“Pastor, It’s Your Job to Train Pastors” is part of the Teleioteti Training Initiative
To whom has God entrusted the task of training the next generation of Gospel teachers and church leaders? (I will generally refer to such leaders as elders/ministers/pastors/overseers.) If we were to go by our current models of pastoral training, our answer would have to be quite varied. Currently, raising up the next generation of leaders is entrusted to institutions employing academics and church leaders (present or former). I think it is clear to everyone that the Bible does not mandate institutional pastoral education nor the role of academics or local church leaders in the institutional context. This is usually treated as adiaphora, one of those things the Bible does not speak to directly; Biblical parameters and wisdom would guide us to arrive at a sensible approach. However, the training of leaders is not actually adiaphora: it is discussed in Scripture. The Bible is clear on one point: it is the elder’s job to train the next generation of leaders. Look at the evidence with me.
The Biblical Charge
The model in the book of Acts is church planting led by the apostles. However, as specially commissioned disciples who have witnessed the risen Christ and are charged with establishing his church, the apostles are not presented as having an enduring role in the church. Along with the Old Testament prophets, the apostles laid a foundation (Eph 2:20). From Paul’s ministry, it becomes clear that the apostles, as itinerant and global Church leaders, planted local congregations for which they trained and commissioned leaders (Acts 14:23). These leaders (elders or overseers) were then charged with raising up leaders in their communities. We see this charge in several places, particularly in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy – Titus).
In 1 Timothy, we find a detailed account of the qualities that characterise an elder or overseer in the local church (1 Tim 3:1-7). As this letter is directed to Timothy, an elder, and this description is given in the context of considering those who would “aspire” to “the office of overseer” (ESV, 1 Tim 3:1), it would seem that this was given so that Timothy and his fellow elders could identify and train future leaders. That Paul intends Timothy to do just that is seen in later chapters. After telling Timothy that an elder/overseer is worthy of a wage and outlining the principle of two or three witnesses in the context of a charge against an elder (1 Tim 5:17-21), Paul then says, “Do not be hasty in thelaying on of hands” (5:22). “Laying on of hands” refers to the commissioning of future leaders, as is clear from the context. The passage moves from the value of an elder’s role to the care in treating an accusation, and then concludes with a warning, be careful, therefore, when you lay on hands, lest you do so carelessly and are implicated in the devastation of a church leader’s sin (a reality all too familiar with us today). We see the association of “laying on of hands” and the appointment or commission of leaders in several passages, confirming this interpretation (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). Thus, Paul desires Timothy and his fellow elders to commission new leaders. In 2 Timothy 2:2, this is made clearer: Timothy is to “entrust to faithful men” what he received from Paul, men “who will be able to teach others also.” This dual requirement of faithfulness and ability to teach echoes Paul’s requirements for an elder in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and in Titus 1:6-9 (cf. 2 Tim 2:22-26; 1 Pet 5:1-5). When we turn to Titus, we find the same thing. Indeed, Paul left Titus in Crete both to put things in order and to “appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). Titus is an elder (Tit 2:1, 7, 15), but his charge is more extensive than Timothy’s; he is given the task to appoint elders throughout the island of Crete. Nevertheless, the pattern is still local elders appointing local elders. The instructions for whom Titus is to appoint in Titus 1:6-9 echo the list Paul gave Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
We find, therefore, a repeated injunction for elders to raise up elders, for ministers to train ministers. They are to do so carefully (without haste, 1 Tim 5:22) lest they get caught up in their fellow leader’s sin. Future leaders are primary identified on the basis of character, but they must also be able to care pastorally for the flock and teach (1 Tim 3:1-7; 2 Tim 2:22-26; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Thus, according to the Bible, the elders or overseers are responsible for raising up the next generation of church leaders.
Contrary to the apparent assumption, our training methods are not adiaphora. They are the subject of explicit Biblical teaching. What happens—it is worth asking—what happens when we overturn this elders-appointing-elders system?
What May We Lose When We Abandon Such an Approach?
Perhaps the most significant loss is the accountability built into this system. On the one hand, because elders in a local area appoint elders in a local area, they are in the ideal place to discern the character necessary for an aspiring elder. On the other, because they are responsible for identifying, training, and working with those they train, elders are responsible and must proceed with the utmost care—lest, through the hasty laying on of hands, they get caught up in the sins of others. When this training is outsourced to other elders or perhaps non-elders, the organic relationship between those being trained and the trainer is broken; no longer is the trainer responsible from start to finish. I think it is self-evident that long term relationship is necessary to adduce one’s character and that the greatest spiritual development happens in the context of such relationships; the model for which Paul calls implies exactly these relationships (e.g. see this post). When training is outsourced, these essential relationships are broken.
In addition, this model of leaders training leaders shifts the implicit focus of our resources and strategy. Considering resources, if training is to be performed by local leaders in local churches, then the resources that would otherwise go towards supporting independent faculty and infrastructure will be directed to the local church. Local churches will need to have sufficient resources to do this training, but there will not be as many parachurch organisations vying for these resources.
The impact on strategy
Turning to strategy, our ministry recruitment strategy, our understanding of the trajectory of training, and our understanding of church growth will change based on our view of ministerial training. Currently, we give a limited amount of training to those in our spheres of influence before sending them off to a college. After their college education, a future minister will usually get student positions at multiple churches before being hired for an assistant role. Some may then pursue a senior minister position (this reflects the context here in Sydney but has clear parallels elsewhere). For recruitment, the local church does not necessarily play a key role; parachurch ministries, such as college outreach, are generally more effective. The trajectory involves identifying someone interested that has the potential to grow into a leader, then sending them to a college; after graduation, finding a position often looks like any other job.
Now, imagine if our training model followed what we identified in the Bible. Because training depends on each local church’s capacities, recruitment must be a lot more focused. It must first be asked, is there anyone in the congregation that should be trained for church leadership? If the answer is no, a church can ask how it can better build disciples so that some may be fit for ministry and ask, perhaps, if they are selling the desirability of such a position well enough (1 Tim 3:1). They may also work together with other local churches: perhaps a neighbouring congregation has an abundance of candidates but not enough training capacity. If Gospel ministry depends on healthy leaders being available, and it is the local churches job to train them, then each church must be actively seeking to do so, not merely waiting for an appropriate candidate. Pastors, this is part of your job. Models of ministry where most responsibilities are divided between lay leaders and a senior minister may struggle to train leaders in addition to the regular duties of church life, but this is part of the Biblical job description. It is much more tenable on a plurality-of-elders model; indeed, in the Bible, this training is always given in the context of a plurality of elders (the only model given in Scripture; see this review).
Nevertheless, having an in-house training program will change the nature of a minister’s trajectory. Especially on a plurality-of-elders model, competent, trained men will often need to step into a leadership position within that specific local church. Even in an episcopalian or single leader model, each leader would be wise to plan their succession, so having someone trained under their leadership offers an easy pathway to succession. On a multi-service or site model of church (which I don’t find that helpful, see this review), there will be a continual need for campus/service pastors as a church grows, which a training program may provide. On a church planting model (where a church sends out church plants regularly as it grows), there will be a continual need for trained elders to lead a new church, which a training program can provide. In each of these contexts, a training program based in the local church means that a new elder in each of these situations will already be familiar to and have built a relationship with their future congregation. It is conceivable that a church may train more leaders than their eldership, church planting, or campuses require, making it necessary to send trained leaders out. The options on this front are many, such as international missions or serving at a local church that needs leadership.
The possibilities for such a program are more than I can outline here, but the dynamic is considerably different from the standard model used today. The emphasis is continually local and, in many cases, relational. If we flip this around, we can see what we lose when we outsource pastoral training. No longer are future ministers for a congregation trained there: rarely do those who go to college return. Elders often must start from scratch building relationships with their flock, which affects the sensitivity and effectiveness of all aspects of ministry. Leaders are usually trained in cultural and intellectual contexts significantly different from where they will eventually serve. I could go on, but these examples should suffice for this post.
In this post, I set out to argue that the training of ministers is not adiaphora, something that is not discussed clearly in Scripture and up to our wisdom to determine. Instead, the Bible clearly indicates that the responsibility to train future leaders falls to the leaders of the local church. This pattern of leaders-train-leaders is seen in the book of Acts and is commanded by Paul in the Pastoral epistles. We then examined how such a model contrasts with the contemporary model of education and how these two different models (institutional vs. local) have quite different implications for the use of resources and the various aspects of actually training ministers and the trajectory of ministry. Once again, we are left to ask, is the way we are training future pastors really the best one available to us?