On Being A Teaching Church

mentoringWithout mentors I would have become a horrific pastor, I know it. When I first made the decision to go into pastoral ministry I was already out in left-field. I wasn’t part of a local church, I didn’t want to be. I had determined I was going to re-launch Christianity with a punk rock mindset. I was going to be better, be different, than the churches that I had known. In other words, I was clueless and arrogant. I had no idea what I was talking about and was on a path to destroying myself and harming many others. God knew this and brought into my life some godly mentors who could challenge me, shape me, pray for me, and lead me. Their example and friendship are part of the reason I am so passionate about Cornerstone’s being a teaching church. Teaching churches know that future leaders hone their skills best when they are trained by godly mentors.

I was thrilled when I came on staff at CBC and found that we were committed to being a teaching church. For years we had an established youth internship program, we have over the years had built-in training for elders and future ABF leaders, and now we have an official pastoral internship. Bob has been actively involved in discipling and consulting with younger pastors/church planters for years, and Jerry and Denise have, over the years, invited countless people to sit in on counseling cases for training opportunities. We are a teaching church, and I would have us remain one.

You see being a teaching church is extremely important. A teaching church looks beyond its own needs and immediate context and sees an opportunity to aid the church universal. A teaching church knows that it is not building its own kingdom and its own empire, but it is serving the King and seeking to build up His church everywhere. So, in order to help defeat the theological anemia in the global church, to help care for congregations who have suffered under the weight of abusive, negligent, and selfish leaders a teaching church seeks to equip and prepare others for ministry. It gives young men and women opportunities to seek what real ministry is like, to get a behind the scenes look at the challenges, conflicts, and joys of serving in the local church. It gives young leaders a chance to learn from mistakes, ask questions, get supervision, and receive critical feedback. This can be an immense help to young men and women going into full-time vocational ministry, as they are often unaware of what that means and what to expect.

It also allows for new leaders to have their character shaped. I know for me personally, if my college mentor Steve had not begun to work in my life and gently correct me I would have maintained an attitude of arrogance. I would have refused to submit, I would have lingered in apathetic theological development. I was often lazy and self-indulgent as a young man and Steve helped me to see that and make changes. Paul warns Timothy:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Many young leaders know that they need to learn specific skills, or think through deep thoughts, but they often neglect or overlook their own personal lives. As a result, many leaders fall into sin or weakness. Being under the guidance of a seasoned leader can be a tremendous blessing. Not only do you get to watch their example, but you also find a safe place to work through personal issues.

It’s not that teaching churches think they have all the answers. We, for example, know that we can always do things better. We as a staff regularly confess failures and sins to one another, report to the elders once a year on progress and projects, and discuss ways to improve in our ministries. We recognize too areas of weakness where we need to strategize for development, or pray for wisdom. We don’t believe we have it all figured out and that this grants us the right to train others. Rather, it is our honesty about our weaknesses that can make us a great context for raising up leaders. We can share our successes and our failures with others. We can invite them to learn from our mistakes and victories. We can also invite them to see our processes of discovery. Since we are always learning, adjusting, and thinking through things (even those tried and true practices) they get to learn how to plan and prepare in the midst of actual ministry. Ministry is exceedingly busy. If young leaders are not equipped they will spend so much time doing ministry that they will never take time to think about the ministry. Ministry will inevitably, then, become a to-do list where pastors, counselors, worship leaders, and others will check off their boxes week-to-week but never plan to grow and develop ministries more fully.

Teaching churches also provide new leaders with much-needed resources. My first solo church experience, that is my first experience without one of my mentors, was kind of scary. I often found myself in scenarios where I didn’t know what to do. Because I had such great mentors, however, I was able to call them, go grab coffee with them, and ask for help. I was able to draw from similar experiences that I had watched them handle, I was reminded of books that they had given me, I was able to think in the light of all that I had learned from watching and working with them. Their mentoring provided me with countless more resources to draw from then I would have had apart from them. Seminary was helpful for me, but their discipleship was priceless.

I love that Cornerstone is a teaching church. We give many people the chance to learn to teach, to lead worship, to oversee ministries, to study new ideas. We provide platforms for continuing education, for discipleship, and training. We seek out new leaders constantly, and we provide formal internships. I wan these things to continue for the life of our church, and I know our staff and elders agree. I want to see us improve in these areas too. I want us to consider what it means to advance theological and ministerial training in our context and among our people. I want us to think through what it would look like to equip non-traditional pastoral candidates (men who don’t have the luxury of going off to seminary). I want us to be able, some day, to hire more interns especially in areas of counseling and worship. I want us to continue to think through how best to raise up more leaders from our own congregations. I want to think through what it looks like to partner with seminaries and Bible colleges where we can send our people for training, and where they can send theirs for training. We have much to learn and much to grow in as we seek to be a teaching church, but I am so thankful that we are striving to be one.

It is extremely important to be a teaching church. It serves both to bless a single local congregation through equipping its own, and it serves to bless the church universal through raising up and sending out new leaders. I have been blessed to be part of teaching churches, to receive their benefits. I have been blessed by many good and godly mentors, men whose friendship I still now love. I am thankful now to be part of a teaching church that seeks to be mentors to others. May God bless Cornerstone in this area of ministry.

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