By Jennifer Johnson
A few years ago I wrote a proposal for an online initiative that would provide customizable resources for churches wanting to develop their pastors, worship leaders, campus ministers, church planters, elders, and key volunteers. I suggested an online portal with everything from 101 to seminary-level books, articles, podcasts, and videos, as well as suggested “tracks” with curated lists of resources for specific groups. I referred to research from the Barna Group and Ed Stetzer as well as insights from the leaders of Orchard Group, Stadia, and some of our megachurches to support my argument.
It was summarily dismissed. But I still believe the need exists.
For one thing, many denominations have created their own training programs not only for ministerial staff but for elders and other volunteer leaders. A friend of mine had to work through a five-year program of classes, research, and papers simply to be an elder in the United Methodist Church. I’m not saying all of our elders need five years of course work, but perhaps they do need some qualification besides running a business that makes seven figures.
I’m also not the only one talking about these issues. “In our country today, more than ever, we have people entering full-time ministry with absolutely no formal training,” says David Helm, executive director of The Simeon Trust, which provides a variety of classroom and residential learning opportunities for church leaders. “And while I think there is nothing magical about ‘formal’ training in the sense of a seminary degree, this trend often implies to the impressionable among us that training is unnecessary. Combined with a growing anti-intellectualism, this degradation of training—whether by formal education or field experience—is becoming incredibly dangerous. Handling God’s Word in a church ministry context is something that requires some skill, skill that is conveyed through training.”
Not every church leader can go to seminary, but all of them can read, listen, and learn, especially when the very best resources are pulled together and presented to them online.
And some of our largest ministries are already making strides in this area. I loved hearing that Stadia and Milligan’s partnership was driven not only by a desire to recruit new church planters, but to better equip the ones already serving. Several of our megachurches are also exploring new ways to train new leaders. Some, like Christ’s Church of the Valley’s Leadership Institute in Peoria, Arizona, are even working with colleges and universities to create programs that offer college credit.
Larger churches looking “in house” or to the marketplace for new pastors and planters need to make sure these emerging leaders know the fundamentals of theology, church history, Bible, and practical ministry. Smaller churches building an elder team or starting a new ministry need practical resources that are easy to share. All of us need ways to equip the faithful leaders we already have.
Perhaps it’s time to share my proposal with a few more people. Milligan? Stadia? Call me.