Whole Person Education is a Foundational Ministry of the Church
The teaching ministry of the church enables evangelism, discipleship, leadership development, and individual growth. The central teaching ministry of the church is the Sunday worship service. The worship should engage the heart, emotions, will, mind, social capacities, attitudes, moral compass, and behavioral attributes so that the whole being grows in grace. Worship directs us to God by being focused on Scripture. Worship is where we hear God’s Word. Prayer in worship allows the covenant community to express our hearts to God. Music aids in engaging the whole being by praying in song, proclaiming the gospel in song, and singing Scripture in song. Corporate singing is preferred in worship as prayer and learning rather than performance pieces, although sharing performance has a place too. While the preaching ministry is normally to be done by ordained or licensed leaders, the worship service is a time to share the diverse spiritual gifts of the congregation members. This may take the form of members of the congregation reading Scripture, singing, praying, decorating, and testifying. The congregation is a community with a variety of gifts. The Session is responsible for oversight of the worship service but congregational participation in worship planning brings variety, a diversity of gifts, along with a sense of belonging, inclusion, and value.
While the Sunday worship service is the central teaching ministry, small groups and one-to-one discipleship ministries bring greater depths and address specific needs of individuals. Small group ministry is not merely a social gathering but a participation community of learners. Training small group leaders to teach Scripture and provide shepherding ministry ensures greater depth of ministry than simply having the pastor do these tasks. Small groups aid the church in leadership develop, providing avenue for members of the congregation to exercise their gifts, and a diversity of gifts to flourish. One-to-one mentorship is where leaders are developed in a more intentional fashion.
Jesus gave his disciples a commission to make disciples. Evangelism calls for a verdict which asks, “Do you believe the gospel?” This call for a verdict is likely best sequenced after the gospel has had time to take root. Evangelism is primarily a teaching task which declares the message of Scripture. The church in recent decades has attempted to proclaim the gospel in a winsome fashion but being winsome does not remove the problem that the unregenerated disdain the cross and those who proclaim it. Being an evangelist means proclaiming the message. Being an evangelist means teaching and making disciples.
Growing Leaders is Key to Creating a Healthy, Sustainable Ministry
Training leaders is a key foundation to the work of the ministry. A foundational component to Jesus’ ministry was that he trained a cadre of leaders who are the 12 Apostles. While Jesus taught large crowds, he heavily invested in a small group of leaders. Likewise, Paul urged Timothy with these words, “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 Tim. 2:2 KJV) Training leaders is best implemented through one-to-one mentoring and hands-on projects. Mentoring means listening, asking questions, discussion, advising, and occasionally pointing out blind spots. The hands-on projects likely include bringing someone along when do an act of ministry and then collaborating with that person in ministry. For instance, if a pastor is visiting the sick in the hospital, he should consider taking along another member of the congregation and teach that member how to conduct a pastoral visit.
Spiritual gift identification is best discerned through service in ministry. Rather than taking a survey of interest, doing acts of service with a mentor will likely reveal more about the gifts of the individual. The person who goes with a deacon to deliver food and pray with a family can better identify if this ministry is too uncomfortable or brings joy. This act of service brings understanding regarding those being served. Getting people to try on various ministries also helps identify those with leadership potential.
By default, the Ruling Elder (RE) or the deacon is often trained via a semester class followed by an interview by the Session. The interview is essentially a test tantamount to matriculation. The model of classroom instruction followed by matriculation is an excellent model for many academic programs. Seminaries use this model. It is one reason it has becomes the default method for training the RE or the deacon. A weakness with this model is the desire to speed through material. The need for leaders to fulfill the role cannot wait for three or four years. The program is likely a one semester class which attempts to teach theology, praxis, and organizational behavior very quickly. Often those who are struggling with a theological issue will not be given room to ponder and work through to natural resolution. Another weakness of this model is that the RE or the deacon does not have parity with an ordained pastor. Often, those who develop parity are those who are self-taught. The self-taught RE or deacon must be encouraged in this pursuit. Many gifted people do not flourish when relying solely on being self-taught. It is the responsibility of the church to take leadership develop further than give a class and hope for the best.
Rather than a one semester class for raising up leaders, my ministry philosophy focus’ on three layers of development. 1.) The first step in the process is mentoring with little discussion of holding an office. This mentoring process includes theological content from discussion, recommendation of books or sermons, and interests of the learner. The mentorship also includes small incremental ministry projects. Example of small incremental ministry projects are host a Bible study, teach a Bible study, make a hospital visit, help senior citizen pay a bill online, drop off groceries, share one’s testimony, or befriend someone new in the community. Unpacking the project afterwards in discussion helps to refine if the project was synchronous the gifting of the individual. If a ministry project shows a match with gifting, increase of responsibility is appropriate. Instead of leading a lesson, the project might be the lead Bible study in an ongoing manner. Instead of dropping off food for someone in need, organize a food chain. If a person has maturity in knowledge of the Christian faith and is serving, it is more natural to move from service to ordained service. 2.) Once mentoring has helped develop the leader, then a one semester class which focuses on filling educational gaps is appropriate. 3.) The third step then should be the continuing development model. Session meetings and deacon board meetings should have continuing development as a component. The goal is to make this training a lifelong pursuit. Pastors are lifelong students, and so RE and deacons must also not be left to their own devices to continue in growth. Leadership meetings should include consistent training with a bent on strong time management.
The system of elder leadership is seen in Exodus where elders represent the community. These are not leaders over the community, but rather seasoned members of the community. The ministry of pastors, RE, and deacons are not that of a specialist. The pastor is not a specialist like those who provide psychiatric care. The RE is not a company executive who manages human resources. The deacon is not a professional social worker. Pastors, TEs, and deacons are generalists who must account for the whole person. Shepherds care for the whole person.
Foundational to this way of thinking, power is shared. This shared leadership means that the elders must respect the diversity of thought and ways of speaking. A Session of a congregation is not primarily a body of policy makers, but of Bible interpreters. Policy must be made, but this is a secondary or tertiary task. Sessions can only learn to take on hard questions as they practice with easier questions of how to interpret and apply Scripture together. Bible interpretation and application should be routinely practiced by the elders on the Session.