Training New Leaders – How?
One of the common features of our Reformed churches is the annual election for office bearers. In some places, the process goes smoothly; there’s no shortage of qualified and available men. In other places, especially in smaller churches, it can sometimes be a struggle. The church I currently serve was in this situation in 2018. There were older men who were qualified and experienced, but no longer able to serve. There were younger men available to serve, but not qualified and definitely not experienced. There’s nothing you can do about the older men, but there’s certainly something you can do about the younger.
This was the genesis of our church’s Service and Leadership Training (SALT) program. Our consistory developed this program to address the need for a new generation of qualified leaders, not only in the church proper, but also in our church community. SALT is directed towards men aged 25-35, to equip them for service in terms of both doctrine and practice.
How do you motivate people to be invested in training offered by the church? In some cases, individuals will be self-motivated enough to sign up for such training and then follow it through to the end. However, my experience has been that there’s often an initial surge of interest in a program offered to everyone, but then that soon drops off and you’re left with a remnant.
One way of addressing is this is to charge a fee for training. Putting money towards something definitely motivates an individual to be more personally invested. However, as effective as it might be, that’s not necessarily sending the right message in a church context.
There’s a better way. The better way is to have the elders select the individuals for the training. That’s what we’ve done with our SALT program. For each training year, our elders have nominated approximately 5 young men between 25 and 35. These individuals are selected on the basis of greatest leadership potential. This approach has borne fruit in terms of completion of the training. Over three training years, we’ve only had one individual not complete the training and that was on account of his moving inter-state.
There are two components to our SALT program. The first involves one-on-one mentoring. Each participant meets three times individually with me. This is another reason why we keep the cohorts to about 5 – a total of fifteen meetings is feasible.
Essential to the mentoring is something called a Spiritual Growth Plan. This was introduced to me by Dr. John Smith from CRTS as something they do with the seminary students in Hamilton. We’ve adapted it for SALT. The Spiritual Growth Plan has the participants identify their spiritual strengths and weaknesses, and asks them to develop a plan to address their weaknesses. We go over this plan together at the first mentoring session, then in the two subsequent sessions we discuss it and there’s accountability for following through.
The second component involves approximately 2 hours in the classroom every two weeks. In preparation for each classroom session, the participants are given assigned readings on the topics to be covered. To help the readings are done, every participant is required to prepare a one paragraph summary of each reading.
The topics covered divide up into doctrinal and practical matters that are essential for church leaders. In both areas, the teaching advances one step up from what the men would have received in their pre-confession instruction. This is the complete list of doctrinal topics:
- Scripture and hermeneutics
- Doctrines of grace
- Covenant theology
- Sexual ethics
- Women in office
Here’s the complete list of (more) practical topics:
- Personal devotions
- Family worship
- Ecclesiastical offices
- Church Order
- Ecclesiastical assemblies
- Home visits
- Church discipline
- Sermon evaluation
- Union with Christ
Ample opportunity is provided for discussion and questions. I try to use as many real life examples as I can. We also have at least one “field trip” – in connection with learning about ecclesiastical assemblies, the participants attend a joint elders-deacons meeting.
Finally, because “leaders are readers” (Albert Mohler), almost every session includes a number of recommended books to “build a leader’s library.”
So, has SALT achieved its goals? Since 2018, several SALT “graduates” have been nominated as elders or deacons. Some have been elected. Additionally, some are now serving in leadership roles in our Christian school association. So, with thanks to God’s blessing, I think we can say it’s been working as we intended.
I’ve had inquiries from several people about SALT. The concept should be easily transferable to other churches. In the beginning of 2019, I offered an intensive SALT course (without the mentoring) to a group of men in Cagayan de Oro, the Philippines. The feedback was positive about that, so I imagine it could work elsewhere. If anyone is interested, I’m happy to share all the materials I’ve developed. My prayer is that what we’ve done here will perhaps help other churches in raising up another generation of faithful, well-equipped leaders who can serve the cause of the gospel.