We could call it an epidemic, a famine, a shortage, a dearth, or a crisis.
Everywhere I go, I hear church leaders saying something like:
- I don’t know where we are going to find the next generation of church leaders.
- We don’t seem to have many emerging new elders on the horizon.
- It sure seems that we have a real preacher shortage, and from appearances, that shortage is getting worse when I look at the next crop of preachers in our universities and seminaries.
- We just can’t get enough small group leaders, got any ideas?
- Nobody seems to know how to do evangelism anymore; I worry about our future.
- Why can’t we get more folks to visit the hospitals?
- I wish we had more people to study with internationals who are interested in not only learning English but also wanting to know more about Jesus!
Does this sound familiar?
Are you facing the same kind of challenge where you fellowship, serve or lead?
What’s wrong with us that we can’t staff ministries and leadership positions?
Are people too busy these days... or less committed… or more consumer-centric in their approach to church?
Let’s be honest. In most places, a lack of emerging men and women properly prepared for leadership is a real problem!
This is a real problem:
I’m sure that if we scraped around research numbers long enough, we could come up with many contributing reasons for this problem. One factor has to be the change in expectations for involvement in spiritual communities. House churches, missional communities, and service groups have less commitment to a formal gathering. Our younger generations seem less focused and certainly less expectation-bound to attend a “church in the box.”* This, of course, impacts those whom we would identify as emerging church leaders in our traditional church contexts.
However, I believe there is an often overlooked reason for our lack of emerging passionate church leaders; one which we do not readily recognize.
Call it what you want — desks in rows, gazing at cowlicks, directive teaching, or traditional education — our pervasive form of teaching adopted by the western church is different than the method of Jesus and the early church. We’ve opted for the mass education, directed information-giving, didactic data-passing, stand-at-a-lectern form of teaching. In the process, we all but rejected the master-apprentice model of Jesus. We replaced the “doing life with a master to learn life as disciples” model with the “lecturing expert imparting technical information to be absorbed” model.
A look at Jesus:
But, why? Why have we replaced the master-apprentice model for training leaders?
Certainly we did not replace it on theological grounds!
Notice the essence of Jesus’ approach in the call of his apostles:
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons (Mark 3:13-15 — Emphasis in bold added.).
Notice the progression:
- Master chose those he wanted to mentor.
- They chose to follow.
- They learned by being with him.
- When they were ready, he sent them out to minister.
- He gave them the authority to do authentic ministry.
From other passages, we know the apostles reported back to the Master. Then, when the time was right, Jesus sent them out again (in pairs). Again, they reported back to him, repeating the process until he eventually turned them loose to minister on their own, with full authority, called to repeat the process with their disciples (Matthew 10:1-24; Matthew 28:18-20).
No cowlicks in front of you.
No term papers.
Ministry was learned through accompanying and serving under supervision. Leadership was learned from receiving nurturing, loving correction, and even strong rebuke when needed. Ministry training was done with a loving and focused master, mentoring a disciple. More than teaching, this was training, or what Jesus called disciple-making.
Following Jesus' approach is not a denigration of our traditions to acquire information. Information is readily available today, both formally and informally. Jesus' method of disciple training doesn't mean we have to neglect the discipline and refinement gained with the acquisition of research skills to learn and think for ourselves. We have resources they didn’t have. Following Jesus' example is not a call to be Luddites, rejecting modern enhancements to theological and ministry training.
Unfortunately, however, we have neglected the Jesus model and replaced the disciple-making core with our modern enhancements. We’ve largely jettisoned the master-disciple model for the current academic model. The mentor-intern relationship can be little more than a tacked-on experience on the back end of the traditional western model, viewed as essential only to fulfill degree requirements.
A way forward:
As I work with churches and mission efforts, I have found an important strategy to help restore emerging leaders to the pipeline of leadership. I have seen this actively lived out in the ministries of both experienced and young ministers.** These effective ministers have intentionally built their processes on the example of Jesus and his master-disciple model. This method of training leaders revolves around a key thought:
Each leader works with at least two interns or apprentices.***
Jesus called on his disciples to repeat his process — we must remember the one imperative of the “Great Commission” is to “make disciples” by going, baptizing, and teaching these disciples to obey all of his teaching (Matthew 28:18-20). Paul felt so confident in this training method that he pointed churches to Timothy as one who could both model and teach what Paul himself lived (1 Corinthians 4:17).
These early leaders are examples of the “Every 1 Trains 2!”
But, what does this philosophy mean in real life ministry today?
When elders, pastors, shepherds, and ministers visit the sick or go for a time of prayer with someone in need, they should take along someone they are training. The leader purposely calls this someone to minister alongside them. The leader invites this person into a mentoring relationship to prepare this person for ministry on his or her own. As the trainee gains proficiency, he or she is sent out with authority to minister with only occasional supervision. During this time, the trainer prays for the spiritual growth, strength, and maturity of the person he or she is mentoring. Eventually, the mentor sends his student out expecting that he or she will train someone else.
“Every 1 Trains 2!”
This philosophy needs to permeate everything we do. This disciple-making model makes ministry training personal, organic, and purposeful. It works across ministries. It grows our leadership base. It is a duplicatable model.
At first, this method may appear to be more labor-intensive and time-consuming than just doing ministry ourselves. However, after the passage of time, the mentor duplicates his or her efforts with those trained. The mentors enjoy the added benefit of working with people gifted in ways they are not. Some of those trained will serve in areas their mentors cannot. Over time, the mentor's investment in emerging leaders yields more people prepared to lead in ministry as well as the joy of the mentors entering into relationships with emerging leaders. This influx of leaders ready to lead and serve becomes a reservoir of blessing for our churches and missional communities.
“Every 1 Trains 2!”
The principle isn’t new. Jesus, Barnabas, and Paul proved this model. So, why don't we prayerfully seek the Holy Spirit's guidance to help us unpack what that means in our contexts and put this principle to work in our ministries? We can spend time in the four gospels and the book of Acts to see this training method at work, then put it into practice in our ministries.
“Every 1 Trains 2!”
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 — Underline and bold text added for emphasis.).
Maybe “Every 1 to train 2!” isn’t a method, but simply the implementation of Jesus’ commission for us to "make disciples"!
* The phrase “church in the box” is not intended as a pejorative. Instead, it is descriptive of a church that is church-building based.
** I am blessed to have relationships with people who have lived this principle in their ministries. Robert Reagan and his Chiang Mai, Thailand, team have interned well over 200 young men and women from both Asia and the U.S. In addition, Casper Steenkamp and his “Kingdom DNA” commitment have been lived out with both university students in the U.S. and in South Africa as he focuses on training coaches in sports ministry along with university students in evangelism and service. Rusty Jordan who works with university ministry in Delaware. These ministries not only are leading unbelievers to faith in Jesus but also are developing all sorts of leaders for the future.
*** I don’t use interns and apprentices synonymously. Interns are 3-month trainees usually using their summer breaks to train. Apprentices are those who use their gap year (and longer) as well as adults who are being trained in ministry over at least a year to prepare themselves to lead in a ministry, group, or focused evangelism in the future.