So far in our series, we’ve talked about the great need for training pastors and missionaries. Bethany Baptist Church is attempted to meet that need through our Theological Education And Mentoring (TEAM) Work program. We are now discussing various New Testament principles that shape our approach to theological education. Last week, we saw that New Testament education was heart-focused. Today we will note that New Testament education was church-based
Educators, Christian and otherwise, are beginning to recognize the importance of creating the correct context for learning. They call this approach “situated learning” “which essentially means that educators pay attention to the context as well as the content to make sure that they match in a manner to optimize development.” While it’s important to have correct teaching, it’s equally important to make sure that this information is transmitted in the correct context.
In what context did the apostolic church train its leaders? In Acts 13:1, we see a team of qualified leaders shepherding the church at Antioch. Where did these leaders come from? In Acts 11:26, we’re told that Paul and Barnabas devoted an entire year to teaching in Antioch. The verse is clear that this teaching happened in conjunction with their being “assembled with the church”. It seemed likely that Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen where trained by Paul and Barnabas in the local church context. As they were taught, they eventually became not only pupils of Paul and Barnabas but their peers and fellow leaders (Acts 13:1).
In Acts 14:23, Paul appointed elders at his church plants. Where did he find so many qualified leaders? Again, we are left with the conclusion that Paul trained these pastors from within the congregation. In the previous verse, the activities of the missionary team is described: “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22 KJV) Leadership training was a natural and necessary outpouring of Paul’s teaching ministry.
But not only is church-based theological education modeled in the New Testament, it is implicitly taught as well. Churches are called to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and all that Christ taught (Matthew 28:20). Would not theological education and pastoral training be included in God’s “whole counsel” and “all things” that Jesus taught? Therefore, providing robust theological education and leadership training is not optional for churches. Local churches have a biblical responsibility to teach the full spectrum of Christian truth, including the higher forms of education.
Pastors are to take the lead in the church’s theological education process. Paul had mentored and trained Timothy to be a minister of the gospel (Acts 16:1-5). Toward the end of his life, Paul instructed Timothy to continue the pattern. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2 KJV) Four generations are in view in this verse. This command requires all pastors to have a multi-generational strategy for equipping “faithful men” to pass on Christian truth. TEAM Work is the application of the vision of Bethany’s pastors to accomplish that end.
Throughout history, the church has taken seriously its responsibility to train leaders. From the school at Antioch to the academy at Geneva, churches throughout time have worked hard to equip ministers. While acknowledging the use of parachurch entities throughout history, historian Howard Rowdon states the normality of training ministers as they minister. “But in principle, training for the ministry belongs to the ongoing work of the ministry. Danger, if not disaster, is not far away when it becomes isolated, and exists as an end in itself. The importance of training ‘on the job’ is shown by the persistence throughout church history of the curacy method. In-service training is no new idea.”
Kevin Bauder acknowledges the vital, biblical importance of the local church in leadership development. He starts, “Every New Testament congregation must take seriously its responsibility to instruct future generations of leadership. The church is so important as a center of biblical and doctrinal nurture that it cannot be replaced. No other institution can take over this responsibility. None should try.” Unfortunately, most churches today have lost the vision for a robust Christian education strategy. Jeff Reed says, “Churches have almost universally abdicated their central role in training leaders, both for ministry in their own generation as well as the generation to come. Just as parents give up their vital role for the spiritual training of their children to the church Sunday School, so the churches give up their role in training leaders to institutions such as seminaries and Bible colleges…Until leadership training becomes a vital ministry of those leading in our churches, and by implication a ministry of the whole church, we will continue to experience a severe leadership shortage in churches around the world, both in this generation and in generations to come.”
Bethany Baptist Church is attempting to retake that ground through our TEAM program. We are not saying that Bible colleges and seminaries can’t play an important role in a person’s theological education. We are saying that the local church must also play an important role in theological education. Biblically, the church is the only institution on the planet that is required to train men for Christian service. This is a mandate we take seriously.
We also see great practical value in training Christian leaders in the context of real ministry. Where better to prepare men for service in the church than the church itself? Perspective leaders can directly apply what they’re learning to a real-life church situation. Life, ministry, and education flow together to create a learning experience that cannot be manufactured in a classroom.
In the next post, we will look at another biblical principles before discussing some of the practical benefits of church-based theological education.
Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (New York, NY; Cambridge, 1991)
“Practicum Manual” (Ames, IA; BILD International, 2016) p. 6
Harold H. Rowdon, “Theological Education in Historical Perspective,” Vox Evangelica 7 (1971), p. 87
Kevin T. Bauder, “It’s Not a Cadillac! Part Four: Where Should We Learn?”, from In the Nick of Time (Plymouth, MN; Central Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018); https://centralseminary.edu/its-not-a-cadillac-part-four-where-should-we-learn/ (Accessed 8/23/18)
Jeff Reed, “Church-Based Leadership Training: A Proposal”, from Words of Fellowship, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Ames, IA; BILD International, 1988)