Posts Tagged ‘Training’

This is a helpful little clip on some of the issues of young men wanting to go out and plant churches at a young age. At Niddrie we currently offering training and development to one young family looking to plant a church in a housing scheme, with the hope of many more in the future. Again, let me point you to Acts29WE if this is something that you are seriously considering. They will offer you help, training, assessment and the support of like-minded men as you test God’s calling on your life. They are also offering specialised church planting internships which I would seriously recommend that you consider.

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More and more churches are now offering apprenticeships specifically for church planters rather than for preaching/pastoral ministry per se. I think that this can only be a good thing. At Niddrie we are starting off with our first planting trainee as of September and we are hoping to encourage more and more trainees over the years as we seek to address the need for more gospel centred churches in our many needy housing schemes. Very few churches in the UK are geared up to train young church planters and therefore it is imperative that this is something that gets rolled out across the UK and Europe in the next 5 years.

Acts 29WE have grasped the importance of this and are currently offering church planting internships for Western Europe. Please click on the link here for further information on this. Here is some of their spiel:

We are looking for men and women to work hard in small churches in difficult situations. There will be small reward, constant confusion and frustration. You will be misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned.

You will receive training and mentoring in an Acts 29 Western Europe church plant. This will equip you for a life of unknown, unsung, heart-wrenching and often unfruitful ministry. And an undying joy and wonder in the presence of Jesus Christ.

You will be a nobody who has nothing to offer. But you will follow Jesus, and you will know you need nothing else.

We are not yet involved directly with Acts 29WE but I hope to be and in the future Niddrie could possibly be a placement church for them as well. Regardless, it is well worth checking out if you are interested in planting in any capacity.

Enjoy the following video from Dustin Neeley, extolling the benefits of engaging with a church planting apprenticeship residency.

Because church planting seems to be “in” at the moment, there seems to be an endless supply of young men (and old) putting themselves forward as “planters”. Interestingly, very few feel “called” to housing schemes/council estates (although a few of us in the UK are seeing a slow but steady turn around in this). Perhaps the most popular question I get from people is: “How did you know that God called you to plant/revitalise churches?” The answer? I didn’t have the first clue.

Scott Thomas from Acts 29 has produced a list of 20 attributes to look for in a church planter. You can read the article here. If I was to list my top 10 attributes for a scheme/estate/favela planter, they would, in no particular order, be:

  1. A deep and unswerving faith in and love for Christ as shown by a healthy personal, spiritual prayer/devotional life.
  2. A visionary leader able to think 5 years ahead but also humble enough to let the Spirit lead and change any plan in a moment.
  3. Able to preach and apply God’s Word simply and clearly.
  4. A quick thinking, adaptable, entrepreneur.
  5. Able to draw people to himself.
  6. A heart for evangelism and mission.
  7. A deeply committed and loving  husband of a biblically supportive and hospitable wife.
  8. Courageous with a spirit of perseverance and balls of steel.
  9. Mentally stable (ish) and not easily disappointed and distracted by periods of small and/or no obvious numerical growth.
  10. Must have a love of doctrine and theology with a particular understanding of the importance of a good ecclesiology in order to grow a healthy, biblically sound local body.

Scott’s article is a must read for those interested in church planting. However, I sometimes question if I had gone through an Acts29 type interview process a decade ago, would I have “passed”? It’s a good and helpful thing to do but we must also remember that God uses some of the most unlikeliest people in history to achieve His purposes. These processes are, I think, necessary guides in an area swarming with so many false starts and poorly thought out projects. Many men have been burned by the thought that they could plant a church and, once started, discovered just how much a war of attrition it can be. My worry is that we can over professionalise this area, particularly in my patch of the church planting world. I couldn’t even get a job stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s 15 years ago. That’s how unemployable I was. Yet, a decade and a half later I am thankful that God found a use for me by using latent gifts I never knew I had for the building up of His kingdom.

When I consider some of the members of my team (pre interns, interns and core team), pretty much all of them were (and are) a “risk”. I don’t imagine more than 2 of them would “make it” past the interview stage for most middle class churches hiring staff. I remember in Brasil when we grew a team of 12 full-time workers for our church and street child ministry out there. They were like the Brasilian dirty dozen – a biggest bunch of misfits and biblical illiterates you could never hope to find. A local church pastor asked me privately: “Mez, why do you employ these people when there are so many better candidates in the church?” My reply was simple: “Look who we’re trying to reach, Pastor. I’m not trying to reach good people. I’m trying to reach those that society has written off. And who better to do that than Christians that the church would not even consider ‘fit for service’. God has sent me the perfect team.” And I was right.

I know that the attributes of a team player is far different from the attributes of a lead planter. Don’t get me wrong – my standards are high and if you work for me then you will be pushed to the limit. My point is in housing schemes we just have to look a little bit deeper and see a little bit farther when we consider who may or may not be suitable. That’s why we have our three-tier structure in place. I am not saying we have it right and it is definitely not fail safe (but no system is) but we are constantly learning and evolving our processes as we succeed and fail.

In the UK, if you are asking this question then I recommend you talk to your pastor and you contact ACTS29WE. They have an intense interview process which, if nothing else, will crystallise your theology and help you discover where your gift set might best used for God’s glory. Use the tools on offer for us today but remember they are a guide and not the final answer for your life. If you think you want to plant or work in housing schemes contact me personally. We offer onsite, first hand ministry experience with ongoing evaluation, which hand in hand with the Acts29WE process (which we would recommend you do) pretty much offers one of the most rigorous procedures in the UK. If you are not in Scotland I can put you in touch with some good guys in pretty much every part of the UK. If you survive all that then you definitely fulfill the criteria of number 8 above!

 

Incarnational Living | Church Planting | Urban Youth Ministry | Missional Community| Urban Church

Proximity 2012 is a conference happening this May (25th-26th) in Salford, hosted by the Eden Network. It aims to bring these five streams above together in one place for two days of vision, conversation, inspiration and celebration. If you’re a leader or practitioner in any of these five overlapping areas of ministry Proximity could be of interest to you. Our tickets are being booked this week.

Proximity will be light-hearted and yet intelligent; fast-paced and yet reflective; boundary-pushing and yet affirming.

For more information, you can download the programme here. Or visit www.eden-network.org/proximity

by Mike Stark (Children’s, Youth & Community Worker)

Historically, we haven’t had many ‘Christian’ young people in Niddrie Community Church. We have a vibrant and active work among children and youth in the community, yet this is almost exclusively evangelistic, rather than discipling. So, with a few exceptions, there’s a bit of a disconnect between a Sunday morning service, and the work we’re doing the rest of the week.

As we move forward as a church, with the long-term goal (10-20 years) of growing future indigenous leaders, we’re looking to focus on the children’s and youth work, and invest heavily in these ministries in the hope that God will bless us with young people coming to faith. Recently, we’ve signs of promise:

  • A small group of girls from our Youth Café are meeting up in our flat with my wife and another leader to go through the Soul DVD series and to talk about Christianity. One of these girl’s has been coming regularly on a Sunday morning.
  • One young person from the school, who is extremely keen, has been coming to Sunday services faithfully every opportunity he gets for a couple of weeks now.
  • Another school-leaver has been coming with me to the morning prayer meetings and studying the Bible with me afterward every day for over 2 weeks.
  • In addition to the one-2-one’s I’m doing with some of the young men, another group will be meeting up for the first time this Friday afternoon to go through the Soul DVD series.

Of course, we don’t measure success on the basis of young bums in seats on Sunday mornings; that’s not the way to gauge the spiritual temperature of young people. However, bearing in mind our context and the relative absence of Christian young people – the fact that the spiritual temperature of our average young person is… well dead – we’ve got to be encouraged by seeing young people coming to Sunday services and engaging in things like Bible studies and prayer meetings. Exciting things are happening and it’s apparent that God is at work in our children and youth ministry in Niddrie and we seem to be on the brink of at least a few young people coming to faith

The question is: are we ready for them?

God, in His grace, has stirred a bit of interest in the Gospel specifically, and spiritual things generally, in the hearts and minds of our young people. In anticipation of His goodness, and as we wait expectantly for young people to be saved, we need to be thinking about the next step. What are our plans for the nurture and discipleship of these young believers? Are we ready? I think, at the moment, the honest answer is no. As we’ve seen glimmers of hope with different individuals over the last 6 months, Mez has said to me a few times that perhaps growth is slow because the Lord is being gracious and patient with us. Knowing our limitations, He’s giving us no more than we can bear, yet stretching us and challenging us, leading us on in the way He will have us go.

Here are a few short thoughts I have, in no particular order, on how we can ready ourselves for the coming years.

1) Invest in the Children’s and Youth Ministry Team

Investment can take a number of forms. Leaders need to be trained to fulfill their tasks well, and communicated to, so that they understand why we are doing certain things and be made aware of different needs. I have plans in hand for training leaders and for stimulating growth in their different areas of responsibility.

As young people come to faith, like any baby, they’ll need constant support and attention. I simply don’t have the time/energy to provide that for every young person that comes to faith, all the while investing in new relationships with unbelievers in the community and running a number of key ministries. I will need leaders who are equipped and encouraged to do this alongside me. Initially, I’ll need to model this to them, but, eventually, they’ll need to actually follow my example and invest in young people. They will need to see me doing it, and follow suit themselves. So I  need to be inviting leaders to join me in doing some of the stuff I do with young people so that they ‘see me’ doing it.

2) Plan a ‘curriculum’ for Christian growth

Where do we go from the Soul DVD series? In the past, the church has used resources like Stranger On The Road To Emmaus, and The Cross: Finding Life In Jesus’ Death with some of our new believers. How appropriate are these for our young people? The Stranger series has a DVD companion, but it’s really cheesy! And I’ve ordered a copy of their youth version, so look out for a review soon… I’m also open to other suggestions if you have any.

The advantage for us is that, with a small number of Christian young people (on their way, we pray), we will be able to tailor material to suit the individual. Traditional Christian youth groups will not have this luxury and will normally decide on material to suit the collective as a whole. As our ‘collective’ grows, we will probably look to carve out a suitable time in the week where they can meet to grow together and encourage each other in their faith.

Eventually we WILL want to be encouraging each of them to come along to services on Sunday mornings because that’s where the bulk of our teaching is done. It’s important for them to engage with other members of the church, appreciate the diversity of Christian experience in the church and to realise how much they can learn things from other church members that they wouldn’t otherwise learn from their youth leader/mentor. Conversely, we mustn’t underestimate all that they’ll contribute to the wider church, initially in terms of encouragement of other believers seeing them engage and grow, but later in terms of their spiritual gifting and opportunities to serve and lead.

3) Start thinking 3 steps ahead

Unless we are looking to the future and asking ourselves: ‘Where’s this going? What next?’  then we’ll run the risk of idling as we slip into maintenance mode. To avoid stagnation, we need to be constantly thinking 3 steps ahead.

Take, for example, the work at our local High School. We have a really exciting work going on up there, but what happens if the rug is pulled from beneath our feet and the school is closed (as has been discussed!) – where are we then? What other schools are we investing in, or are all our eggs in the one basket?

We need your prayers as we move forward into this exciting new phase. Please pray for our many young people, that their eyes would be opened to the reality of the Gospel and their hearts transformed under the Lordship of Christ. Pray for us too, for wisdom, vision and foresight. And thank God for his patience with us!

by Andy Constable

One of the biggest problems in schemes across Scotland is the breakdown of male leadership. We have many young men without role models. We have lots of men living off the state to provide for their income instead of working. We have many men being bossed around by their girlfriends/partners. We have many young men hooked on street and prescription drugs. Further, while we rarely struggle to get women to look at the Bible and attend church it’s far harder to get a man along to a Sunday service. There is a real apathy among many males in schemes. I remember watching the riots last year and seeing the amount of young men who were leading the charge. They were reckless with little motivation but to smash up places. There needs to be a revival of gospel truths amongst these men.

The problem is that the outlook isn’t that much better in the church. In Darrin Patrick’s book, ‘Church Planter’ a researcher says that in 1975 the amount of 25 year olds getting married was 69% and the amount of 30 year olds was 85%. Fast forward to the year 2000 and those figures have gone down to 33% and 58% respectively. Men are extending their teenage years, getting married later and living with their parents for longer. Boys aren’t growing up into men. The phenomenon is being called ‘adult-lescence’. The prolonging of teenager years into later life. Many men play computer games and watch films more than they read their Bibles. They struggle with pornography. They struggle to communicate with their wives. They struggle to lead their wives. They are teenagers in adult form.

Watch the very interesting video below:

If we want to see the spiritual transformation of schemes in the next couple of generations, then the men in our churches need to be discipled and challenged. The men in our churches need to model what Biblical manhood looks like. The men in our churches need discipline. They need to battle with laziness and sexual immorality. They need to have vision and purpose. They need to command the respect of their wives and learn to communicate well. I think there are lots to be said about this subject and so I want to take the next couple of weeks to discuss some issues including laziness, pornography, vision and treasuring God’s Word.

But let me first and foremost lay down a challenge that Jesus gives us in Mark 8:35: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The discipleship of men doesn’t start by calling men to be all macho and manly. It doesn’t start with a call to watch football and drink beer. It starts with a call for men to deny themselves. The call is to distance ourselves as far as we can from our old lives. It means picking up our crosses and counting Christ to be the greatest treasure of our lives. The lack of biblical male leadership is fundamentally a gospel problem. More men need to be fire for their saviour. More men need to see the glory of the cross. More men need to see the problem of sin and see that there is no other place to receive forgiveness but in Christ alone. If more men were captured by the gospel then we would see laziness plummet. We would see men leading their wives. We would see men taking God’s Word seriously. We would see men with vision for the future. The gospel changes everything.

We need to pray for a revival of gospel truths amongst men in the church. And we must pray for the unconverted men on the schemes. Pray that they would think about coming to church. Pray that there would be some spiritual thirst amongst them. Pray that their eyes would be opened to the truth of the gospel and that they would see the wonder of Christ. Pray that when they come through our doors they would meet some real men.

As I have previously stated, I believe that there needs to be some form of moratorium between evangelical churches and Bible Colleges in our country. We need to ask some tough questions. Who exactly is serving who? Who are many of our Bible Colleges actually accountable to? What figures do we have that show us in real terms just how successful these places are at ensuring people leave to go into full-time pastoral ministry of some level? How can a Bible College realistically assess a person in terms of their spiritual character, devotion to the Lord, prayer life, love for the saints, perseverance through trial etc? As John Frame points out:

The academic machinery is simply incapable of measuring the things that really matter – a man’s obedience to God’s Word, his perseverance in prayer, his self control, his ability to rule without pride, the spiritual power of his preaching in the conversion of men and the edification of the church.

It is my contention that a man who comes to me with a degree from a Bible College is not necessarily any more spiritual use in ministering to housing schemes than a man with latent spiritual gifting and a mixture of on the job training and ongoing theological learning and assessment. It is laughable to even suggest that because somebody has a handle on Greek or Church History that, somehow, they are better prepared and more qualified to face the temptations and trials of spiritual battle in the coalface of a housing scheme. It is my experience that, with few exceptions, I have to help people ‘unlearn’ the Bible College mentality of academia and help them to work on the practical realities of Godly living in the field. Dr. John Frame, 40 years ago now, makes an interesting proposal.

Let us then consider a positive alternative. A church or denomination establishes a kind of “Christian community” where teachers, ministerial candidates, and their families live together, eat together, work together; where they all really know each other; where their lives (their habits, their tempers, their talents, their loves, their hates, their struggles, their sanctity and lack of it) are known to all. The teachers and older students would thus be “examples” to the newer and the newer would be under the scrutiny of the older. The community is not a monastic escape from the world; rather it is mobilized for the purpose of establishing and nurturing churches throughout its locality. Each teacher, student, wife and child is to be deeply involved in the work of developing churches, through visitation, neighborhood Bible studies, public meetings, street preaching, and then (as churches are established) through Sunday School teaching, preaching church youth work, church administration, etc.

This, to my mind, encapsulates what we are trying to achieve through Porterbrook Training and our on the job internships here at NCC. I know lots of other churches that are now following suit or have been engaged in this approach for many years. As I have already stated elsewhere, with this system we get to (1) train our people theologically at a very good level and (2) we get the bonus of observing them, coaching them and discipling them in the particular field they want to ultimately serve in. So, they get to learn and grow from actual practitioners rather than text books and through writing theoretical papers. In Frames alternative to Bible College, he envisions the following:

There will be no set “number of hours” after which a man is entitled to graduation. Teachers and older students involved in teaching ,will meet from time to time for intensive evaluation of each student’s progress in life, skills and knowledge. These meetings will determine whether a man will be dropped from the program (either because of doubt concerning his call to the ministry or because of doubt concerning the ability of the program to deal with the student’s problems), or whether he will be promoted to new levels of responsibility, or whether he will be “graduated” and recommended to the churches for the ministry. No man will “graduate” unless the teachers are convinced that he has the character, skills and knowledge that the Scriptures require of church officers.

At Niddrie we are constantly developing our programme to ensure that people are (1) constantly getting good feedback. That means both positive and negative constructive criticism. (2) They are subject to a high level of spiritual accountability with intensive one-to-ones with a designated accountability partner and/or mentor. (3) People are given opportunities to serve in a variety of practical areas, including teaching and are given wide ranging feedback which will help them to nurture and develop gifting. (4) The wheat and the chaff are ‘sifted’ through the intensity of the process as underlying character defects and sins are brought to light and sought to be dealt with. The problems usually appear when a person is designated unfit for ministry by the leaders of the local body and so they move on to a new church and turn up with the intention of going to ‘Bible College’. I have lost count of the many people over the years who have randomly turned up at church for a few weeks, asked to meet me, and then informed me of their desire to go to Bible College. When I ask them what the pastor of their ‘home’ church thinks I usually get a reply along the lines of, ‘Oh, he doesn’t understand me…that church is awful’ or words to that effect. I personally tell them that I won’t be signing off on a reference until they have been with me for a few years and I have seen some sort of evidence of spiritual life, growth and leadership gifting. They are usually off down the road to the next church on their hit list, doubtless writing me off as one of those ‘terrible pastors’ as well!

If, as evangelicals, trying to encourage and grow a new generation of leaders to work in our inner city housing schemes and council estates then we must face the facts that Bible College is not the future for many of our people. So, what is? My aim is not to annoy people but to help us to think. Bible Colleges aren’t going to do this. They have a vested interest in their own self-propagation. They’re not going to lower academic standards even if a man has excellent spiritual credentials. They are going to fail him because they have to. Well, there’s part time courses, you may say! There are. But why would they be any more superior to initiatives like Porterbrook which, in my opinion, puts theological training back where it belongs. In the hands of local churches and local church leadership. Please be clear that I am not advocating the end of Christian scholarship but what use are scholars in training pastors and housing scheme church planters? Not much I can assure you. Their benefit lies more broadly than that. I think that today, more than ever, if we are to grow future leaders who will be effective in housing schemes then we must develop theological ‘hot houses’ in our local congregations, work at sharing resources like Porterbrook, share experiences and lessons learned between local church practitioners and offer valuable hands-on experience where possible. If I am going to send my best people anywhere it will be to plant another congregation or grow them into teaching and leadership positions in order to train others also.

Still thinking it through.

After a huge response to this article (thanks to those who wrote to me personally) I have decided to just try and elucidate a little more clearly on some of my points. I was inspired to do this from a friend who sent me a 40 year old article on my facebook page. Entitled: ‘Proposal for a New Seminary’ and written by John Frame in 1972, it can be read in its entirety here. However, I am going to quote it quite extensively. Three things struck me about the article: (1) its radical nature despite the fact it was written four decades ago, (2) the fact that the author is a Professor of Systematic Theology  Philosophy at a highly regarded American Bible College and (3) how much it resonated with what I had tried to communicate.

Concerning the ability of a Bible College to provide balanced, spiritual  development as well as rigorous academic training, in his article Dr. Frame traces the problem back to Princeton in the mid 1800’s. There, the Rev. Gardiner Spring who had been a board member at Princeton for 34 years saw a marked difference between a seminary trained minister and a pastorally trained minister (what I would call, ‘in-house’). As a result of this, we learn that:

He (Rev. Gardiner) advocated (1) that the seminary faculty maintain close supervision, not only over a student’s academic progress, but also over his social and spiritual development; (2) that the seminary faculty itself consist of men with extensive pastoral experience; (3) that no student be ordained to the ministry until he has spent a time of apprenticeship with an experienced pastor.

Now, I know that a lot has changed in the past 140 years and that certainly many Bible Colleges in the UK tend to offer ‘placements’ to their students, along with ‘mission trips’ and other ‘hands on’ initiatives, as a means to helping get ongoing training and experience. This was certainly the practice of my Bible College 12 years ago. However, that which sounded good on paper, was often very different in reality. In my case, the workload was so heavy (a BA Hons Degree) that it sometimes affected my ability to do anything meaningful in my placement church. I may have led the odd service and helped out in the youth work but that was about it. The local pastor I was seconded to was much too busy for me and I received next to no hands on counsel and spiritual help from him. This is not a criticism of the man but just a weakness of the system. Many, not all, of my friends had similar experiences. We were also assigned personal tutors as well who were meant to be a sort of spiritual mentor to us. The gentleman I initially received was either (a) too busy too see me as regularly as I required (he was an administrator in the college and he had at least 20 other ‘students’) and (b) had no real pastoral gifting or ability whatsoever. We soon parted ways. Looking back on that difficult period of my life (an ex con, with no Christian background, 9 months out of prison) I see now that the one man who did play a major role in my life was just about the only experienced ‘pastor’ on the staff. The rest were a mix of women, youth workers, children’s workers, missionaries and evangelists. Good people, in the main, but of no help in terms of preparing me spiritually for the world of pastoral ministry. This is how Dr. Frame describes it:

Worst of all, it seems to me that most seminary graduates are not spiritually ready for the challenges of the ministry. Seminaries not only frequently “refuse to do the work of the church”, they also tend to undo it. Students who arrive expecting to find a “spiritual hothouse” often find seminary to be a singular test of faith. The crushing academic work-load, the uninspiring and unhelpful courses, the financial agonies, the too-busy professors, the equally hard-pressed fellow students all contribute to the spiritual debilitation. I have known a number of students who have stopped going to church while in seminary and others who wander from church to church in a fruitless search for genuine Christian fellowship, yet unwilling (some of them would say “unable”) to give enough of themselves to others to make such fellowship possible.

He was talking 40 years ago, I was talking 12 years ago and I have counselled people recently in Bible Colleges and not much has changed. If anything, the intellectual rigours have increased in many places with the rise of degrees being ratified by secular universities. Even from my own experience of having had several Bible College students doing their placements with me I can tell you that the pressure on the poor people was so enormous that they weren’t actually that much help to us on the ground, particularly as deadline day approached! Again, not a criticism of a some great young people (and some not so great), but a fault of the current system which now places so much emphasis on a paper qualification as the key to the door of pastoral ministry.

Perhaps the most incredible event, for me at least, came when I was interviewed for my first post as an Assistant Pastor in a local church. When I put the Bible College down as a referee (not unusual given the fact that they had just spent three years apparently ‘training’ me) I was notified that they didn’t ‘give references for ex-students’ (I had been gone for about a year at that point)! So, all I had to offer was a piece of paper with my qualification on it and a small portfolio of things I had done in my placement church. Thankfully, I got the job after a series of interviews (another issue I have strong feelings about!). My point is, an institution set up to train young men and women specifically for pastoral ministry could only vouch for my ‘academic credentials’ rather than my ‘spiritual suitability’. A staggering situation, not uncommon among many graduates I know even today.

I am going to write a third part to this paper so I will leave it here for now and come back to it on Monday. All comments are  appreciated of course. Just be aware that if I have left some things out it may be because it is coming up next. Or, more likely, it may be because in my tiny brain I haven’t thought of it! Let’s keep the discussion going as we look next time at what kind of skills we should be looking for, pushing for, developing and celebrating as we search for a workable model to train young men and women to work, plant and pastor in our inner city housing schemes.

Imagine the CEO of a company you have shares in announces to the board that he has spotted someone with star potential working for the company. This person has got a golden future and could seriously help the company move forward into the future. Then, instead of promoting him from within he announces that he has encouraged the young man to go off to University to get further training. What would your response be? What if he said, ‘this man is so good that I have recommended him to another company who can take him on and train him in the business’? What would be your reaction to this? Surely, the best business sense would be to recognise the young man’s abilities and then to offer him in-house training which would enable him to grow and develop and ensure that his skill set and potential are not lost to the company, thus enriching all parties.

Now, I have always been bemused in evangelical circles by (1) the practice of sending our ‘best’ people away to Bible college for further training and (2) importing pastors and assistant pastors into congregations they have no affinity to or prior relationship with. In effect, what happens is that those with great potential are sent away for 3 or more years to pursue theological study and end up at some other church, whilst some other church sends their best away for the same period and their potential leaders, in turn, end up going elsewhere! Only in the Christian world do we seem to take this bizarre approach to developing our future leaders.

Last Monday we looked at what it means to ‘spend’ ourselves in making disciples on Housing Schemes. Refer back to this article for background.Today I would like to spend a little time looking at what it means to take our discipleship to the next level by ‘spending‘ ourselves in growing and developing leaders. In Niddrie we are taking a multi-level approach to training and developing future, potential leaders. So, for instance, if a person approaches me and says they would like to ‘go to Bible college‘ I immediately want to know their reasons why. Then I want to challenge them to consider taking time out and serve the church in some capacity in order to gain some ‘hands on’ experience of ministry realities in a pressured context. You soon get to see who is cut out for the work in the cut and thrust of real life, gospel ministry. That’s when the real heart of a person comes to the fore. That’s when we get to see character exposed in all its glorious sinfulness. In my opinion too many Bible Colleges are no longer servants of the local church. They are, instead, often servants of whichever local authority ratifies their degree course. This has left many of them (again, my opinion) basically operating without any real accountability at local church level at all. A service that was originally supposed to meet the needs of the local church, in reality often does no such thing.

That’s why at Niddrie we train our people in-house by using both the Porterbrook Network Training Material and CCEF Counselling Material. I believe that this approach to training is the future for church planters and leaders specifically for ministry in inner city housing schemes. Porterbrook frees me to theologically train my people and keep them in the area and as part of the local fellowship. A huge issue for those of us working in housing schemes is that the current theological system in the UK is weighed in favour the literate, erudite, reading classes. What about my illiterate evangelist guy? What about my local convert who would never cope with writing a ‘degree level’ paper but has such a keen insight into the local culture that only needs to be refined and nurtured with the right spending discipleship? Sending them to Bible College would be counter productive at many levels. That’s why, for us at least, a comprehensive, in-house training programme is the answer.

So, would I never send one of my people to Bible College? No, not unless they tested their ‘calling’ with us first. Of course there are exceptions to this. If somebody wanted to be a Bible translator, for instance. Or, fly for MAF. Would I work in partnership with a Bible College? Absolutely. Partnership being the operative word. I have worked, and would continue to do so, with local colleges who could strengthen our fellowship by offering ad-hoc theological courses and specialist lectures. The Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh is particularly good at this and have great foresight in offering these types of courses for  general church members as well as specialist practitioners. So, I am not decrying intensive theological training. In fact, I am advocating it. The context in which it is currently exclusively offered? Now, that I question. The fact that a godly, gifted young man with poor literacy skills wouldn’t even get short listed for a job in 90%+ evangelical churches in our country. This I question. The fact that a BA at the end of somebody’s name now carries more weight in the evangelical world than actual giftedness. This I question.

Now, here is where I confess my breathtaking hypocrisy. I am a child of the Bible College education. It gave me a good foundation. My core Ministry team consists of post graduates. But, importantly, it consists of those who don’t have any formal qualifications and even those who never finished school. Because at Niddrie we are seeking to be a training church, I strongly believe that both groups can learn from one another. Both recording their experiences, both preparing to train the next generation of indigenous leaders coming through. We need the educated middle class at Niddrie. We need their money, their structure and their discipline. But they need the less educated just as much. For too long men and women with testimonies like mine have been wheeled out at ‘testimony evenings’ in some random middle class church and yet we have been denied a place in church leadership. One of the reasons, I believe, why the church is nowhere on housing schemes is because we have a system that encourages converts to (1) stay stuck in testimony mode and (2) get out of their schemes at the first opportunity. Too many have, sadly and ironically, gone to Bible college and have never gone back.

In middle class circles we look for the cream of the crop because cream does rise but in housing schemes we have to dig that extra bit harder because nuggets often sink to the bottom. Gold is often hidden in the dirt and the muck and the crap. It takes time and effort to sieve through it and pull out a pearler. Jesus knew that. We forget how rough and ready the early disciples were. That’s why one of the things we are offering at NCC is an internship scheme for local people. So, they get to do jobs around the church, work in the café, or do some admin etc. If they work for a year without hassle then they can join our full time Porterbrook Training. For others it provides a confidence booster and for yet others maybe even a way back into other employment. It is very early days but we are trying to look at how we develop the next generation of ‘indigenous’ leaders through our modelling approach. So, everybody on my core team has a local person to mentor and train. It encourages a two way learning system and not merely a passing of knowledge in a passive manner. Is it foolproof? No. is it perfect? No. But we are trying to record our lessons every step of the way so we can pass our wisdom on. It’s very experimental but it is better than the nothing that is currently going on in leadership training in too many of the housing schemes of our nation.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post about our decision to invest more heavily in the children’s work at NCC. As a ‘youth’ worker, I’ve always been a bit reticent about doing children’s work – I don’t really enjoy it, though I recognise the need for it!

Dr Helen Wright, head teacher of St Mary’s Calne, Wiltshire and President of the Girls’ School Association was quoted this week by the BBC, concerned by what she describes as the:

“Seeming erosion of the innocence of childhood.”

Dr Wright has picked up on one reason why, in Niddrie at least, we’re seeking to invest more specifically in children’s work. Namely, the traditional distinctions between ‘child’ and ‘young person’ are becoming increasingly blurred.

Read the article here.

Dr Wright regularly speaks out about issues related to young people and education, including the dangers of the early sexualisation of girls, the focus of this particular BBC article. In it she mentions a number of worrying examples of this kind of sexualisation that we’ve probably read about or heard of in the news: the sexy outfits, the make-up, the pole dancing classes.

From my vantage point as a youth worker in Niddrie, I agree with much of what Dr Wright has to say. In Niddrie we see:

  1. The glamorisation of violence, with the latest neighbourhood fights uploaded direct from mobile phone to the internet.
  2. The children for whom dealing and drug use are just part of normal home life.
  3. The hoards of young girls, all glammed up, bussing into the city centre to do whatever it is they do there – usually trying to persuade well meaning adults to buy them booze so that they can stumble up the streets, giggling and screaming, hoping that someone is paying attention to them.

It’s no surprise to us that we are living in a “moral abyss” – that’s been the human experience since the Fall. Even innocent children are not truly innocent. (If you disagree with me on this point, you may be interested to read this article by Paul Tripp). The Bible teaches that we are all born sinners (Psalm 51:5). On top of that, sinful children copy what they see other sinful children and sinful adults doing.

Dr Wright puts her hope for salvation in education to “break the cycle”, where she seeks to enlist the help of parents and schools in the battle. But what exactly does that education entail? What is our strategy for helping the lost, confused, and rebellious kids we see all around us?

This week, I’ve been reminded of the fact that no amount of sound logic, clever reasoning or education will change the heart of a sinner. You can put forward all the facts and figures you like, you can explain all the potential consequences, and fill young people (and adults) with all the knowledge they need to make good choices, but none of these things touch the heart of the human problem, which is the problem with the human heart. We’re slaves to sin, until we find freedom in our slavery to Christ (John 8:34, Romans 6:20-23).

I’ve been really convicted to pray earnestly for the children and young people I know – pray that God, in his great mercy, would change HEARTS and minds, through the gospel as we live it out and speak it out. Our vision in the children’s and youth work in Niddrie is: ‘to see young lives transformed under the Lordship of Christ’. I’d certainly argue that living out the gospel in community is a form of education transformation, even if that isn’t what Dr Wright had in mind. We’re always educating, whether we’re aware of it or not, we can’t help but teach.