? Mission briefing: Training leaders

Raising Up Leaders

Mission Briefing: Ideas Shaping World Mission Outreach Today

The Message renders Paul's words in 2 Timothy 2:2 as "Pass on what you heard from me -- the whole congregation saying Amen! -- to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others."

It's clear from what we see happening in Scriptural narratives that the church is supposed to train its leaders. Indeed, biblical scholar A.T. Robertson called training leaders "one of the chief tasks of Christ." So, if we are going to follow the example of Jesus, how do we do that?

Some denominations have set up an academic standard that all pastors must meet. The Church of the Nazarene has gone a different route. Our expectation is that Nazarene ministers worldwide will acquire a specified list of abilities. Those include things such as:

Such abilities are more important than merely earning a degree or a diploma or a certificate. To help ministers acquire and demonstrate those abilities, we rely on various delivery systems. That reflects our history. It reflects Wesley, who trained a cadre of lay ministers. It reflects the fact that early Nazarene leaders ran the gamut from people without much formal education, like Uncle Buddy Robinson, to those with advanced university degrees, like A. M. Hills.

We have distance programs where teachers go to the students and residential programs where students come to the teachers. We train ministers online and in face-to-face classes. We offer ministerial training at a variety of academic levels, from very basic for people without much formal academic training all the way up through accredited doctoral programs.

How does the church train leaders globally? While the impression may have been that a resident Bible school was the preferred method, that's not been the case throughout history, either of the Church as a whole or of the Church of the Nazarene in particular.

Some denominations have set a certain degree as the path to ordination. That's not been the case in the Church of the Nazarene. We've always had a variety of ways in which ministers could get training leading to ordination. Why? Well, because we focused on outcomes. Thus, there has been individualized study, Bible schools, universities, seminaries, and seminars run by districts. Such flexibility and diversity reflect who we were in the early days

In some places, training programs are open only to those already pastoring churches. In other places, the program requires a church-planting internship to be completed before graduation.

Examples of what is being done around the world include:

None of this is set in stone. Helping people acquire the competencies for ministry is the main thing!

Discussion questions

  1. What are some different methods of training church leaders that are employed worldwide? How might the use of these approaches reflect the values and priorities of different denominations or religious traditions?
  2. How might an emphasis on specific abilities rather than academic degrees or diplomas impact one's approach to leadership training?
  3. How can leadership training in the church be made more flexible and diverse? What benefits might flexibility and diversity of approaches to leadership training offer to the Church?
  4. What competencies ministers should acquire to be effective leaders in churches? How might different training methods help more people develop these competencies?
  5. Would a focus on outcomes rather than acquiring content allow for greater flexibility and diversity in the ways that ministers can be trained and qualify for ordination?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This mini-essay on a key issue in world missions outreach is an article in the "Mission briefing" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine produced by the Church of the Nazarene.

"So many evangelical Christian churches fail in developing their leadership. We don't work on replacing ourselves as leaders in the church, which is one reason the church is struggling so badly in the West." -- Kevin B., Northwest Nazarene University graduate student


2 Timothy 2:2 does not explicitly mention "training leaders." However, it does contain principles that can be applied to leadership development within a Christian context. Paul instructs Timothy to pass on the teachings he has received to reliable individuals who will, in turn, be able to teach others. This can be seen as a form of discipleship and mentorship, which are crucial aspects of leadership development within Christian churches.

While some denominations set academic standards for ministers the Church of the Nazarene emphasizes specific abilities over formal degrees. This focus on outcomes allows for flexibility and diversity in training approaches, including informal apprenticeships, de-centralized Bible colleges, one-on-one tutoring, residential schools, modular schools, and fully online programs. Prioritizing competencies for ministry rather than academic qualifications follows the example of Jesus in training leaders. Emphasizing outcomes can open doors for individuals from diverse educational backgrounds to enter ministry, fostering a more inclusive and adaptable approach to ministerial training.

Ten imperatives for Christian missionaries

"If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task." -- 1 Timothy 3:1

A Biblical model for global missions

Richard Zanner. himself a veteran of cross-cultural missionary service, outlines important characteristics that missionaries should cultivate

  1. Understand one's role as a servant
  2. Learn the culture
  3. Learn to speak the language
  4. Keep a sweet and honest spirit
  5. Adjust to a new environment
  6. Identify with the people
  7. Affirm a call to serve
  8. Focus on the assignment
  9. Be accountable for decisions and actions
  10. Live close to the Lord

1. Understand one's role as a servant

Keyword: Humble

When a missionary arrives at his place of service, he must learn to understand his role as someone who has been "called by God and sent by the church" to work toward and accomplish certain objectives.

We can best be humble servant leaders if we:

  1. Do not get carried away with eagerness
  2. Develop low-key, but nonetheless genuine, rapport
  3. Are encouragers and true shepherds
  4. Are positive, helpful, and supportive without being bombastic

Christian leaders must understand that they are ambassadors for Christ. So, trying to model ourselves after Jesus Christ will be a helpful exercise.

2. Learn the culture

Keyword: Sensitive

Culture, in this instance, is loosely defined as "the way things are done by a group of people," whether an ethnic group or a local church or district situation. A Christian leader is to demonstrate that his interest cannot be primarily directed to his own family and their comfort. A missionary must recognize that there are already enough differences between him or her and the constituency. No extra differences or barriers are needed. [ more on cross-cultural understanding ]

We should strive to fit in with the local Christians while remaining mature Christian models, examples, and teachers. We must ask for God's wisdom in knowing what to accept as culturally neutral (and therefore not inherently sinful or wrong) and what to challenge as anti-Christian.

3. Learn to speak the language

Keyword: Determined

If one wants to understand the "soul" of a people, one must be able to speak their language or at least understand it.

Learning a language is not easy. Those who have done this will remember that they initially seemed to have an outward personality change. That is because people speaking a language in what is sometimes described as a "broken" manner will usually have difficulties projecting their true personality).

Learning a language can be humbling. Yet, it is necessary because unless we know a people's language, we will never fully understand their mindset, their thinking patterns, and their emotions. Without mastery of the language, we may never get beyond surface masks of courtesy and politeness. [ more on language learning ]

4. Keep a sweet and honest spirit

Keyword: Sincere

This becomes important after you have been in a given area for a while and after initial disillusionments have jerked you into facing reality. Unless you can accept ways that are as different from yours as night is from day, you will have relationship problems.

At this stage, a subtle temptation can come for the long-term missionary to become cynical. This can manifest itself in snide remarks or jokes about the local people and it may eventually negatively foster attitudes when dealing with them. Keep a sweet, open, accepting spirit, and you will prevent such attitudes from sabotaging your effectiveness as a leader.

5. Adjust to a new environment

Keyword: Adapt

The best advice here is to be non-controversial. Some years ago I went to visit a missionary. I did not find him at home. When I asked where he might be, I was told that I could find him at his home country's Embassy library. Everybody knew that the brother was there twice a week. This made me curious, so I went there. Sure enough, there he sat, watching sports on television.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with him doing that except that, in his case, it typified a lack of adaptation to the local culture. I asked that missionary how many times he had watched an African soccer game in the maize fields. He did not know what I was talking about. He had never been to one.

It is quite acceptable to maintain your own personality and mother culture within reasonable bounds. It is also wise to build bridges by developing interest in local enthusiasms.

6. Identify with the people

Keyword: Adopt

Make conscious efforts not to speak about "back home" or "over there" even if you need to make comparisons.

In the same vein, when we talk about "our" president, we need to mean the one of the country in which we reside. When we talk about "our country" and "our law," we again talk about our place of residence.

If we will adopt the people and the nation in which we live as our own, new horizons will open up. We, too, will wind up being adopted.

7. Affirm a call to serve

Keyword: Minister

Do not expect others to do what you are not prepared to do yourself. One of the most subtle excuses can be that "they are used to it."

Nothing is so demeaning to people as to be given a task by a leader because that leader was not prepared to personally do that task.

8. Focus on the assignment

Keyword: Vision

Know your direction. Be clear about what is expected of you. Know what the church requires from you as a "partner in ministry." Have a clear picture of your assignment. Let everybody see that you have a plan and that you have set out to accomplish a certain task within a certain time.

Let everyone see that you enjoy your challenge and that you work with enthusiasm. Think big, and get your fellow laborers to think with you.

9. Be accountable for decisions and actions

Keyword: Conscientious

Be transparent in your dealings, whatever they are. Be ready to give your rationale for what you do and why you do it "this way." Make sure that there is a report-back or accountability system. If people see that you are answerable to someone else for what you do, they will find it easier to develop accountability as well.

10. Live close to the Lord

Keyword: Spiritual

Become known as a person who seeks God's blessings and His guidance. Do not neglect prayer, public or private. Do not yield to the temptation to think that a problem could be too big for you. Believe within your own soul that solutions exist for all problems. Even personality conflicts can be mitigated when people meet at the cross. Give credit to others and glory to God.

This article was originally published in Trans-African. Adapted and used by permission

"When the rulers are good, the people are happy. When the rulers are evil, the people complain." -- Proverbs 29:2, Easy to Read Version

Howard Culbertson,

You might also like