Blog

Developing a Training Church

Danny Rurlander

Developing a Training Church

Danny is the Senior Pastor at Moorlands Church, Lancaster. He is married to Emma and they have four children; Esme, Chloe, Lachlan and Lucy. Danny and Emma both grew up in Kendal and love the Lancaster area.  Danny trained at Moore Theological College in Sydney after which he served in a parish church in Merseyside for three years. He also teaches doctrine subjects on the North West Ministry Training Course in Leyland. 

Most people reading this will be familiar with the model of ministry Paul gives us in Ephesians 4.  "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."  Ephesians 4:11-12. 

This important passage reveals the means by which the risen and ascended Christ is building his church.  He does it through a combination of universal and particular word ministries. Ultimately the church is built into maturity in Christ by a universal word ministry, as every member of the church is equipped and prepared to play his or her part in the work.  This well-known principle is aptly (if a little cheesily perhaps!) expressed in the church bulletin board that stated: “Minister: every member of the congregation.” 

But there is also a role for a particular word ministry, done by those set apart for the work - the evangelists and pastor-teachers whom Paul refers to elsewhere as elders or overseers.  

What is the interplay between these two forms of word ministry? Simply put, the answer is training.  The primary work of the set-apart pastors – the particular word ministry – is to prepare the members of the church for the universal word ministry, which is what builds the church. Some have objected to the secular-sounding word “training” in the past, but this passage shows that, properly understood, training – that is, preparation for ministry – is essential to every healthy local church.

And yet how does this work out in reality?  How does the particular ministry of the pastors and teachers of a typical church achieve the goal of training every member of that church to build the church through their universal word ministry?

Without in any way suggesting that we model this especially well, we have aimed to put Ephesians 4 into practice and make ministry training for all our church members a key focus for us as a church, and a biblical value that touches everything we do.  Our practice has been shaped by three biblical principles.

Principles

1. Training is basic to the Christian life

training is just another way of speaking about disciple-making – because Jesus insisted that his disciples get involved in the business of making other disciples

Training, as we see in Ephesians 4, is essentially the business of helping people grow in Christian maturity so that they can bring God’s word to others. In other words, training is just another way of speaking about disciple-making – because Jesus insisted that his disciples get involved in the business of making other disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). Paul instructed Timothy to pass on the gospel message to people who would pass on the gospel message (2 Timothy 2:2) – he was to be a disciple who would train disciples who would train disciples!

This is so fundamental that the New Testament can barely conceive of discipleship apart from training.  In his opening gospel call in Mark 1, for example, Jesus makes it clear that Christians become gospel workers at the point of conversion, and such gospel work will require formation of some kind: “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Mark 1:17, (italics mine). 

From the moment we are converted God makes us servants of the kingdom who in turn are seeking to train others to do the same. Therefore training is the God-given engine room for gospel growth in any healthy local church.  If we want to see more people reached with the gospel and built into maturity in Christ we need to train more people who can reach others with the gospel and build them into maturity in Christ.

2. Training is the obligation of the local church

The Bible expects every believer to express their membership of the heavenly church of Christ through active membership of a local congregation.  Through his gift of pastor-teachers Christ equips every church member to serve others so that the church is built, and so that workers are raised up and sent out into the harvest field. 

Therefore training must be an integral part of what each local church does. It is not something to hand over to parachurch organisations or theological colleges, although they may play a role. To neglect training is not only to disobey the word of God, but is to short change the next generation by starving them of leaders and teachers. The church that does so will find itself in a permanent leadership crisis, and will most likely decline as the first generation comes to the end of its life. Sadly many great movements, revivals and ministries are evidence of this truth.  If you don't want to be a one-generation wonder, then train!

On the other hand the answer is not simply to bolt on a five week training program and think we have ticked the training box. If we take Ephesians 4 seriously a training ethos should pervade the whole church. 

On the other hand the answer is not simply to bolt on a five week training program and think we have ticked the training box. If we take Ephesians 4 seriously a training ethos should pervade the whole church.  Membership of the church will involve “speaking the truth in love” to each other so that the church “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16).  

There is a place for formal programs, but more important is a mind-set that sets the expectation that training will be happening throughout the church in all kinds of formal and informal contexts.  See Titus 2:1-10 for an example – Titus is encouraged to train the members of his congregation to train each other as they share their lives together and speak the word into particular contexts. This mind-set can be encouraged by preaching and leadership, and encouraged by appropriate programming and modelling so that, as church members do life and ministry together, the kind of training envisaged in Titus 2:1-10 can take place. 

3. The way each church trains must be appropriate to its unique context  

to say you have “no one to train” is to say you have no one to minister to. Don’t look over the fence and think someone else has it easier: even if there is just one person in your church, get on and train them, and train them to train others.

Every church will find itself with different opportunities and challenges. A city centre church with a high turn-over of students, professionals and young adults will look quite different to a church in a suburban context with settled families, or a rural village church with predominantly older people. In each case the model of training adopted will need to be developed in a way that suits that context.

Occasionally someone will say: “It’s OK for you in your student city, we have no one to train.”  But to say you have “no one to train” is to say you have no one to minister to.  Don’t look over the fence and think someone else has it easier: even if there is just one person in your church, get on and train them, and train them to train others.

Given those principles, how do they work out in practice in the context of a medium sized independent church in a small city in the North of England?

Practice

1. Preaching

Whatever your context, the key starting point is to actually believe in the power of the word.   In Ephesians 4 Paul envisages the pastor-teachers equipping the church for ministry.   If we were to look at Paul’s life and ministry for a model of what this means – in Acts and in the Pastoral Epistles for example – we would see some hints that this is more than Sunday sermons. But it’s not less than that.   We need to believe in our own doctrine of Scripture.   For example: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

If we believe this we will have confidence that, as the Scriptures are expounded on Sunday mornings, in a serious, deep, long term ministry of the word, God himself is training his people. 

as the Scriptures are expounded on Sunday mornings, in a serious, deep, long term ministry of the word, God himself is training his people

For example at Moorlands we have just come to the end of a series in the last chapters of Acts and each week were aware of how intentionally Luke seemed to be training us to be missionaries in a hostile world.  For example we were constantly reminded to expect suffering for speaking about Jesus.  When we looked at Paul’s “one to one” with Felix in Acts 24:25 we saw how the great apostle brought the message of “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” into the personal circle of the Roman governor. The account of Paul’s gentleness and boldness was great training for us, as it challenged us to speak the gospel into our own personal relationships.  

This applies to the regular Bible study programs of the church too.  It’s great to have training courses on evangelism, and we run several.  But it’s also fascinating to see students at the end of their first year of serious Bible study being able to answer all their non-Christian friend’s toughest questions from the book of Romans.  As we study Mark, Romans and Bible Overview in Small Groups, or Colossians in one to ones, we are being trained through the greatest missionary and ministry manuals ever written, to do the work of evangelism, to know how to “give a reason for the hope that we have” (1 Peter 3:15) and to build others to maturity in Christ.

2. Pathway

Part of our effort to provide a training ethos across the whole church is to make sure there is appropriate discipleship and teaching for people at the various stages of Christian life and church involvement. It is helpful to think about what is available in terms of a journey or pathway which people follow to becoming fully committed partners who are useful servants of the gospel.  Most churches have all sorts of systems, structures, groups and programs which have started at various times for various reasons, some good, some bad.  The concept of the pathway helps to evaluate these with the aim of ensuring that everything the church does helps as many people as possible to make progress in Christian maturity.

It is also important to communicate this pathway clearly, so that new people can see how they will grow and serve should they join the church. At Moorlands we demarcate three main stages of the journey: beginning, belonging and building.  

Beginning: here we aim to provide multiple entry points for anyone investigating Christianity, including accessible but stretching Sunday meetings, one-to-one Bible studies and simple, clear courses in a non-threatening environment which introduce people to what the Bible is all about. 

Belonging: this level aims to move people from attenders to active partners in the work of the church.  At its core is a five week membership course which sets out the beliefs, values and vision of the church, and how to be involved in the church’s mission, after which people join one of our small groups. 

Building: this level aims to train and equip partners for a life of service to others so that the church might be built up.  

This work of building happens formally and informally.  Formal training happens across the church in countless one to one settings in which a younger Christian generally meets with an older Christian for personal coaching in the form of Bible study, prayer and encouragement. 

Aspects of more formal training include practical ministry skills such as evangelism, Bible handling, and leadership.   Some of these training elements are for all, while some are aimed at people whose gifts and potential for leadership have been identified or need to be tested.   

One feature of our church program that is especially important to us is our “Prayer Tea”: a whole church family gathering on Sunday afternoon once a month. As well as significant times of prayer these meetings enable us to drip-feed the vision and priorities of the church, and through ten minute training slots to gently and constantly recalibrate the whole church to make sure we keep on mission. 

3. Particular

To assume that someone, somewhere has this covered, and that when you need a new pastor you can just advertise in the Christian press and hope someone comes along, seems to me to be an abdication of responsibility. It is the task of local churches to raise up the next generation of gospel workers and church leaders, whether paid or otherwise.

Because, in Ephesians 4, the universal ministry depends on the particular ministry of set-apart word ministers, as local churches we need to be raising up the next generation of those set-apart ministers, and to play our part in sending out gospel workers into the wider harvest field.  To assume that someone, somewhere has this covered, and that when you need a new pastor you can just advertise in the Christian press and hope someone comes along, seems to me to be an abdication of responsibility. It is the task of local churches to raise up the next generation of gospel workers and church leaders, whether paid or otherwise. This means, at the very least, pastors intentionally seeking out potential gospel workers from within our churches and encouraging them to pursue a life of sacrificial service to Jesus, equipping them to be fruitful servants, and challenging them to consider full time ministry.  This is after all what Paul expected Timothy to do as an essential part of his ministry: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." 2 Timothy 2:2

But where do you start? As well as instilling a training ethos throughout the church with the preaching and teaching of the Bible at the heart of it, and ensuring there is a pathway for people to move down, it is also worth thinking carefully about what particular vehicle for training your church context offers.  In gardening terms this is the “nursery bed” where you can intentionally take aside what are sometimes called “people worth watching,” work with them, share your life, convictions, struggles as well as skills, and watch their ministry slowly multiply over the long term.   

In our context this nursery bed generally, but not exclusively, comes from our student ministry, which feeds into our Ministry Training Scheme. Providing a Ministry Training Scheme for people who we see as potential candidates for a life time of full-time gospel ministry enables them to test their suitability for such ministry, equips them to be more effective members of a church, wherever they end up, and also adds to the ethos of training that we are seeking to permeate through the whole church.

The temptation might be to start an enormous program, or to be outfaced by the task, or frustrated that there are not enough people to run one. But this is not necessary.   Start small, and watch things grow, something Colin Marshall and Tony Payne have been arguing for in The Trellis and the Vine:

“…if we want to start training disciples to be disciple-makers, we need to build a network of personal ministry in which people train people.  And this can only begin if we choose a bunch of likely candidates and begin to train them as co-workers.  This group will work alongside you, and in time will themselves become trainers of other co-workers.”   The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, Matthias Media, page 157.

As the Chinese proverb says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now,” so is the case for training.  Training is the God-given means for every local church to grow, so get on and do it.