By: Kenneth Van Wyk
Important as the Biblical foundation is for building an adequate lay training program, it alone is not sufficient. The Biblical principles must be put into practice. All is for naught if the local church is not able to translate the concepts into an actual working program. There is a scarcity of workable models in the field for the local church to pattern. Religious such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have outdone the mainline Protestant Church in their ability to effectively train their people for ministry. It is the purpose of this article to propose a working model for the local church, based on my own experience and the experience of others. It involves four major steps.
1. Build momentum for lay involvement in the mission of the church.
The starting point in our own church experiment was an adult Bible study program called the Bethel Series. This program provided an important impetus for the lay movement in the congregation. It provided a growing awareness that God calls His people to greatness. He pours His blessing into their lives, calls them to be a blessing to others, and promises that through their lives people of all nations will be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). This basic biblical theme is traced through a study of the history of God’s people from Abraham through the early Christian Church. The result is that many adults catch the vision of greatness to which God has called them They develop a desire to be a part of God’s redemptive movement. Along with this impetus from a study program, the pulpit is of key significance in giving the laity a vision for becoming involved in the church’s mission. The enthusiasm of the pastor for this new direction has tremendous power in motivating the laity. Building a sense of mission in the lives of the laity is the all important aspect of training laity for church growth. It’s the heartbeat and motivation for mission. To fail here is
2. Develop the lay-minister identity.
The pastor is a strategic person for building the self concept of the people of the congregation. When people hear the pastor say that they are real players on the Christian team and that the pastor is the coach, a new sense of identity begins to form. When this is sincerely believed and the words are translated into actions, the laity move forward to accept the challenge.
An education program, in concert with the pulpit, is needed to build the lay-minister identity. Through a study of the biblical narrative the lay person begins to see that the backbone of God’s redemptive program through history is people who, like themselves. become available to be God’s blessing to others. Many lay people in the church today have an inferiority complex. They fail to see that they are God’s ministers and that great things can be accomplished through them. A properly focused study builds the believers’ self-image and creates within them the identity as God’s agents of redemption. This dynamic is essential to the transition of the laity from a spectator role to the role of active participant in the life and mission of the church.
3. Utilize Christ’s pattern of discipling.
Christ believed in the principle that a small group of well-trained disciples could permeate a larger group in much the same way that a little yeast in the dough leavens the whole loaf (Luke 13:21). Jesus not only taught this principle, He also put it into practice in the training of the twelve. It was through the investment of Himself in an intimate, instructive, and purposeful relationship that Jesus equipped the twelve. Through the course of a few years, He trained them by indelibly stamping their lives with a model of ministry they could not forget.
This pattern is important for the church today in developing an authentic lay ministry. Our Minister of Education trains clusters of lay men and women who give themselves to a discipline of weekly study and interaction. The Bethel Series teacher training program is used. To date, four Groups of twenty lay people have taken this two-year Bible survey training program. There are homework assignments requiring eight to ten hours of preparation per week. After two years together with the pastor, these trained lay people agree to accept a two-year work assignment for which they have been prepared. The influence of these people is pervasive. Their enthusiasm and growth dimension becomes a positive incentive for lay ministry in the life of the entire congregation. These trained lay people become trainers of other lay persons in the church.
4. Develop a lay-ministers training center.
As the lay-consciousness develops, the church is ready to set up its own lay-ministers training center. Again it must be emphasized that the dynamics of lay ministry must be inculcated in the life of the congregation before a training center can be effective.
The church must begin by determining the needed areas of ministry, both in the life of the church and in the community. For example, we determined that one of the areas of need was to train lay people as evangelists to share Christ with the unchurched. In addition, it was clear that a large number of lay people would need to be trained to carry out the teaching ministry for all ages in the Christian education program. Because the total membership of the congregation is divided into family units according to geographic location, lay leaders needed to be trained to carry out pastoral care in these small membership clusters – scattered throughout the county. A telephone counseling ministry was started to help the hurting members of our community who call in with crises and problem situations. These lay telephone counselors needed specialized training to man the telephones. It was determined that 35,000 out of the 1,646,000 people in our county were functionally illiterate. A special training program for the lay tutors using the Laubach Each-One-Teach-One method, was initiated so that the church could respond to this need. These are illustrations of the answers our church has given to the question, “What is Christ asking us, as a church, to do in response to His call of service?”
Each church must individually determine what the answers are to that all-important question. A church that does not determine its mission in the light of Scripture and in view of the needs of its
community is not likely to grow. Nor will a lay training center be effective in a church that does not have its essential mission and purpose in sharp focus. It is the mission-minded church that motivates lay people to be on the march for Christ. And it is lay people who catch the vision of the forward movement of the church that art motivated to get involved in the work of Christ. These are the people who respond to training opportunities because they see it as a step toward the fulfillment of Christ’s call.
The next step was to ascertain the kind of training needed to equip the lay-ministers to accomplish the predetermined objectives. Our Lay- Ministers Training Center uses the pattern of a seven-week term offered in the fall, winter and spring as a midweek training program. Courses are offered in the areas of the Bible, the Church, the Christian Life, and Ministry. Bible courses includes a study of individual books of the Bible, a study of the life of Christ, and a course in beginning Bible study for those who need an introductory study.
Courses in the area of the Church are church history, Christian doctrine, and a study of other faiths. Topics such as Christian ethics, marriage and the family, finances, interpersonal
relationships, prayer, discovery and use of spiritual gifts are samples of courses in the Christian Life area. Ministry courses are the practical courses that provide the specific “how-to” for each area where the laity are involved in service for Christ.
The classes meet for one hour in seven week terms and require homework, usually on the basis of two hours per class period. In most instances textbooks are used. As the lay person progresses in his prescribed course of study, he attains recognized levels of achievement. Course instructors are, for the most part, secured from the membership and staff of the congregation. Credit is given for
training on the job as well as training received in the classroom. After an accumulation of 224 credit hours, which ordinarily takes about five years, the participants are recognized in the congregation as Credentialed Lay Ministers. They become a well-trained cadre of leaders in the life of the church, fulfilling leadership assignments commensurate with their skills and training.
The training program need not be elaborate; it only needs to be functional. It should be tailor-made to the needs and goals of the individual congregation. It is tempting for small congregations to
feel that they are not able to have their own training programs, but something is lost where the laity are trained outside the local church. The church functions best when it helps its own members to discover their identity and role in the mission of their own local church. Each member has a gift of service that needs to be activated toward the proper functioning of the church body (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12; Eph. 4; I Peter 4). The biblical analogy of the church to the organism of the human body as taught in Scripture carries the implication that the church is to help its members identify their gifts and train them in their proper use. In this way, the body is able to function and carry out is divinely assigned mission.
The Lay-Ministers Training Center is like a locally based theological seminary designed to train the laity. The Center follows a modified academic model. Years of experience from the education community indicate that the academic model does not guarantee automatic success. It is possible for a person to do all the course work and remain ill equipped to serve. What are the safeguards against this kind of educational ineffectiveness?
One of the greatest antidotes to aimless and unproductive course work is the motivation and sense of purposeless of the trainee. Participants who progress in the training program are people who are deeply involved in some phase of Christ’s mission. They, like Abraham of old, have heard the Lord saying to them, “. . . I will bless you . . . so that you will be a blessing . . .” (Gen. 12:1-3). The training courses are the means of equipping them so that they can more effectively be a blessing to others. This motivation for training is absolutely crucial, because it adds the dimension of relevancy and meaning necessary to make education effective and dynamic.
A second equally important safeguard is the discipling concept. In the discipling process the leader is able to focus his attention on small clusters of trainees. Through an affirming, supportive, facilitative role the trainer helps the lay person to develop and grow as a person in the performance of his ministry. This enabling role of the trainer is crucial to the success of lay training! As a coach-player he can give time and personalized attention to the trainees. The trained leader who has charge over a specific area of service needs to provide a pattern to be imitated in ministry. This trainer teaches the ministry courses for his specific area of service in the Training Center and becomes the discipler of the lay people involved in his area. The leader is the one to whom the workers are accountable and is their enabler in ministry.
A concluding word needs to be added to define what is meant by the word “growth.” It must be acknowledged that some churches are in communities where numerical growth is not likely to be sizable. But every church is surrounded with needs! Christ wants His people to fill these needs for His sake. Christ identified Himself with human need. He expended Himself in filling these needs. He taught the Church to follow His example, ” . . as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40)
There are churches that are motivating and training their people to be involved redemptively in the human hurts around them. People are being helped and lives are being changed. The church is obedient to Christ when it is fulfilling His mission in their community.
Growth essentially is determined by a church’s obedience to Christ’s mission as set forth in Scripture. It is for this high calling that the church trains her laity. The great need of our time is that the
church take this calling seriously.
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