Sunday, February 27, 2011

Investing for Eternity

The press of weekly ministry commitments can easily consign the typical pastor to a hand-to-mouth existence. Acutely aware of Paul's instructions to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2) regarding the need to develop biblical leadership within the local church, he nonetheless can only dream of the time when he will be able to invest himself in a man who will go on to assume the privilege and responsibilities of the pastorate.

How does a local church find pastoral leadership? Is calling the local seminary or Bible college and getting a stack of resumes the best approach? It has always seemed to me a bit like going on a blind date and then having to make a decision regarding marriage. After all, does theological training readily translate into pastoral competence? You know the answer to that question.

Through the years, I have had a passion to train men for pastoral ministry; however, I have been locked into the mindset of working with men who are already involved in their seminary training. But what if we began working with men before they begin their formal education? What if we were to mentor them in the areas of character and people skills (those areas which typically wash out a young seminary grad) before they enter school? Wouldn't this assure them a much greater probability of success in their early years rather than let them learn those skills after graduation, when as a pastor they can do significant damage both to themselves and God's church?

But, you might say that you can't afford to invest in men who might not even make it to seminary, or who, if they do, might well graduate and move on to another church. To these objections I would reply that a seminary education proves nothing other than that a man knows how to read, write, and take exams - it says little about his heart or competence to work with people. And as for investing in those who might move on - isn't that essential to the work of missions?

So, if these ideas resonate with you, I want to commend to you a little but powerful book by my friend, Colin Marshall. "Passing the Baton: A handbook for ministry apprenticeship" (ISBN 978-1-921068-79-9) is a clearly written account of a two-year ministry apprenticeship program that trains young men in the areas of Christian character and conviction prior to their enrollment in theological training. Colin and others have been working this model for over 25 years and have trained more than 1500 young people along the way. The book provides both the philosophy of mentoring as well as the practical day-to-day methods and forms they have employed along the way. The book is sprinkled with testimonies from former apprentices and also honest assessments of things they tried which didn't work out. For those who wonder how to fund such an endeavor Colin relates how they established the appropriate stipends for the trainees and challenged various business people and churches to provide scholarships to offset the costs of such training.

Although most churches and pastors are not called to pioneer something as extensive as the organization Colin helped pioneer, they are still responsible to carry out Paul's command in 2 Tim. 2:2. It is my prayer that more pastors and churches in Southern California take the charge seriously and implement some of the principles from this helpful little book.