Local Churches and Training Preachers
In my previous post I discussed the need and importance of training young men to do the work of an evangelist. Training was an important part of the work Jesus did with the twelve and others. Paul not only wrote letters for the purpose of training, but also took younger men with him in order to pass on his experience. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of churches and preachers today that are seeing the importance of the formal training of young preachers.
Preparing young men to preach should not be viewed as primarily the work of other evangelists. The local church, made up of Christians with varied talents and personalities, is a critical part of the training process. Here are three ways the training process is benefited by a local group of Christians:
- Young men need a protective environment in which they can learn and practice doing their work without becoming overly discouraged. The greatest fear I have for young preachers is to be in a church where certain members are harsh and impatient. More often than not, these few have little understanding of the work of preaching and what it means to develop into an effective preacher. But they think they know and are highly opinionated. They will bludgeon and bully a young man, attempting to form him into their image of a preacher. The result is a young discouraged embittered preacher. A period of training at a church that has a heart for nurturing young men is invaluable.
- Young men need the constructive feedback that Christians at varied levels of growth can offer. All preachers, whether young or old need feedback if they are to get better in fulfilling various parts of their work. Yes, there is the occasional critic that always seems to have something negative to say and may be wrong 90% of the time, but even from these people a preacher is able to reflect and often find some truth in their criticism. A church that never gives a man constructive, loving feedback is not doing a preacher any favors.
- The local church is benefited by the investment they are making in the training of a young man. Watching him grow is a thrill. His energy and freshness is contagious. His ideas keep the church from growing “old” and disconnected from their culture. His evangelistic spirit wakes us up and brings new life into the church as more conversions are made. There is immense value young preachers bring to a local work.
The Keys to Good Training
I have been training men to preach for 33 years now, which has been a valuable “training” period for me in discovering those things that are most effective in helping a man do his work. The following are a few principles I have found critical for a young preacher’s development.
A two-year instead of a one-year training program. My goal has always been to bring a young man into the work with me as a “co-worker” in the kingdom. This is not an “academic” program where I give endless research and sermon assignments. I want him to actually be doing all the parts of the work of an evangelist along side me so that when he leaves he is not simply filled with knowledge, he is filled with experience. For this reason, two years in the program is better than one. Within a two-year period he is given the opportunity to see and experience most of the things that happen in a local church. He also will most likely see me go through some challenges and trials and observe how I handle those circumstances. On the other hand, in a one-year program, a man has to start thinking and worrying about where is going to move after just six months. It is difficult in that period to relax and learn instead of feeling hurried and pushed.
An open-door policy. As mentioned above, since “experience” is my goal with a young man, I want to always be available for his questions and ideas. One of the most common complaints I have heard from preachers in training is the lack of time they are given with the local evangelist and elders. I want a man to know that he can walk into my office at any time and interrupt me to ask a question or have a discussion. A large percentage of the time I spend training is having conversations in which I am sharing my experiences as a preacher both positive and negative. I try to be an open book, telling him about my past challenges, trials, mistakes, and successes. My wife and I will even spend significant time discussing our marriage experiences, knowing that a man cannot be an effective preacher if he does not have a great marriage.
Becoming a well-rounded, balanced preacher. There are many facets to preaching that are not typically observed on Sundays and Wednesdays. Teaching a man to be good in the pulpit is challenging enough. This entails teaching him to effectively motivate and equip Christians to do God’s work and not be swayed by the false teachings of our modern culture. He will need to know how to do different kinds of lessons and to be able to preach from all parts of the Bible. This alone takes many hours of training and practice. But there are other things he will need to learn as well:
- How to prepare a lesson book for various kinds of classes.
- How to find good resource and study material.
- How to teach the church better study habits.
- How to help the church find their place in evangelistic efforts.
- How to set up Bible classes with outsiders and teach the church to do the same.
- How to develop and use various approaches to teaching the lost.
- How to maintain good relationships with the elders and connect effectively with the members.
- How to correct and turn a church that is failing in a more Christ-like direction.
- How to have “vision” to know where a church can be and should be and how to help move it in that direction.
The Lord’s work is not a collection of local churches. We are a kingdom of individual Christians with the purpose of leavening the world for Christ. Local churches are groups of Christians joined together to become equipped to fulfill our universal purpose. Training young evangelists is a critical part of that effort.