leadership training as something that starts in the pulpit.
“It begins with the Sunday morning worship of the church, where Keith faithfully teaches through the Word of God, verse by verse, book by book,” he notes. “This centers our teaching and leading on the revealed, written Word of God. For the ministries I lead, we build on this foundation with regular leaders’ meetings.”
On a more personal level, he adds, “There is a level of worship of the triune God and of fellowship with believers that occurs during training and ministry that is unparalleled anywhere else in life.”
Grant David, a retired machinist, is an ABF associate to Jackson, an ABF lead equipper, and involved in mentoring at the church. He appreciates the variety of training.
“[It has] provided information that focused my leadership to the centrality of the church,” he emphasizes. “The picture of the first century Acts church became my important role model for my leadership. The relationship and the seed-sowing combine to connect my leadership in a deeper relationship with those I have been called to lead.
“It has given me a spiritual passion for leading others into growing with biblical obedience and for reaching unsaved people.”
Mike Pontz, chairman of the church’s Missions Commission, has also been through several of the church’s leadership training programs. He has served in missions, youth work, and in other areas of the church, in addition to working at a local cabinet company for 25 years.
The leadership training, he says, has “given us a better knowledge of God and His Word…a greater boldness in our ministry…a deeper experience of our bond to one another…a greater fellowship with brothers and sisters who are serving Christ around the world. Seeing God’s hand while learning and serving together changes us. We have had unforgettable, moving moments together. This causes me to persevere.”
If a church desires to train its lay leaders, Julien suggests that “the church leadership…become intentional about being an equipping church. This means moving to a ministry team approach, for ministry training cannot be separated from involvement in ministry.”
It takes effort, to be sure. But the effort changes lives. Jackson puts it into perspective: “Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry is the coolest thing on the planet.”
(Judy Daniels was the editor of Grace Magazine for 11 years. Now a freelance writer, she lives in Winona Lake, Ind., with her husband, Denny.)