by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
The New Testament makes no mention of seminaries or Bible training centers apart from the local churches. Well-intentioned believers over the years have established such ministries with varying measures of fruitfulness. But I strongly maintain that the predominant New Testament pattern is to train the Lord’s people in the local churches, where believers will find the broadest God-given mix of ministries and spiritual gifts to equip them for the Lord’s work.
I was a bible teacher for many years in a bible college in Anchorage, Alaska. That school too was a fully church-based ministry of Abbott Loop Community Church. Our church’s ministry staff and elders provided the spiritual oversight of the college, and the teaching staff for the college was drawn from among those church ministers. Both these churches, in Portland and in Anchorage, were able to develop dynamic church-planting ministries. The church-based ministry training provided the nucleus of many church-planting teams sent from those churches. This is the biblical pattern — train and send from the local church.
In Acts 19 we see the apostle Paul teaching the word of God extensively to the believers of the newly-established church in Ephesus. In verses 9-10 we see that Paul “…took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” What Paul did here in Ephesus was the equivalent of conducting a two-year bible school in the Ephesian church. Keep in mind that the “church” means the congregation, the believers, not a building. Archeologists have not found specific church buildings being used until the second century A.D. The early church met where it could, often in homes, and here in the “lecture hall of Tyrannus.”
Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy, later became the pastor of that same Ephesian church. The apostle exhorted Timothy to continue to train the saints there in the church that he pastored: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2, NASB). What a divine multiplication principle! Train and equip believers in the church, and they will pass that knowledge on to others, who will in turn “teach others also.” This is how the world is reached for the Lord! And notice how it begins by training the local church’s people for ministry.
Recall what we saw in Acts 19:9-10 above: Paul “…took the [Ephesian church’s] disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” It is clear that Paul himself stayed there in Ephesus for those two years, teaching God’s word “daily” to the Ephesian Christians. Since Paul obviously remained for those two years in Ephesus, how did all of the province of Asia hear God’s word? We can answer that from the biblical principle seen in 2 Timothy 2:2 above. Faithful saints were trained in the church (here, by Paul). They passed these truths on to other “faithful men,” who in turn taught yet others. The point? Train faithful believers in the local church. They will go forth with those truths and will pass them on to others, who will reach yet others. And before you know it, your entire “province of Asia” has heard the Lord’s life-giving word!
The local churches experience the loss of gifted believers by sending them away for training. Instead, these ministers-in-training can be a great help and strength to the churches if they stay there for their training.
The local churches can give much personal and pastoral oversight and encouragement to those preparing for ministry. This is generally not true in centralized bible schools and seminaries, which are usually detached from the broad-based, beneficial influence of the local church.
The churches have pastors, evangelists, teachers, elders, and sometime apostles and prophets in the local congregation. These multiple ministries (Ephesians 4:11-12, et al.) are given by the Lord to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (vs. 12, ESV). By contrast, bible schools and seminaries detached from the local church usually have instructors that are, for the most part, bible teachers. And speaking as one myself, I am acutely aware that we bible teachers by ourselves cannot provide the broad-based ministry training that can be found when training for ministry is done in the local church with its multiple and varied ministry gifts.
Ministers trained in the churches are personally and directly exposed to a broad array of Christian activities — worship, preaching and teaching, evangelism and follow-up, the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, counseling, and much more. The church is the only place where they will gain this valuable, broad-based, on-the-job training.
This is not a difficult task and does not require vast resources or large congregations. Even pastors of small- and medium-sizes churches can establish dynamic ministry-training programs in your churches.
The all-important starting point is a biblically sound local church, properly structured after the pattern of the churches in the bible, and firmly established upon the Savior Jesus Christ and God’s Word. Jesus Himself said, “On this rock I [Jesus] will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). And in the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27), Jesus exhorts us to be among the wise builders who build upon the sure foundation of His word — taught, received, and put into practice.
Jesus gave to His church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Their divine calling includes training God’s people for the work of the ministry (vs. 12). For example, not only do teachers teach, they also equip others to minister God’s word. Not only do evangelists win souls, they train others to win souls. Identify these ministers. All churches should have at least one of these ministers, who is usually (but not always) a God-called Ephesians 4:11 pastor. For example, the Jerusalem church in its earliest stages was led by apostles. The point is: one or more of these ministries will be found in the local church. Oftentimes there are several. These will be your primary ministry trainers.
It is especially important to identify God-called bible teachers. They will bring into the mix their God-given ability to impart comprehensive, “A-to-Z,” line-upon-line truth from God’s word, the bible. Other fivefold ministers and elders will likewise bring their own God-given gifts and abilities into the training ministry.
It is very important that the local church have biblically qualified elders. These men will give personal care and spiritual oversight to the men and women in ministry training in the church.
Pastors must ensure that the entire congregation is well taught in the biblical truth of “body ministry” — that is, that each person is a unique member of Christ’s body, the church, and has a unique ministry to fulfill. The apostle Paul teaches us that “we have different gifts according to the grace given us” (Romans 12:6). The apostle Peter similarly exhorts: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
In addition to the regular preaching, teaching, eldering, and on-the-job training that the local church provides, the church should aggressively plan to expand its bible teaching ministry. This can be done in a variety of ways:
There are additional ministry training resources available to the local churches. Pastor should evaluate these carefully and recommend only those in which they have confidence. Here are a few of those resources:
Pastors and other church leaders, God has equipped you to train ministers right there in your local church. And you too, not just the “mega churches,” can get wonderfully involved in sending church-planting teams from your church.
We have now completed Part Two, “The Local Church As a Ministry Training Center.” Please continue on by clicking the next topic, Part Three below, in our series on Church Planting by Teams.
Part One — An Overview of Church Planting
Part Three — Counseling of Future Ministers in the Local Church
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©2016, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.