The weakest area in most churches is training. When training is neglected a church may be trapped in a destructive and dysfunctional cycle. This cycle occurs when people are placed into leadership and ministry positions beyond their levels of spiritual maturity or skills. Usually the problem starts when we search for someone to fill a ministry role. First we look to those who are already involved, often over- involved. When we cannot find someone in that group, we look to people who are at the beginning stage of spiritual development.
They may have given their lives to Christ but have not moved on to develop the disciplines, values, character, and lifestyle of a mature disciple. They are faithful to events--Sunday morning, Sunday evening, midweek. They are perceived as mature simply because they attend regularly.
Jesus, however, defined spirituality as obedience. It is possible for a person to be faithful but not growing as a fully developed, obedient follower of Christ. When persons who have not developed or are not practicing the basic spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, stewardship, obedience, service) are placed in leadership roles, they may never learn to be true disciples. They may serve for power, prestige, or control and eventually reproduce the same in the lives of those they influence.
How can this cycle be avoided? The same way Jesus did it. He assessed the situation, clarified His vision for the future, determined performance goals, identified training objectives/needs, and designed and worked His training strategy.
An effective way to map out your training strategy is to start by identifying and categorizing the ministries of your church into the five functions/purposes of the church. This keeps your work focused, intentional, and effective. Every ministry you have or start should help to achieve one of the functions/purposes.
These five purposes, together with the five steps of Jesus' discipling example, provide a grid that will guide you in mapping a balanced and effective training plan.
The five functions/purposes of the church are:
The five steps of Jesus' discipling example: 1. Assess Your Present Situation
Jesus stepped into the life of Israel when Israel was in the same situation many churches are in today. Spirituality was defined as faithfulness to religious ritual (events) rather than obedience to the will of God. As He assessed the situation, He found people were religious but not spiritual; faithful, but not obedient; self-serving rather than true servants; complacent, and careless.
After assessing the situation, He started where the people were and turned it around. The same type action is required in local churches today. Begin by collecting objective data. Here are some examples of objective questions to help you assess the present situation:
- Is our church growing numerically?
- Are most of our people growing spiritually? About what percentage?
- Are nonbelievers becoming Christians?
- How many visitors do we have, and how many return?
- Are most of our people involved in ministry? About what percentage?
Collect sensorial information. This is information based on feelings. Sensorial data can be gathered by asking questions about perceptions, feelings, ideas, and dreams. Here are some examples:
- What is our church's reputation in the community?
- Do the people in our church feel loved and cared for?
- How do you feel about (a certain situation)?
- In your opinion, what should be done?
- What training is needed?
2. Clarify Your Vision for the Future
Jesus envisioned a future with 12 disciples who were fully devoted followers, capable servant leaders, caring shepherds, and effective communicators. He envisioned them knowing the Word and how to discern the will of God. He saw people becoming strong in the faith and power of the Spirit. This vision guided Him in training the disciples.
Mapping out your training strategy requires knowing what you are trying to become and accomplish in and through people in the church. As you clarify your vision, you get a glimpse of the areas and issues that must be addressed by training. Here are some sample questions to help you do this:
- What do we believe God wants to do in and through us?
- What is our vision for the future of our group?
- How would people be different if our church vision were realized?
- What do we want to happen in our community as a result of the influence and ministries of our people?
3. Determine Your Performance Goals
Performance goals describe knowledge, attitudes, values, and skills we hope to develop. Jesus had specific performance goals for His disciples, and ultimately for the Church, based on the mission of the Father and His plan. Jesus knew what knowledge, values, attitudes, and skills were needed. In His prayer for the disciples (John 17:4-8) He mentioned specifics. He wanted them to believe in His character, nature, and purpose; obey the Word; know the unlimited power and resources in Christ; and be able to take their places in the mission of the Father. He prayed for them, and to this end He trained them.
We learn from Jesus that individual performance goals should be linked to the church's goals. All training should be aimed at increasing performance. When you have a clear vision for the future, you can determine performance goals for ministries, ministry leaders, and members. Performance goals should be specific and measurable. As you evaluate each person's effectiveness, it becomes obvious what training is needed.
4. Identify Your Training Needs and Objectives
Training objectives can build a bridge to connect current performance with performance expectations. Jesus' training objectives began where the disciples were and bridged the way to what He wanted them to become and accomplish.
Your training objectives can be developed after you have assessed your present situation, clarified your desired future, and determined your performance goals. Then you will be aware of the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to accomplish your purposes. You can start building the bridge from where you are to where you hope to be in discipleship and service.
Training objectives should always state what trainees will do and how well they must do it. Here are some examples of training objectives:
- Trainees will be able to recite the Romans Road to salvation (knowledge goal).
- Trainees will demonstrate hospitality by including guests in their care groups (attitude goal).
- Trainees will be able to perform the five steps in following up a new convert (action or skills goal).
5. Design Your Training Strategy
Jesus' strategy for training the disciples was clear and effective. His methods were intentional, varied, and suited to life situations. He worked in group settings, one-to-one situations, and times for practical development and supervised practice.
In group activities, Jesus used lectures, illustrations, and observations. With individuals He mentored, counseled, and coached. He allowed them to learn from each other. He pushed them to develop on their own. He gave assignments and challenged them to struggle with issues, situations, and problems. You can use the same strategies in designing your training plan. Your training map is complete when you implement and evaluate the plan you have designed.
Clancy Hayes is training coordinator and district liaison for the Sunday School Department, Springfield, Missouri. Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.