Very few needs are more pressing for the church of Jesus Christ than that of producing trained, qualified, humble, godly leaders who can competently shepherd and oversee the precious flock of God. Acquiring these leaders is proving more and more difficult. The young men of my generation are not pursuing ministry in the same numbers that our fathers did. A recent Barna study has concluded that only 1 in 7 pastors are under the age of 40, prompting Barna president David Kinnaman to say that the aging pastorate “represents a substantial crisis for Protestant churches.” The problem is every bit as grave internationally. Mission agencies are reporting some of their smallest candidate classes in history.
Not only are we failing to produce the quantity of leaders necessary, we are also failing to produce the quality of leaders necessary. Sin and scandal rock the American pulpit. The scriptural qualifications for an elder found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are now dismissed as an impossible ideal. All this prompts Jeff Reed to conclude, “The greatest need of the evangelical church worldwide seems to be that of training spiritual leaders. From Burma to Africa, from Rumania to the United States, the Church is suffering from a dearth of qualified, mature spiritual leaders.”
Perhaps it’s time for churches to take a serious, prayerful look at how we train pastors and missionaries. Since the end of the American Civil War, the church in the United States has largely been dependent on formal learning institutions, such as Bible colleges and seminaries, to train Christian leaders. There’s no doubt that God has faithfully used this paradigm for nearly two centuries. But as our culture experiences major shifts, it’s important for us to carefully reevaluate our approach to theological education and leadership development in light of scriptural principles and patterns.
Bethany Baptist Church has entered into the fray with the formation of our Theological Education And Mentoring (TEAM) Work program. TEAM is a unique church-based theological education program that mentors and equips perspective pastors and ministry leaders within the context of authentic ministry. This is not simply a “church-housed” program that tries to duplicate seminary within the four walls of a church building. It’s an entirely unique approach to Christian education that is sourced in the life and ministry of the local church. TEAM is not a “parachurch” organization, but an “in-church” structure that is accountable to the church, managed by its pastors, and rooted in authentic ministry.
The purpose of this blog series is to provide a basic overview of the philosophy of education utilized at Bethany Baptist Church. I want to be very clear that this is not a “hit piece” on Bible colleges and seminaries. I’m grateful for good institutions of Christian higher learning. I believe that they do and will continue to provide a valuable service for Christ’s cause. At the same time, I also believe that it is critically important for local churches to reclaim their central role in the training of future leaders.
In the next post, we will examine some of the core principles that Bethany uses to guide its theological education initiatives. We will then examine the New Testament basis for these principles.
“The Aging of America’s Pastors”; https://www.barna.com/research/aging-americas-pastors/ (Accessed 3/21/18)
This is based on multiple conversations I’ve had with people in the missions community. In particular, this came up during a workshop given by Gary Anderson, president emeritus of Baptist Mid-Missions, during the 2017 Refresh Conference at Faith Baptist Bible College & Theological Seminary (Ankeny, IA). C. Gordon Olson also addressed this issue in What in the World is God Doing?, p. 313. His statistics are several decades old but I doubt the situation has improved much. If anything, it’s probably worse.
Jeff Reed, “Church-Based Leadership Training: A Proposal”, from Words of Fellowship, Vol. 1, No 1 (Ames, IA; BILD International, 1988)
Jeff Reed, “Church-Based Theological Education: Creating a New Paradigm” (Ames, IA; BILD International, 1992) p. 3-4