Bible College or Church (Part 6)?

Last week, I wrote a post entitled “Bible College or Church?” that sparked some great discussion about how the church trains and equips her leaders. This week, I’m expanding on some of the ideas generated in the discussion.

A huge thank you to everyone who has participated in this discussion.  The comments have been thoughtful, creative, raw, honest–and no one got nasty or defensive.  It’s clear that there’s a lot of thought going on about this topic, and the discussion must continue.  We cannot, however, be content with discussion.  What will we do?

Where do we go from here?  New ideas…

Yesterday, I wrote about some ideas for colleges to improve what they’re doing.  I do think it is wise to let the Bible college model continue (while those in it work to improve it), but I also think it is time for new avenues to be explored when it comes to training leaders.  It is with these ideas that I conclude this series (which has been a lot of fun to moderate).

Several of those involved in the discussion have rightly suggested that this is an issue of discipleship.  If we are making disciples, leaders will emerge.  It isn’t, however, a product of chance–we must be intentional.  So the question for us is, “How can we be the most effective at making disciples and developing leaders?”  If we do this correctly, those we disciple will have a working theology (which is redundant, because a theology that isn’t practical really isn’t a good theology)–they’ll have a solid biblical foundation and vital “real life” education that can only be learned in the school of hard knocks.

So, here are some thoughts for where we can go with here with alternatives for the Bible college model:

First, it must be simple (in structure) so it can be reproducible.  We tend to make things way too complex (and thus messy).  We must constantly seek simplicity in structure so that they can easily be passed on and recreated elsewhere.

Second, multiplied mentoring and coaching are vital.  Jesus and Paul were great mentors (Jesus with the apostles, Paul with guys like Timothy and Titus).  I meet with a mentor/coach once a month.  He asks great questions about my life and ministry.  We challenge each other to take risks in our ministries and in our churches.  I’ve also mentored and coached the new leadership of the church I planted and will soon be leaving (well, sent from).  For a long time, I met with them individually on at least a bi-weekly basis.  I still check in with them once a week by phone, although that will soon shift to the dude who’s replacing me (whom I also mentored and coached).  What I mean by “multiplied mentoring” is that we must mentor in such a way that those we mentor can mentor others, who will pass on what they learn to others.  That’s four generations–I mentor someone; they mentor someone, who then mentors someone else.  When you get to four generations, your multiplying.  This is where several things can happen–life lessons can be taught, Bible knowledge can be imparted, skills can be sharpened.  It is risky and vulnerable, because you’re sharing your life with someone else.  But few things are more powerful. 

One of the best ways I’ve seen for this is what author Neal Cole calls “Life Transformation Groups” (LTG).  An LTG is made up of 2-3 people (no more) who do three simple things:  read Scripture (a minimum of thirty chapters a week), confess sin, and pray for others.  The leaders in our church have started doing a version of the LTG, and it’s producing great fruit.  Cole has an entire book on this process:  Search and Rescue.  It’s worth checking out.

Third, we can take advantage of technology to develop accessible and affordable information hubs (I can’t think of a better term right now).  Several posts ago I mentioned online tools like The Resurgence and Shapevine.  These are great online tools with tons of info and training.  Can we not do the same–create a place or a network of places online that are filled with great content:  video training, Bible content/curriculum, interactive forums, blogs, etc.  As we mentor leaders, we can discover what their needs are and send them to the appropriate hub.  Heck, we can even have links to Bible colleges who offer distance learning/online classes and degrees.

Fourth, networking is key.  We can’t do any of this alone, but we can do it together (by God’s grace).  Each of us has different strengths, but we also have weaknesses.  If we work together, we can accomplish more for the kingdom of God.  My buddy Richard just wrote an excellent post on one example of how this might work.

Fifth, realize that you will be replaced (one way or another).  One day, we’ll either retire, get fired, or die.  Someone will replace us.  We have a choice–we can fight it, deny it, ignore it, or be proactive about it.  Guys in professional ministry, you need to be praying for, looking for, and equipping your replacement now.  If you are in an established congregation that insists on hiring someone from a Bible college, work to get a graduate to work under you for several years (this means you cannot jump from church to church).  Even if your church can’t pay them a dime, get them there, find them a job, and do what you can to equip them to replace you.  While that situation would be great, I personally think it is better for churches to develop their leaders and their successors from within.  Those inside your church know your mission, your vision, what needs to be changed, etc.  Intentionally develop them for several years and let your people know what’s going on.

Sixth, plant new churches (if that’s what God calls you to) and creatively and innovatively address this issue from Day One.  Established congregations will have a much tougher time getting out of the Bible college mentality (so, let them keep with that model).  New churches, however, have a great opportunity to create a new model from the get-go.  Be intentional about it (it won’t just happen). 

These are just a few ideas, and there is no singular formula that will fit for every church.  But I think the time has come to start with some new ideas for training leaders and creating new models now while the Bible colleges continue in their mission.

Before you hang it up for the weekend, please feel free to add some additional ideas for how new models for discipleship/leadership training can be developed.

About Aaron

Aaron is a follower of Jesus. He's married to his smokin' hot wife Laura and is the father of three adorable girls. He enjoys a robust cigar, a complex root beer, a good movie, writing, football, thought-provoking books, and rousing discussions about subjects you're not supposed to talk about (like theology and politics). Religious people irritate him (because he once was one). He's on a quest to find the perfect dry rub and sauce for ribs.
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