July 6, 2021

Training Men and Women for Ministry in Hard Places

There is a shortage of biblically qualified men and women entering into full time vocational ministry in the UK. There are so many churches without pastors, and so few evangelical churches actively training women.

Bible Colleges are not the answer to these shortfalls. The local church is the solution. Those of us who are in leadership bear the weight of responsibility for recruiting and training the next generation of Christian leaders. Here are some ways we can act now.

1. Make sure you prioritise time for people.

Many pastors (correctly) tend to lean heavily toward study, but there is a real danger of hiding away in an office (which far too many do) at the expense of relating to people. This is where I have been impressed by Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington. Every time I see him, his study is full of young men being trained and interacting with him. Likewise, church planters, particularly if they want to train future leaders, must make the time to invest in key people in order for leadership multiplication to grow.

2. We must be careful to contextualise whatever model of training it is we choose to follow.

Just because somebody writes a best seller for an American context, for example, does not necessarily mean it will translate directly to the UK. We must develop models of leadership training that best fits our own people in our own particularised situation. What works well in a middle-class church doesn’t often translate into a housing scheme/council estate ministry (and vice versa). Experiment with material and resources. There is a lot of good (and bad) stuff out there.

3. Develop various roles and leaders who fit into different categories.

I like to choose a person for my team and build a ministry around them rather than try to squeeze them into a pre-moulded job description. Traditional churches thrive on the ‘job spec’ approach and will choose a candidate who fits into a particular role that has been pre-determined. Of course, there is common sense to this, but church planters have to be able see potential in order to allow people to grow into and develop roles for themselves based on their inherent giftings.

4. We should have a flexible approach to training.

Some people may be suited to Bible Colleges, but most trainees in schemes will not. For example, some will be good readers and some will not. Some will get it quickly and some will not. So, we have to develop training and mentoring systems that flexibly deal with this and adapt accordingly. We must not get into the ‘one size fits all’ approach to training.

5. Embrace risk and failure.

This is why it is sometimes better to plant than to revitalise. We must take gambles on people and we must hold our hands up when it doesn’t work out. Many traditional churches don’t like failure and therefore take fewer risks the more established they become. Most of the time when we fail, we take more ‘risk assessments’ in order to limit the ‘damage’ and make sure we don’t do it again. Whilst there is wisdom in that, this sort of conservative approach can be death to a church-planting initiative because it tends to inhibit ideas and potential growth.

6. Good accountability is a must when developing new leaders.

We operate a mentoring approach at NCC which ensures that there is adequate feedback, challenge, and ample space for prayer, discussion, and spiritual growth across the board. There are all sorts of tools for this, including, The Gospel Coach, which, whilst not new to us, does offer some great online tools in this area.

7. Church planters must delegate.

This is a key point. Control freaks kill ministry and kill development. Give people a chance to serve and develop their skill set on the ground, otherwise the ministry will only grow to a certain level and then the work will stagnate. This can mean personal sacrifice in terms of letting go of things you like to do, and also a temporary drop in quality of some ministries as people learn through practice. Make sure the reason people aren’t coming through is not you.

8. We must realise that training is an ongoing process of development.

Some things will work for a season and then we must adapt and discover new and better material. Leaders must continually be honing their own gifts and keep on being humble and open to continuous spiritual growth and personal development.

I am sure there are more things to say, but these eight points are certainly a good place to start for us.

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