A couple of months ago, I asked the question: what are your members doing? In it, I asked the question why larger churches needed ever expanding staff teams. My point was not that it was wrong to have staff nor that it couldn’t possibly be helpful. Rather, I was making the point if you have a large church, you have many members to serve. If your members are all serving, we have to ask why you need more staff to do what the members could and should be doing. Instead, I argued that it was smaller churches who were most in need to staff because they had fewer members to do the work. Larger churches, by contrast, could simply have their members serve.
But having asked what your members are doing, it seems similarly worth asking what your leaders are doing. Just as larger churches that could well get their members to serve nevertheless seem to feel the need for larger staff teams, I think we can similarly ask what your leaders are doing when it comes to training. There seem to be an many churches keen to send their people onto training courses, but I’m unclear what your leaders are doing that warrants it?
Now, before I go on, this is not me knocking theological training. I think there are things theological courses can do that churches may find difficult for one reason or another. But, at the same time, I don’t think it is at all uncommon for churches to send people onto theological training in order to train their people in doctrine and theology. Which leads to the question, what are your leaders doing?
I am aware of training colleges and providers wondering what is being done in churches as people arrive onto their courses with very little theological understanding. Churches frequently send people to train expecting the college to provide basic systematics, biblical theology, hermeneutics and whatnot. These are the things of Bible colleges, are they not? But then, it begs the question, what are your church leaders doing? If people are being sent to college to get these things, what theological input are our churches offering? If we expect our members to serve, so we don’t necessarily need more staff, shouldn’t we expect our church leaders to actually teach so we don’t need to send people to get basic theological input from college course?
That doesn’t mean we won’t reach capacity and input as much as we possibly can. It doesn’t mean we won’t reach a point where our people may need more in-depth theological education than we have time or ability to provide. But it does mean there should be enough theological input that our people have a basic grounding. Our people should at least be able to access core theology and I would not be inclined to send anyone to train on college courses who haven’t already been trained in the church with some basic, but important, theological input. Indeed, we should be able to provide a basic level of theological input within the church.
For this reason, we provide a range of things for people and then work out the most helpful course for them thereafter. Of course, we have our regular diet of weekly sermons which gives people some basic understanding of how to read biblical text and understand it. We have midweek groups that take the sermon applications and show people how to take the biblical text and apply it sensibly. We run a weekly theology breakfast which is a rolling two-year programme of biblical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, ecclesiology and hermeneutics. In our church service, we have a weekly book give away where we handout books for people to read, learn from and discuss with one another. We encourage interpersonal discipleship so these things can be discussed together further too. We have various outlets for service where these things can be put into practice.
Given these things, we aren’t looking to send people onto theological training courses to give them basic theological training. That is what we are doing. Rather, we want training courses to supplement what we aren’t easily able to do. So, we look for things that would take understanding further than we are able or have time to do. We look for training that might stretch people in their understanding. We look for training that might help put into practice and stretch us in our application of the theology we have already been learning and thinking through. We look for training that will help us apply our theology specifically and helpfully in our context. In the end, we want training to supplement and enhance what we already do not to do what we can and are essentially doing ourselves already.
Which brings me back to my question. If we are sending people onto college courses to learn how to read the Bible or how to understand basic theology and doctrine, what exactly are your leaders doing? In what way are they teaching and training their people? if we are called to pastor and shepherd our people, and we do so through our teaching, what exactly are we doing when we frequently outsource this to bible colleges?