The Ministry Education That Never Stops


There is a very interesting fact buried in the book of Acts: no man, including Paul, ever went out to plant a church until he had first experienced a church being planted. Barnabas saw the Jerusalem plant before going to help in the Antioch plant. Saul of Tarsus spent up to four years in Antioch before being set apart as an apostle to Asia. Timothy experienced the planting in his hometown before Paul seconded him to go on the road with him. In Act 20, Paul’s team included Sopater from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Galus from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. In every case, these men had participated in church plants before they began to go to new places to establish Basic Christian

Some years ago, a large southern denomination hired me as a church planting consultant to help some young seminary graduates appointed to start new work in Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. I flew to these places on a regular basis to work with the fine young couples who were trying to do something they had never, ever experienced. All they had was a PBD church in their past and years in a seminary classroom. Out of the five couples, exactly five failed in their assignments. Three of the five quit the ministry, deeply discouraged.

During that time, I began to realize the PBD church had a huge problem. The way they designed their schools for Christian workers caused great frustration. Later, while on the faculty of a seminary, the President showed me a letter sent out by the heads of independent missionary societies to a number of Bible schools, colleges, and seminaries. It explained that they had been surveying the effectiveness of their overseas workers. They discovered that the least productive of the group were those with seminary degrees. The most effective were those who had a couple of years at the most in a Bible school! They were asking the seminary Presidents, “What are you doing to your students?”

As a faculty member of a seminary and a guest lecturer in over a dozen more, I knew the answer immediately. Take a young couple with fire in their bones and stick them in the artificial atmosphere of a seminary or a Bible school for three or four years. Next, send them to a strange land where they can’t talk to anyone for another three or four years while they learn a new language – and what do you have? A burned out cinder of a live coal.

I shall never forget a visit to one missionary in Frankfurt who, after eleven years of “ministry,” had eleven people in his living room on Sunday morning of his “worship service.” On the third level of his home, he had built by hand a huge office with books lining each wall. He had hibernated there while drawing over $55,000 a year from the USA to be a “church planter.” He didn’t have a clue about what to do. He was “meeting his neighbors” in an attempt to “reach out.” No urban strategy. No long range goals. Worst of all, no self-starting blood in his veins.

Many dear Christian workers in America suffer from this same disease. An institutional training for ministry is often the kiss of death. In one seminary faculty meeting, I suggested that our task was to prepare men and women to apply their trade, similar to a trade school for beauticians, mechanics or meat cutters. Whew! That didn’t sit well at all!

But truth cannot be denied. Three years of revolving between the dorm, the classroom, the library, and the dining hall provides nothing but cognitive input that is often irrelevant when planting a church.

I recently visited a 90,000 member cell church in El Salvador. When I asked one of the zone pastors to show me their written materials for equipping all these people, he gave me a blank stare. I finally received one sheet of paper, printed on one side, which was given to their cell leader interns! In that semi-literate society, they had learned that the only way to equip people was “show and tell.” It worked like a charm! Taking new believers by the hand, each cell member demonstrated how to visit the lost, how to arrange a room for a cell meeting, how to pray for the sick.

In other words, they were doing it like they did in the book of Acts. Every new cell member experienced a cell being established before being invited to be a cell leader intern. They not only experienced astonishing growth but also gave a living illustration of what has to happen in the cell churches of this generation.

With this philosophy in our hearts, Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore has developed equipping tracks for all of our cell members, extending from conversion all the way to a ten-month course to prepare zone pastors for their ministries. Now in its third year, we are still learning lessons every day to help us tomorrow We are ready to share our findings, with the caution that it takes more years than we have yet invested to get the “bugs” worked out.

Here are the stages we are currently using:

1. The Year of Equipping Track

When a new member enters a cell, a visit is made by the cell leader and a “sponsor” who has been selected to guide this person on the journey. During that “year” (which may take longer than twelve months) the new cell member is lovingly guided through a journey into his or her values, a survey of the Bible from cover to cover, and is taught how to reach out to both the easy-to-reach and hard-to-reach unbelievers.

2. Cell Leader’s Equipping Track
There follows a six month internship as a cell leader and another six months of experience as a cell leader. This is under the supervision of an experienced cell leader. The Shepherd’s Guidebook and the Cell Leader’s Guidebook are written to steer this part of the journey.

3. Zone Supervisor’s Equipping Track
Using the Zone Supervisor’s Guidebook, the intern is apprenticed to a veteran Zone Supervisor for six months of training and another six months of supervised experience. The pastoral team selects those who are gifted and prepared for the next level of leadership.

4. Zone Pastor’s Equipping Track
With a small salary to supplement this portion of the training, the zone pastor intern comes on staff and attends a ten-month zone pastor’s training, nicknamed “TESS.” Four mornings a week, the Intern attends classes which prepare him or her specifically for the ministry level of a zone pastor. In addition to the courses relating to the skills of guiding a zone of cell groups, the zone pastor intern will receive training in Bible study, doctrine, and counseling skills. All these courses are currently being created on videotape with student workbooks. Classes consist of a twenty to thirty minute video session, followed by twenty to thirty minutes of small group interaction by the class members in groups of five or six. Thus, the actual method of equipping is compatible with the relational lifestyle of the cell church.

The balance of the intern’s week is spent working under the supervision of a zone pastor in the zone itself. Thus, the main portion of the equipping is at the level of apprenticeship – “on-the-job” training.

We have been quite satisfied with those taking this training. We are also sending out our own missionaries from our cell groups. Those who complete “TESS’ and are assigned to a church planting team take additional modules related to cross-cultural subjects. This requires another full year of classes and ministry experience with the team in a cross-cultural setting.

By the end of 1994, “TESS” will be established first in the United States at the Cornerstone Church in Broadway, Virginia. Student
enrollment will be limited to the number of outside students the church feels it can assimilate. Only full blown cell churches are eligible for setting up “TESS” zone pastor’s training. This is crucial, since the most important part of the training is on-the-job, not is the classroom.

5. Senior Pastor’s Equipping Track
We have already celebrated the presence of men on our staff who are created by God for ministry at the senior pastor’s level. At our own expense, we are now beginning to send zone/district pastors to a formal seminary for training in Greek, Hebrew, Biblical exegesis, etc. The place of the traditional seminary with its scholars will be greatly needed and used in the years to come for sharpening the skills of preachers and teachers. Hopefully, some innovative traditional seminary in this world will realize the unlimited potential for “plugging in” to the direction of the cell church, and offer special “tracks” for those who have no interest in the paper chase, but simply want to soak up Biblical studies for use in their pulpits.