There is a revolution underway that is redefining leadership training. One of this century’s emerging megatrends is the movement away from institutional leadership training to a church-based model. I call the philosophy underlying this radical paradigm shift “pastoral mentorship.”
Today’s pastors are raising up the Timothys of tomorrow and developing homegrown, core leadership for their churches. These new leaders are being equipped to carry the spiritual DNA, philosophy of ministry, doctrinal distinctives and ministry emphases of the one who oversaw their training. What are the reasons for this growing trend, and why is it proving to be so successful all over the world?
1. Church-based leadership training is more possible, practical and cost-effective than ever before. What made institutional training so necessary in the past was the sparse availability of expertise. Key teachers and scholars—in limited supply—were recruited by prestigious institutions. As technology has become more available and inexpensive, today’s churches can draw on expertise using webinars, satellite seminars, DVDs, church-based curriculums and online resources. The local church is returning to the early church model of being the great incubator of new leadership in the body of Christ.
2. Church-based training is on-the-job learning. Years ago I was a missionary in Nigeria and ministered in a Foursquare church. Though small, the church had started its own school to equip its leaders. Because of limited finances, the pastor’s wife got a job in a local bank. She was frustrated because she wanted to be in ministry, but God told her, “Start your ministry in the bank.” She began with a lunchtime Bible study, taking what she was learning in the school and bringing it to the workplace. The night I ministered, she’d already won eight people to the Lord, and after I preached, I led her Muslim manager to Christ. Training leaders to apply their learning in the marketplace is a huge benefit of church-based leadership training.
3. Church-based training practically helps pastors. Many traditional institutional training centers are information-oriented. Their courses include Greek, Hebrew, church history, theology, hermeneutics and homiletics. Though these are excellent subjects, they can often fail to offer practical help for a local church pastor. Young leaders today want practical training in how to see a drug addict set free, a sick child healed or a spiritually oppressed person delivered. Through a church-based school, a pastor is able to release others to do hospital visitation, evangelism, outreach, altar work, children’s ministry, youth ministry, teaching and discipleship—just to name a few.
4. Church-based training is rooted in character formation, faithfulness and fruitfulness. These are the most important biblical requirements when it comes to church leadership. Obviously, a solid grasp of God’s Word is still needed; but character issues will eclipse the knowledge factor in the incubator of a local church setting. Pastors know who faithfully pays tithes, gives offerings, whose families are in order, who attends church regularly and who has a stellar reputation. These character qualities are becoming foundational to a new generation of leadership development.
Church-based training is thriving. And as more traditional institutions examine how to get on board and integrate with this movement, an army of practically trained leaders will continue to grow to help reap a massive harvest for Christ.
Berin Gilfillan is the founder of the International School of Ministry, a leadership-training program that today is in 141 nations and in 60 languages.
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