19 September, 2013 Peter Froggatt
I can think of three people who had a profound influence on the course of my life when I was in my late teens and early 20s. One was a fellow student, slightly older in years – but much more so in Christian maturity – who spent time reading the Bible with me. Two others worked in a local church where I spent a gap year. They took time to talk to me about what they were doing and why. Though they took place over 25 years ago, I have clear memories of conversations we had; conversations that have shaped my thinking and Christian service ever since.
But it is not just university leavers who benefit from this attention. In my current job I have spent time reading the Bible and discussing ministry with a recently retired man who says, kindly, that it has encouraged him in his Bible teaching.
Clearly, training people in Bible-centred ministry is a Good Thing and we applaud those who do it. But here are four further questions to sharpen our thinking about training and to help us do it more, and more confidently:
1. Are we really convinced of the necessity of training the next generation of Bible-teaching ministers?
It may seem obvious, but training involves investing time in the future and therefore has a present cost. Spending time encouraging and training another Christian will take us away from evangelism and sermon preparation as well as from admin and visiting. We need to be sure that we see the value of this investment if we are to make it a priority.
But, if we are looking for motivation, there is plenty to see: the vast numbers who are not within reach of a Bible-teaching church; and the great impact of the training that has happened over the past ten years through the Gospel partnerships.
2. Are we sure that we have something to impart?
Are we ourselves confident in the basic mechanics of a Bible-centred ministry in a local church? And can we articulate that? We don’t need to be experts, we can get things wrong and it’s quite good to be seen to be still learning – but we need to have worked out some of the fundamentals and be trying to put them into practice. For example, can we explain how we put together a sermon or a sermon series, or lead a prayer meeting, or read the Bible one-to-one with someone?
3. Are we ready to share our lives as well as our wisdom?
We understand from the pastoral epistles that the character of the leader is more significant than their competence. And character is formed in relationship, as we share experiences and show our thinking and our reacting; how we deal with difficult choices and difficult people; how we cope with delay and with deadlines.
4. Do we remember the value of repetition?
People need experience – lots of it – if they are to grow in their competence. They need to start in Gospel ministry before they are very good at it, to accept that they will fail and be willing to think about it and learn from that. Trainers need to create an environment where all of these are possible. In his autobiography Billy Graham tells how, in his youth and short of preaching opportunities, he wrote sermons that he delivered with passion to tree stumps on an island on a lake. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers says that what we call genius is in reality the result of 10,000 hours of practice. People need plenty of practice. They need to be able to cope with failure or they will become too risk averse, and they need to have constructive feedback to help them learn (“The breakfast of champions” Ken Blanchard calls it).
The people who choose to give their time to other Christians in training and encouragement have a profound influence on them and their future ministry. They are shaping the church of the future. How are we going to do that in the coming year?