The New Testament church is not a brick and mortar building but a body of believers with Jesus Christ as its head. The body is a biblical picture: a group of people working together to spread the gospel and to build up one another in the faith. If we look at the New Testament we do not see any other organizations of believers apart from the church. I am not saying that other organizations such as missionary societies are wrong—they do have their place, but God’s primary structure for believers is the church. In the New Testament we don’t see any kind of a hierarchy of organizations that have authority above that of the local church or dictate to the local church. The church family is a local expression of the universal church.
The body is pictured as building itself and growing (Eph 4:11-16). The means for this growth is the diversity of gifts that God has given to each local body. Not everybody has the same gift. It is good to have a diversity of gifts. Look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-5 where Paul talks about the body, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.” He goes on to ask if the foot says to the hand I have no need of you. Which are more important, your feet or your hands? It is a difficult decision to make because they are for different purposes. And so it is in the church: everybody is needed but they fulfill different roles.
So, a local church is a family. In a family people care of one another. It is a body so there are different parts, the arms, the legs, the eyes, the nose, the feet. A variety of gifts are present among the members of the body and everyone is needed. There is a further aspect of the local church which we will consider now and that is that some of these gifts need to be developed. All gifts need to be developed in some way, but some need particular development. In Ephesians 4:11,12 Paul says about Christ, “He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry for the building up of the body of Christ.” So these differently gifted people in the church are stimulating the body to grow together and to build itself up. But to be used at their best some of these gifts need to be developed.
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, as he left his disciples, that they were to “Go therefore and make disciples through all the
|Christ believed in
and a half
nations baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We can actually see this put into practice by Paul. Paul stayed in Ephesus at least two years, (Acts 19:8-10). He began in the synagogue, and then took his disciples out, reasoning daily with them in the school of Tyrannus. What is he doing? He is training disciples. Shortly after that, he leaves Ephesus, visits some other cities, and returns to Ephesus on his way back to Jerusalem. In the next chapter we read, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.” So he must have already put elders in place. He spent his time developing the gifts in the church and establishing the church. It is not a church without teachers that can’t fend for itself, for Paul has spent two years establishing a church that has a range of gifts, including the gifts of leadership.
We might have the idea that if the Spirit gives us gifts then surely we don’t need to develop those gifts. But the Spirit doesn’t work like that, he doesn’t “zap” us with a fully developed gift. Timothy was told to stir up the gifts that were given him (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). So we see the apostle Paul spending two years developing and training the gifts that he saw amongst the believers who were in Ephesus, until he could establish elders when he left.
Now that raises a question. What happens if you don’t have any trained leaders in the church? There is a popular idea today that if you have love and you have the Holy Spirit, you don’t need any trained leaders. How do we respond to that? To put it in a few words, love is a simple concept, but to know how to express that love might take a lot of maturity and Biblical understanding. God has given us the whole of his Word that we might understand how to love him and love others (Mark 12:29-31). We need to know how to express love. To have somebody who wants to love but has no idea how to express that love can lead to chaos. Love can be expressed in bad ways. For example, suppose you believe that loving your children means never disciplining them—you may think that you are loving them but in fact you are doing them damage. So love has to be shown with understanding.
The Anabaptists were a group of believers in Europe at the time of the Reformation. They were not an organized group but more of a movement spread across Europe, with a great diversity of beliefs. One thing they had in common was that they were very poorly taught and they didn’t really develop much theology, or an ordered systematic teaching of the Bible. They had tremendous love and we can learn a lot from them as we study their love. But the movement disintegrated because their lack of teaching left them with no defense against strange ideas that came in. Just to give you an example, there were a group in Munster, Germany who thought that they were going to bring in the end of the world. About twenty of them decided that they were prophets and had a prophecy that they should take all their clothes off and go around the city naked. Then they declared themselves an independent state from the country. A war broke out and the whole movement in that part of Europe came to a horrible end. They had no trained leadership because they didn’t place a high value on a careful understanding of the scriptures. They thought all you needed was the Spirit and love, which of course are very important, but there is no substitute for having training, having knowledge in the scriptures and learning the words of Christ. Christ believed in training: He spent three and a half years training his disciples.
I believe that it is God’s Word through the Spirit that changes people’s lives. There have been times in my Christian experience when I would say my life has been fundamentally changed because I have seen something in the scriptures that has impacted me and I say “yes, that is what God’s Word is saying and that is what I must follow.” When I see a truth in the scriptures and the Spirit applies it to my heart, then real change occurs. Sometimes we may hear a preacher who is really on fire delivering a message that is highly motivational, but not proved and demonstrated from the Word. As we leave church we may say, “Yes that is good, I am going to do that.” But in my experience the feeling doesn’t last. It fizzles out and evaporates because it is just the infectious enthusiasm of one man. But if we are shown the message from the Word and the Spirit is working in our hearts, then our lives are changed.
Given that it is the Spirit working through God’s Word that changes people’s lives, then to carry out God’s mandate for planting churches we need men called by God who are faithful to God’s Word. In order to be faithful to God’s Word they need to know and understand the Word. They need to be dependent on the Spirit and motivated by a passionate love for Christ. We can have a very, very comprehensive understanding of the Word but if it is not motivated by a passionate love for Christ it is not going to be effective in the church.
So, to summarize: missions and church planting have to be done by people who have a thorough understanding of the Word, who depend on the Spirit and are motivated by Jesus Christ. Someone may have obvious gifts of preaching and teaching or of leadership yet these gifts still need developing to be used at their best in serving the local body of believers. People need training to improve and enrich the gifts they have, these gifts don’t arrive automatically functioning at full potential.
There are three areas of development that are needed by potential leaders. The first need is for training in the Word of God.
|It is the responsibility
of the local church
the gifts that the
Spirit has given
The second need is for mentoring by more experienced godly leaders. We have examples in scripture of people mentoring, discipling, bringing alongside the next generation of leaders. Jesus taught His disciples, and Paul took Timothy, Titus and others with him on his missionary trips. The third thing needed by potential leaders is experience in the local church. You can’t produce a leader from an abstract environment. You can’t train medical doctors in the classroom alone, they need practice with patients under the guidance of an experienced doctor. Somebody who is going to be a leader has to have experience in a local church, and this has to be a properly functioning local church where he can see a good example of how a church should be working. So leaders need training, mentoring and experience.
Of course such a person must also show signs of having a suitable gift, such as teaching, evangelism and pastoring (Eph 4:11). It is no good taking just any Christian, even a godly person but without the appropriate gifts, and giving him training in God’s Word and leadership. What is the biblical way to recognize and identify that somebody has the gifts for leadership? Here are two examples. In Acts chapter 6 we see the church being asked to choose out from among them people who have particular gifts. Later on, the Apostle Paul himself recognized gifts of leadership and asked Titus to do likewise (Titus 1:5). So it is a responsibility both of the church members and the leadership of the church to be looking for gifts that need developing. To put it in a nutshell it is the church’s responsibility to identify those who have the gifts which need to be developed.
When a church that believes in trained leadership, finds somebody whom they believe has been given this gift by the Spirit, what is their responsibility? What happens unfortunately in a lot of places is that the church sends the person off to seminary and washes their hands of them. I believe that that is completely the wrong way of doing things. (Sometimes the person doesn’t have the gifts at all and they still get sent off to seminary!)
Now obviously as the principal of a seminary I am going to have certain views of how these things should be done. But I have thought these things through and I am going to take you with me as we go through the scriptural basis for them. Just to give you a little background, TBS, where I am the Principal, was formed in the 1920’s because of the need to develop the next generation of preachers. TBS is supported by local churches. We are not autonomous, we are accountable to local churches, in particular Jarvis Street Baptist Church. The professors who staff the seminary are all serving in local churches, most of them as pastors or elders, and the purpose of the seminary is to serve local churches wherever we can. So let’s go back then to how churches can train leaders and how this can be done biblically.
The first step as I mentioned is that a church should identify gifts of individuals. As I said, this is partly the responsibility of the church members and partly the responsibility of the pastor. Let me give you an aside as to how it happened to me. I was converted at age seventeen. My church had a Youth Group that was led by a very godly man and whenever one of the young men in the group was saved he would ask them to lead the Bible study on one of the Youth Group nights. This was to discover and develop their gift. Sometimes we had some Bible studies that weren’t that good, but it was all part of a learning experience. I tell you when you are seventeen and you have to do a Bible study for your peer group it is a really good learning experience! It was extremely developing for me and I learnt so much from it. After I had done a few Bible studies the youth leader came to me and said, “I want to get you preaching in the church and I am going to do whatever I can to persuade the elders to ask you.” I didn’t preach straight away in my church. In nearby towns were some very small churches that had only a dozen or so members and had no pastors. These places provided excellent opportunities for young men like me to preach. I was maybe in my twenties by then. Finally the big day came when I preached in my home church. It was very intimidating because I was preaching in front of my parents, and my family, and people who knew me since I was a baby. But people encouraged me and said, “Yes, you should go on”. The elders of the church encouraged me and when I thought of going to seminary the elders of the church encouraged me and were behind me. There was a process of developing my gifts and testing them and seeing if I did have teaching abilities and preaching abilities. It was done within the context of the church.
I believe it is the responsibility of the local church to identify the gifts that the Spirit has given. When individuals identify themselves as having a gift and are not interested in other people’s opinion, then it can be very dangerous for I believe that the leadership of the church and the people should recognize gifts.
There are three elements to the training: teaching, mentoring and experience. As far as the teaching is concerned I think that in practice it is unusual for a single church by themselves to be able to provide the best quality of instruction. I know of a
|Whether the training
is for preaching,
or Sunday School,
there is no
a profound life-
thrilling grasp of
group of churches that used to arrange teaching between them—they would have a pastor over here who was an expert in history, a pastor over there who could teach something else and they would arrange between the churches to provide training for their young men. The way that TBS works is that we are closely linked to Jarvis Street Baptist Church, but are supported as a co-operative effort by many local churches who supply trustees, teachers, students and finances. We have, for example, a pastor from New Brunswick who is a very good systematic theologian, and an extremely good lecturer, so we bring him in to teach our students Systematic Theology. Our church history professor is a member of a church in London, Ontario. Most of our other teachers come from churches in the area of Toronto, with five from Jarvis Street. So in this way a number of churches are pooling their resources, in order to provide an effective theological training. I think there are other advantages in having a group of churches. It can provide stability if more than one church is involved, and can provide a variety of input and a variety of gifts.
The content of the teaching should centre on God’s Word. So many Bible Colleges and Seminaries today have moved towards a techniques-based curriculum. But God’s people need to be fed a healthy and nourishing diet, not dry techniques. Whether the training is for preaching, teaching, missionary work or Sunday School, there is no substitute for a profound life-changing and thrilling grasp of God’s Word.
The second element of training is mentoring by godly leaders. Ideally this should be the leaders of the church where the man is in membership. There needs to be personal discipleship and godly example. We also seek to do this in some measure within TBS. We desire to have professors involved personally with the students so they are not just standing up in class lecturing, but are also involved in the lives of the students. For example, we have a program called Spiritual Development in which all our full-time students are involved. The students are divided into small groups of three or four and they meet together with a professor every week for an hour to pray and to talk about what the Lord is teaching them, and about struggles they are having. The idea is that the professor can share with them his own experiences and really get alongside them and mentor them. Such a concept is not always easy to put into practice and we are constantly trying to develop and improve this dimension of the seminary with the goal of shaping students’ attitudes, goals and spiritual walk.
Thirdly, church leaders must have experience. They should have experience in their own local church and it is good for them to have experience in other churches as well. For example, sometimes a church approaches TBS and says, “We would like to have a part in training a young man. We would like to have a young man from seminary come to our church for the summer to get experience in our church. We would like to get to know him, we would like to help to shape him, and we would like him to see how we do things in this church. We would like him to use his gifts in our church and to broaden his experience.” Such an experience is tremendously valuable and we try to arrange church placements for our students during the summer. One of our programs includes a year of internship in which the student must be in a structured program of practical training under a pastor in a local church. After finishing seminary it is valuable if the graduate can begin his ministry as an assistant under a mature pastor. In these ways new leaders can gain the experience they need in a local church context.
Suppose a church identifies a young man as having gifts. They help him to get training at seminary and involved in the church at the same time. His gifts are developed and he gets experience; he has been mentored and he has a good spiritual understanding. What do we do then? Do we say, “Goodbye, off you go”? What responsibilities do we have? We have a responsibility of prayer. We have the responsibilities of showing care and love to him. Maybe we want him to plant a church in some other part of the country so we help him financially, we support him, we are with him. When Paul went out from Antioch as a missionary, the church in Antioch supported him. They were with him and when he finished the journey he went back to Antioch and told them everything that was happening. They were with him the whole time.
When a church is training a leader for missions the responsibility continues. Firstly in spiritual oversight. In other words if you feel the person is drifting away from the faith or there are some moral problems or there is some theological problem you exercise oversight, you admonish them, you correct them in brotherly love. Secondly in care and love. You show that person love and help and if they are away, maybe as a missionary, you write to them and keep in contact with them. If they are planting a church you give them loving encouragement. Thirdly in financial support so that if somebody is sent out from the church that person is supported by the church as Paul was supported by the church in Antioch. And lastly in prayer. We are involved in a spiritual war and need to support our leaders in prayer.
The final involvement of the church is in ordination—a setting apart for the ministry in recognition of the evident gifts and call of God on a man’s life. I have been talking about developing leaders and this shouldn’t be just limited to pastors because the same principles apply to all the gifts, such as elders or deacons or Sunday School teachers or missionaries or any kind of gift that needs training.
I want to end on a personal note. I was a professor of computer science at a university in England. I have been asked the question, instead of being a professor over there on a high salary and being highly respected, why do I decide to pour my life into the lives of young men and women at the seminary? What makes me do this is that I believe this is the most effective way I can give myself to God’s church. The most effective thing I can do for God’s people is to use my gifts in this way for Christ. I believe in our Mission Statement: “We believe it is God’s Word that changes lives through the Spirit. We aim to train pastors and workers who have a passionate love for Christ together with a solid understanding of His Word.”
We have five distinctives. The first is excellence in biblical studies with strong Biblical theology Hebrew and Greek programs because we believe that it is God’s Word and so it is worthy of our best effort to understand. The second is the other side of the balance, a passion for Jesus Christ which is communicated to students by teaching and personal mentoring (as I mentioned earlier) so that the academic growth and growth of the heart dovetail together. The third point is that we have a conservative theological position and included in that is a delight in the sovereign grace of God in evangelism. One of our main distinctives as a seminary is that we believe in and teach the great doctrines of the Reformation. We believe in a sovereign God and have a high view of Scripture. All of our faculty is committed to our statement of faith. The fourth point goes with the third, and is an emphasis on training students to think for themselves and not to accept everything they are taught without careful consideration and comparing scripture with scripture. Although we have strong convictions as a faculty, if we just give students a set of pre-digested answers for them to memorize and say this is what you must believe because we tell you, we are cheating our churches out of the next generation of leaders. Our leaders need to be able to think from the Bible and not because they have been told what to think. We have certain problems today, but in twenty years time new problems will arise and our leaders are going to have to face these problems from the scriptures, so we need to equip them to think for themselves from the Word. The fifth and final point is the one I have been emphasising in this article—we believe that all of our training must be done in close connection with local churches. We are fundamentally church based.
It seems that each year I receive more letters from churches without pastors, asking for recommendations. Yet the sad fact is that there is a real shortage of gifted and godly leaders. I earnestly beg you to make it a matter of urgent prayer: “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Matt 9:38.
|Dr. Andrew Fountain|