Month: June 2013

Building Better Preachers Pt 3: Combining Online Education with Actual Ministry Experience

imagesIn this third installment of my series on Building Better Preachers, I would like to talk about the benefit of brining the classroom and the local church together in preparing future ministers.  There was a time when ministers who desired seminary or Bible college training were required to relocated if they did live within driving distance of the seminary.  But now we can literally take the seminary to anyone with access to a computer and the internet.  This provides enormous opportunities and benefits for those preparing to go into the ministry because they can stay in a local church setting and still pursue their education.  This combination of higher education and real world experience is a key element in building better preachers.

The Danger of Disconnection

We have all seen it happen.  A young man who is on fire for the Lord surrenders the ministry and then heads off to seminary.  Three years later they leave the seminary but have lost all touch with the real world of ministry.  The reason is often simply that while in seminary they did not receive the real world experience and mentoring necessary to help them learn to become good ministers.  Sure, they can parse verbs and discuss the nuances of systematic theology but they have no real concept of how to help a family through hard times or to console someone who has just lost a loved one.  There are excellent books and material available on these topics but the truth is that reading about them and role-playing them in a seminary class is not the same as actually ministering to real live people.

This is where the need for experience under the guidance of a mentor is invaluable.  I will never forget my first experience in preaching a funeral.  I had no idea what I needed to do but thankfully, I had a mentor who walked me through each step and taught me by example how to minister to a hurting family.

Maximizing the Benefit of Online Learning While Serving in a Ministry Position

In my mind the ideal ministry training model is to have a mentor in place in a local church who will guide the prospective minister through his training.  The mentor has a several key responsibilities. First, he needs to make sure that the prospective pastor is moving forward in his academic studies.  Basically, in this role he provides the accountability that is sometimes lacking in online education.  By meeting weekly with the prospective Pastor the mentor can discuss the academic work that he is completing his academic work and also to make sure that he helps the student to connect what he is learning academically with real world experience.

Second,the mentoring Pastor can model various ministry roles and activities for the prospective Pastor.  By taking him on ministry calls, or showing him how to prepare a sermon, the mentoring Pastor demonstrates for the young man how to be an effective minister.  One of the great problems that we face is that young Pastors often don’t know what goes on behind the scenes and how an effective minister uses his time and energy.  By modeling and demonstrating various skills the mentoring Pastor helps the prospective Pastor to learn what is involved in the ministry.

Third, the mentoring Pastor helps to develop the real-life ministry skills of the prospective Pastor by guiding him through an increasingly more complex set of ministry assignments. (More on this tomorrow).  As the student Pastor conducts actual ministry activities he gains valuable experience that he will later be able to use in his own ministry.  At first the mentor may need to actually go with the prospective Pastor on hospital calls etc… but eventually he should be able to handle these matters on his own. Tomorrow we will talk about some of the skills that need to be developed in this kind of training program.

Finally, the mentoring Pastor provides valuable feedback on the prospective Pastors.  A weekly meeting between the Pastor and the prospective Pastor where they discuss the past week’s ministry opportunities and check what was done well and what needs to be improved is vital.  Nearly every Pastor that I know would agree that early in their ministry they needed more feedback.  An experienced Pastor can give great advice and guidance in these areas.

What I am describing sounds a great deal like many ministry internships that are offered by seminaries and Bible colleges for a semester.  The fundamental difference, however, is that I am suggesting that this relationship last for the entire period of a minister’s seminary training.  Most of the skills that are required in Pastoral ministry must be developed over a period longer than a mere semester.  They take several years to learn and a life-time to master.  We need to greatly expand this focus if we are going to build better preachers.

Join me tomorrow as we discuss the specific areas where a mentoring program can help a new Pastor develop his skills.





Building Better Preachers Part 2: The Local Church is the Best Training Ground

Joe BuchananThis is the second post in my series about “How to Build Better Preachers.”  Today, I want to talk about how we can get the local church involved in the training of new Pastors.  It is my conviction that the local church is the single most important entity in reaching the world with the gospel and it is also the best place to build and train new preachers.  Over the past twenty years of ministry I have seen many young men who felt called to the ministry and who were on fire for God be ruined by going off to seminary.  

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not against seminaries nor education.  An important part of my ministry has been in teaching at the Bible college.  However, I have observed a problem in the approach that we often take in the Bible college and seminary — we don’t connect enough to the local church.  What ends up happening is that we have young men who go off and spend four to seven years in the monastic environment of the university where they never get a true understanding of what it means to serve in the local church.  What happens when they come out is often disastrous. 

Idealistic Preachers Blow Up Churches

Too many young ministers come out of the seminary with an idealized and unrealistic vision of what the ministry is going to be like.  They quickly learn that the ministry is not about parsing verbs and arguing the nuances of systematic theology but working with real people who have real-life problems.  The ministry can be messy and it requires a certain set of skills to succeed and be effective in preaching the gospel.  These skills are learned more through experience than case studies in the seminary.  When young preachers meet these real-life issues they often approach them in ways that only makes matters worse.  What ends up happening is they often blow up the church by trying to deal with problems in a textbook, legalistic, boneheaded way.  The key is not adding another class into the curriculum but getting the seminary and the local church to move closer together in the training of new Pastors.

Move the Seminary to the Local Church

What I would like to suggest is that we move the seminary to the local church.  We live in a day and age where world-class education is literally a mouse click away for anyone in the world.  Through digital courses offered on the internet or strategically placed extension centers across the countries, seminaries can now offer educational opportunities to Pastors while they stay in their ministry context.  But I would like to suggest we go even one step further.  

If we really want the local church to become a training ground for new Pastors we need to involved the leaders and members of the church in the process.  In my mind I see the training of a new Pastor as a combination of three elements.  First, there is the academic aspect which is provided by the seminary.  Second, there is the experiential part of training where the young Pastor is given the opportunity to use and hone his skills.  Finally, there is the mentoring relationship with a more experienced Pastor.  

When I look back at my ministry all three of these elements were present but  rarely at the same time.  What I would like to suggest is that we intentionally bring these three elements together to build better preachers. Come back tomorrow and we will explore how to effectively combine these three elements. 


Building Better Preachers Part 1: It Starts with the Call

Christ Church StellartonThis morning I want to start a new series of blog posts that I am entitling “Building a Better Preacher.”  These posts come out of two strong convictions that I have concerning the role of the Pastor.  First, I earnestly believe that the health of the church can never rise above the health of it’s leadership.  If we want stronger, more vibrant churches we need to produce stronger more vibrant Pastors.  Second, I believe that we need a fundamental change in the way that we train and prepare ministers (more on that later this week).  For today, however, I want to focus on one of the most fundamental aspect of a Pastor’s ministry — His call.

Over the past twenty years of ministry I have had the opportunity to mentor several men who have felt the call to ministry.  Some of them are still serving today but others have fallen away for one reason or another.  In addition to those that I have personally mentored, I have had the opportunity to watch dozens of other men who have initially surrendered to the call but later washed out of the ministry for one reason or another.  I believe that a large part of the problem with those men who washed out has been that the church did them a disservice in helping them to discern their call.  For the most part, especially in Southern Baptist life, we have reduced the call to ministry to an individual and very subjective  process.  Basically many Pastors when dealing with a young man who senses the call to ministry have taken the position that, “If God is calling him, who am I to stand in the way.”  While I understand this sentiment to a certain degree the fact is that God has placed the congregation in a key role in discerning the minister’s call to preach and I would like to suggest the following process for helping men who feel called to ministry to confirm their call.

1.)  Pastoral Interview- Once a candidate feels like they have been called to the ministry their first step should be to talk with their Pastor.  As a Pastor I have three basic responsibilities here.  First, I need to help the candidate have a clear sense of why they think they are called.  Second, I want to give them a clear process by which they can confirm their call.  Third, I want to give them an honest picture of what the ministry is going to be like.  My goal here is not to discourage or encourage but to simply inform.  If they desire to continue then we move to the second stage.

2.) Meet with Church Leaders– As the Pastor I am only one voice in the church and my desire is to have as many people as possible involved in confirming a man’s call to ministry.  After meeting personally with the candidate my next step is to have them meet with some of the key leaders of the church.  My personal preference is to make this an informal rather than a formal process.  I will go and talk to 3 to 5 key leaders in our church and ask them to get together with the candidate and to talk to them about ministry and their call.  My personality is such that I don’t like to rush or hurry things so this process can take 4 to 6 weeks or perhaps as many months.  I will especially tend to hit the brakes and slow the process if the candidate wants to hurry.  The goal here isn’t to move fast to be deliberate, prayerful and thorough.  Once the leaders unanimously agree concerning his call it is time to take him before the church to be licensed.

3.) Licensure– In our church licensing a man to preach means three things.  First, the candidate has sensed the call to ministry.  Second, our Pastoral staff and leaders have met with them and agree that there is a possibility that God has called this man to the ministry.  Third, we are requesting that the church give him the opportunity to use gifts and to further explore whether or not he is called.  Notice that we are still in the process here of determining whether or not he is called.  This is a key point in the track towards ordination, because here the congregating is going to get much more involved and I think that this is one of the more important times in the process.

4.) Watch-care– I am referring to the next period of time as watch-care because this is the period in a minister’s life when he is still working under the care and watchfulness of his home congregation.  The goal here is twofold.  First, the prospective minister is given the opportunity to explore various ministry opportunties within his local congregation and to use his gifts.  Second, the church is going to watch over him and care for him while at the same time examining his abilities and the qualities that will confirm his call.  While he is under watch-care the prospective minister should also be training for the ministry (more on that later this week) and be given opportunities to explore and utilize his gifts in real ministry situations under the supervision of an experienced Pastor. Much of what I write about in the next two days posts will deal with how we can utilize this watch-care period to train better ministers in the future.

5.) Church Call and Ordination– Once the prospective Pastor has completed his training and examination during the watch-care period it is time for him to begin to explore calls to serve in a local church.  This is really the final step in the initial process of a ministers training.  We will talk more about it in a later post.



Sermon Audio and Power Points for My Series on the Beatitudes

I have added the audio and power point files for week five of this series.

Fresh Bread

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PM In conjunction with the release of my new book “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude,” I am preaching a series of messages about the Beatitudes.  In this series I show how the Beatitudes help us in our spiritual formation by providing the gospel-shaped attitudes that will transform our behavior and result in the development of a Christ-like character.  Several Pastors and friends have already contact me about using this material in their small group classes.  I am working on a small-group study guide for the book but for now I thought that it would be helpful to simply provide the sermon audio files and the powerpoint presentations that I have been using in this series.  I will be posting more of these in the coming weeks.  I pray that they will be helpful as you use this material in the local church.

To Order Your Copy of “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude” CLICK…

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