Ever since my last year of Bible College, I have been working away on a single project. Everything I have written has, in one way or another, revolved around it. I am excited to finally begun to unveil what I am calling the Teleioteti Training Initiative. The brand I have been using for my writing has always reflected this goal: Teleioteti means “towards maturity,” one of the purposes of Christian community and ministry (Eph 4:13-14; Col 1:28; 4:12). I came to believe in my final year of Bible College and have continued to grow in the conviction that there is a fundamental disconnect between the Bible and the way we, namely, Christians in the West, educate our leaders. I have pursued this belief in multiple directions, investigating the nature of this disconnect—if it does indeed exist—and what it would look like to train future Christian leaders. What I am calling the Teleioteti Training Initiative is, in one part, a writing project, but also far more than that. I have been working, and continue to work on, a three-part handbook that would equip church leaders with the tools to train ministers in the context of the local church. This handbook requires some theoretical and practical infrastructure which I have spent the last several years developing and which I hope to continue developing in the coming years. In this post, I want to orient my existing work towards this goal and point forward to what you can expect in the coming years.
Developing the Infrastructure
I have been working for many years on various writing projects, published under the banner Teleioteti. Each book I have published has been the product of multiple forces but has been shaped by the values of faithful, thoughtful ministry. First, with every book I have written, I have sought to uphold a high view of Scripture and demonstrate faithfulness to the God who has called me. Second, I have sought to think deeply and carefully about various issues in submission to Christ with every book. Third, I have never written for the sake of knowledge but always for the sake of ministry, seeking to serve the people of God through faithful service and rigorous thought, that they might grow to “mature manhood” (Eph 4:13-14). In addition to these values, every book I have written has intended to create space or develop the infrastructure for re-thinking ministerial training.
“God’s Gift for the Christian Life” – Theoretical Infrastructure
My series “God’s Gift for the Christian Life” is intended to provide this initiative’s intellectual foundation or framework. In the nine (short) volumes I have planned for this series, I outline a vision of Christian intellectual life and theological engagement radically committed to the sufficiency, clarity, and authority of Scripture. That series is designed to orient the entire Christian life towards the local church and to root all Christian intellectual engagement in Scripture. These two perspectives are important in the big picture of the Training Initiative, for it is in these very places where I perceive contemporary education to be disconnected from Scripture.
Teleioteti Publishing – Redefining Credibility
All my books, including that series, have also been intended to create another sort of space. They are intended to combat the implicit belief that theology and Biblical teaching must be associated with and accredited by large publishing houses and the halls of the academy. That is, in any good research training session, you will learn various ways of discerning what resources are worth your time or are academically appropriate. Of these tools, we are often told to look for some accreditation mark: is it peer-reviewed, published by an established publisher, or associated with an established author or institution? This raises two problems: on the one hand, there is no necessary connection between any of these marks and a good quality resource. Because of various checks and balances, resources with such marks are more likely to be of high quality, but the inverse does not follow. The lack of such marks does not indicate an unaccredited resource will be of less quality. To be sure, less money and time means that unaccredited resources will be less polished (as my books attest), yet a lack of polish does not necessarily indicate a lack of substance. On the other hand, there is much to indicate that these marks regularly fail. When one consults the resources regularly published by the major Christian and Biblical studies associations, these resources are always polished yet often lack substance. That is, our major Christian publishers are often publishing resources that can only be deemed hazardous and unhealthy from the perspective of the Bible. We cannot trust that peer-review and prestige will tell us what resources will be most helpful for ministry. Indeed, though this is not the place, I would argue that the very checks and balances established to ensure quality resources are being published may inadvertently screen out what is most helpful for the Church. Anyways, I digress.
I have hoped to show through my books that faithful and thoughtful resources useful for Christian ministry can be found outside of the usual accreditation processes and accredited institutions. I have not sought, in the process, to be above peer-review; I have continually sought insight, feedback, and review from my peers. Through my books, especially the Teleioteti Technical Studies series, I have sought to and (I believe) succeeded in showing that a resource can be simultaneously useful and self-published. In the process, I have also been able to test the physical infrastructure of “print-on-demand” technology, showing that it is easy to get custom-designed yet good quality print resources for all sorts of learning and teaching purposes, without the need for extensive financial resources or access to traditional print facilities.
Teleiteti.ca and Publishing – Digital Infrastructure
Finally, through book publishing and my website, Teleioteti.ca, I have sought to create a platform to launch and maintain the Training Initiative. Through the occasional blog post, frequent book reviews, and regular book publishing, I have sought to make known and establish Teleioteti as a brand associated with biblical fidelity. In the process, I have developed resources to answer some of the greatest challenges that ministerial training in the local church faces, teaching the biblical languages being one of them (see A Journal for the Hebrew Scriptures and a forthcoming book on the theory of teaching these languages).
The Training Initiative
By God’s never-ending grace, I have accomplished much in the last ten years, but all this work has been preparatory for The Training Initiative. At the heart of this initiative is the claim that our current ministerial training models are both unstainable given the trajectory of Western culture and, more importantly, far from ideal for the training of church leaders. This is the negative claim of my project, that there is something wrong. Take a moment to think about the following questions:
1) Why do we use the model of STEM and Arts education, of higher education, to educate ministers rather than training them on a skill-based or apprenticeship model? Is the former more apt for what ministers actually do? or are both models equally adequate? The late philosopher Michael Polanyi’s work would suggest that there is indeed a significant difference between the sort of knowledge acquired by the former model of learning compared to the latter.1 Which one, if either, best suits ministerial training?
2) Why is ministerial training, intended to prepare ministers for work within the local church, dissociated from the rhythms and structures of the local church? I would argue that this disconnect is destructive to our future leaders’ character formation and unintentionally reinforces the ever-present temptation to prioritize skill and knowledge over character and relationship.
3) Why are our highest-level thinkers, those who will write the commentaries and resources that stand behind a pastor’s sermon, encouraged to engage in “objective” research disassociated from passionate engagement with the subject matter and a clear commitment to the faith, especially when such an approach is at odds with the best of contemporary Christian and non-Christian epistemology and, I would and will argue, the Bible itself?
These are just some issues I have already addressed in “God’s Gifts for the Christian Life.” I will continue to raise them in a series of blog posts beginning in a couple of weeks, and I intend to address them more thoroughly in the first part of the Training Initiative handbook. However, I do not want to stop with deconstruction; the bulk of my project involves construction. I am convinced that it is possible and highly desirable to train ministers in the local church context. In part two of the handbook, I intend to unpack the Biblical principles behind and for training ministers in the local church context. Then, in part three of the handbook, I intend to address the administrative issues that pertain to such a task. At this time, my goal is to have both “God’s Gifts for the Christian Life” and The Teleioteti Training Initiative handbook completed by the end of 2024. Between now and then, I will be publishing blog posts that unpack some of the content that will make its way into the handbook. Concerning the constructive vision of the Training Initiative, I have identified four pillars for church-centred ministerial training: Community, Collaboration, Content, and Context.
Many of our colleges make much of community, even gospel-centred community. Between small groups, cohorts, and residency, many achieve a high level of solidarity and fellowship. However, this is not the sort of community that fosters Christian character and provides the context for Christian ministry, at least in the Bible. According to Paul in Ephesians 4:11-5:2, as well as 1 Corinthians 12:1-31, the formation of a mature Christian happens within the context of the local church, as each member of the church engages in mutual ministry according to their gifting under the leadership of recognized ministers (cf. Romans 12:1-8). In a healthy local church, this community will be diverse, consisting of believers from all vocations, ages, socio-economic statuses, and ethnicities. This diversity is not accidental to the success of Christian community, for it through these differences that we find ourselves challenged to grow. This sort of community is not fostered overnight, or even in a couple years. This is the sort of community that grows ever deeper across time, and so is more effective the longer it endures. Thus, Community means that the ideal context for the development of any Christian, especially its leaders, is within a mature local church, where they will serve and be served according to their gifts in the mutual ministry of all believers.
A significant challenge faces those who would attempt to train well-rounded leaders in the local church context. On the one hand, every minister ought to be able to set an example in the regular work of ministry and be able to apprentice another in these skills, including Biblical interpretation. However, only in an ideal world would every minister be competent to teach Greek or Hebrew. Furthermore, there is much to learn from the history of the church, but few are competent to teach it. In these and other areas, each minister will have strengths but will be insufficient to provide well-rounded instruction to their pupils. Today we are blessed with many great online resources that fill some of this gap, but these resources suffer from many of the same issues as the broader educational curriculum I wish to critique.
However, where one minister may not be sufficient, many surely are. In many urban and some rural contexts, there will be more than one church with shared values. By drawing on the diversity of skills and knowledge offered across different local churches and even denominations, a church committed not only to training ministers but seeking to further God’s kingdom in collaboration with those who are similarly minded can find in their local network many resources for training their pupils.
In addition to drawing on the individual minister’s skill set, collaboration also stands to expose a minister-in-training to the different approaches and styles of an alternate congregation. Collaboration is essential for training leaders in the local church: practically, it gives greater depth to the training received and it models the unity of the greater Church, of which every local church is a part. Collaboration also provides accountability to the churches engaged in training ministers. A leader-in-training will not only benefit from the oversight of their local ministers but also those who are less familiar with them, which may give opportunity to identify blind spots in both the trainee themselves and their minister’s evaluation of them. There is also accountability on the institutional level, as the quality of oversight and training is relevant not only to a single local church and its trainees but also all those with whom it will collaborate. Thus, Collaboration means that the ideal context for a minister to be trained is the cooperation of diverse local churches, ensuring the full development of a leader’s character and competency and accountability in the process.
Training leaders in any context, including ministry, requires content shaped according to the goals for which the training aims. I believe that the many aspects of Western seminary curriculums are not only ill-suited but occasionally counter-productive to the goal of training Gospel-centred and Christ-centred leaders for the local church. Unpacking this claim is beyond the scope of this article (but see here for a start). Put positively, content for training ministers in the local church context must communicate the reliability, sufficiency, clarity, and authority of Scripture for the entire Christian life (2 Tim 3:16-17, etc.). The content of ministerial training, including history, theology, and the various competencies or skills required for ministry, must be tailored to the goals of ministry as outlined in Scripture, must be founded on Scripture, and must be focused on building up the local church for the sake of the lost (e.g. Matt 28:18-20). Thus, Content means that the ideal ministerial training program will be Bible-centred, Gospel-centred, and Christ-centred.
Finally, all leadership training happens in a context: Sydney is not Melbourne, is not Vancouver, is not Toronto, is not Mumbai, is not Shanghai, etc. Though ministry will always be centred on the Bible in the context of the local church, establishing a level of homogeneity across the disparities of these cultures, the ministry of the word is always addressed to particular people in particular cultures, with the attendant concerns and problems. There are struggles that will take a lifetime to address in the Western context, such as radical individualism, that will not be an issue elsewhere. Christians in Sydney and Christians in Zambia need to learn about the supernatural worldview of Scripture, where God and spirits are regularly active in this world, but the focus in each culture will be radically different. In Sydney, we need to hear that this is truly the case and not materialistic physicalism, within which only the cause-effect world of empirical science exists. In Zambia, a supernatural world will not be foreign to most audiences, instead, they will need to hear what the Bible says over against their previous belief systems (cf. God’s design for the Church). In the West, God’s love sits much more comfortably with our sensibilities than God’s meticulous providence and absolute authority; in a culture where monarchy or totalitarianism is the norm, the opposite may be the case. Someone may not need to hear primarily that God is in control—this is obvious! Instead, they may need to hear that despite God’s absolute control, He has a good and kind purpose and has acted in love to save undeserving people. The point should be obvious: all ministry is contextual, so all training so should likewise be contextual. We must teach his word in its entirety. But how we do so and the areas where we place the emphases, especially the applications we draw, need to be addressed to a specific context. Though the structures and tools for developing a program may be the same in Sydney and Mozambique, what is taught, who is ideal for teaching it, and what characterizes a potential leader will look different. Thus, context means that the ideal leadership training program will be tailored to the specific context (geographical, social, cultural, etc.) in which it takes place.
- See Personal Knowledge