Getting at the Ideal Training Program for People Who Are Leading in the Body of Christ

Every where I go on this earth and at every church or denomination I visit there is at least one common cry, “If we only had more leaders, we could do more.” Often this cry seems to come from at least two misplaced convictions. One, that there are not enough leaders in existence. Is it possible that just maybe God did not think ahead enough and give Christ’s Church enough of the gifts and people necessary to fulfil the leadership task? Two, that there just don’t seem to be enough people who actually want to make the sacrifices necessary for the demands of leadership. 

Of course, upon reflection most of us will admit that neither of these two thoughts makes any real sense. God has not made a mistake. He has given to Christ’s body everything it needs to do the task He requires of it. And, there are indeed plenty of people still around who are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to participate in the leadership of Christ’s Church at every level. 

My experience tells me that the real culprit in the lack of people, or even qualified people to join in the leadership task, is the extreme lack of commitment on the behalf of the present leadership to identify, train and release potential people. This lack on our behalf could stem from several things. Maybe we are lazy and don’t want to take the time necessary to do the hard work of leadership development. I hope that this is not the case. But, I do know that leadership development may be the most difficult and time consuming work we are called on to do. 

Maybe we just don’t know what to do in this arena. After all, most of us were trained to perform one or two functions at best. The seminaries and Bible colleges all seem to assume that only two functions are necessary in the leadership of local churches. Either teaching, or the care of people! And, of course, both of these are vitally important in the leadership of God’s people. But, in isolation to other functions necessary to the leadership of God’s people, neither of them is Biblically defensible. Moreover, if these are the only two primary functions that most local churches experience, it is little wonder that we are left to our present reality of growing evangelical nominalism and lack of direction in regards to purpose.  

The true impact of church leadership is not that it preaches, or teaches, or decides, but that it empowers the great mass of Christ’s ordinary people to do the work of the ministry of the purpose of the church.
— Dwight

My suspicion is that this is the real challenge. We know in our hearts that training other leaders may actually be the most important task we are called by God to perform. For, when this happens, it can be more truly said that the people, and not we, are doing the work of the ministry. This after all is the clear intention of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:11-12. The true impact of church leadership is not that it preaches, or teaches, or decides, but that it empowers the great mass of Christ’s ordinary people to do the work of the ministry of the purpose of the church. 

Wherever I have gone, I have consistently challenged people in the leadership of local churches, and especially full-time people, to spend something closer to 50% of their time training other leaders. Of course, this would take a massive restructuring of what we now do, and what people have been taught to expect us to do. But, it is necessary, possible, and biblical! 

With this caveat in mind, what might a more ideal training program for church leadership look like, especially in city localities rather than simply in gathered silos like Bible colleges and seminaries?

Of first order is to decide what we mean by training. In summary, leadership training is for me, training others in the Christ-given Ephesians 4:11 impact functions and the Spirit-given leadership gifts (I Corinthians 12; Romans 12 and Hebrews 13), at every domain level of leadership (I Corinthians 12:4-6), to think Biblically (I Timothy 4:16; 2:15) and act theologically (I Timothy 4:7-8, 12) in a coordinated unity (I Corinthians 12) for the empowerment of the saints (Ephesians 4:12) to do the work of the ministry of the purpose of the Church (Ephesians 3:10-11; 2:10). 

Let me un-package this a bit. Leadership development ought to be focused upon people who we identify as having gifts that accord with the functions of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher. I have written more on this subject in another place, but in gist when I use these words, I believe that they refer only to gifted people who Jesus has given to His church. They play out distinct and necessary functions. In short, apostles play out an extension function, of which church planting is one of the most evident fruits. Prophets, working off of a closed canon, play out a corrective role in the body. Evangelists play what I call an expanding role. I use this word in contrast to apostle and extension. Whereas apostles look at a place and wonder how to reach all of it through winning and planting, evangelists emphasize the winning and wonder how to win people in the place. Pastors are the care function of leadership and I think are intended by Christ to highlight mercy in action. Teachers are the truth function and are given by Christ to keep God’s word pre-imminent in the life of the body. 

Along with these functions one must also include in the leadership function, gifts that the Holy Spirit has recorded as having given to people in the body. Those gifts are: administration, or the management of details; organization, or the management of structure and strategy; management, or the management of people; and leading, the management of the future. 

Of course any and all mixes of gifts and functions are possible because the Spirit has not given any one person all of them. Nor probably, has He given anyone the exact mixture of another. Further, each of these gifts comes with their respective and God the Father assigned domain of influence. 

So then, training starts with these God-given categories; identifying them, understanding them, appreciating their diversity and learning to be effective in them, both alone and in interdependence to the others. There are of course core disciplines that each should be exposed to and trained in. But, ultimately, the strength of leadership of the Church, in all of its geographical domains depends more upon the effective playing out of the dance of each in symbiotic orchestration to the others. 

The cumulative effect of training ought to be self-evident.


  1. People in leadership out to know how to nurture their own intimacy with God.
  2. They ought to know how to encourage and lead others in the same.
  3. They ought to know how to discover threshold truths from God’s word and apply them to their lives.
  4. They ought to know how to lead others in the same.
  5. They ought to understand their own gifts, and, be growing in just how this role plays itself out in the body.
  6. They ought to know how to lead others in the same.
  7. They ought to understand the importance of the other roles in leadership and the body and know how to actively cooperate with them.
  8. They ought to know how to lead others in the same.
  9. They ought to know why and how the Church is called to involve itself in its particular moment and context of history.
  10. They ought to be able to lead others in the same. 

Each of these measurable categories has its appropriate sub-categories that must be taught, understood and applied. But, the sub-categories become irrelevant if not taught within the windows of their corresponding category. And, in fact, if I am right that training others in leadership to think from Scripture, and act in ways that are theologically consistent with those Scriptural discoveries is the primary focus of training, then many of the sub-categories can and should be left to the self-learning that ought to be the discipline in anybody in the leadership function. For example, teaching people in leadership to understand and interpret Scripture (hermeneutics), a primary category, is of more importance than padding a curriculum with books of the Bible. 

I could imagine that the actual training that goes on in most training programs could in fact be accomplished in one half the time if the sub- categories were left to the life long process of learning that comes from teaching them how to think, where to find what they might need, and what the key issues are in the primary categories. Some will lament that this leaves us open to syncretism. My rebuttal is several fold. 

First, the evangelical movement of America is already rife with syncretism. We may hold closely to the historic orthodox doctrines in our talk, but our people have become as nominal as any generation of liberal theology we criticise. And, I suspect that a large portion of them, though they may have a relationship to the Truth, have no meaningful relationship to the Truth Giver.

Second, if we cannot train up a generation of people in leadership groups at every level of Church life to think for themselves out of Scripture, make the appropriate theological applications to their lives, and do all of this out of an intensely growing personal intimacy with God, then we have already failed, no matter how many topics we have exposed them to in our training. In fact, we have not trained them in anything. We have merely educated them in our convictions! 

Instead of what we have, and without throwing out everything that history has taught might be of use, I see training being offered in three phases. I use the word phase not to refer to any time spans, but to three phases of concepts or foci that fill our expectations. In point of fact, how the material is disseminated is irrelevant, and should instead be offered up in whatever way is appropriate to the context in which the training is offered. With this one over-riding proviso: learning that is not applied to both life and ministry context is not learning it is indoctrination! 

The first phase is built around who we are. The second phase is built around what we do. The third phase is built around how we do the ministry.

I call phase one the gatekeeper foundations because they define who we are. Who we are dictates the forms for everything else, especially the life of local churches. For too long we have been dominated by how to do things as our first order of thinking, rather than why we do particular things. As a result, we end up doing things that may bring programmatic “success”, but make no measurable difference in the people who attend the program. We end up with religious gatherings, not churches! 

The second phase I refer to as ministry disciplines. They are the core disciplines we want all leaders to know, understand, use and empower others to practice. These would include many, but no-where near all, of the historic Bible college or seminary curriculum. The historic curriculum has become dominated by a singular Christ given, Ephesians 4:11 function, teaching. And, though it is true that everyone in leadership should be apt to teach, the present environment is unhealthy, and for several reasons. 

  • It is an inordinate domination of only one of the functions given by Christ to the Body.
  • Standing as it does in isolation to the other functions, it yields a body out of balance.
  • It’s historic dominance of the training environment, and through this the Church environment, has left us without the intended impacts of the other functions. We have therefore become people without a sense of purpose in the world. Truth has no connection to the reality that time is defined by eternity, both individually as a Christian, and corporately as a church. 

And so, this “contextless” truth becomes captive to the spirit of the age. The consummate therapeutic society has so personalized truth that the power of obedience to truth is unrecognizable in a grace that is anything but Biblical. A much more inter-dependent coordination of all of the Ephesians 4:11 functions would work much more effectively against the opiate of the culture in which the Church exists. As it is, the truth function alone in domination fulfills its own destiny. It is rapidly becoming in the practice of the American form of Christianity more existential than any of the theologies about which we have protested for so long. 

The third phase I call ministry applications. There are some ministry disciplines that all of the functions and gifts in the leadership body will need to understand and practice. But, it is here that the diversity that Christ and the Spirit have given needs to be integrated most of all. Good training will not be dominated by the teaching function, but will grow to include meaningful training for all of the other functions. 

In conclusion, and without wanting to prescribe more than diverse contexts would warrant, allow me to suggest some categories that seem to me to be necessary in each phase. Phase one dominates everything else in my mind. For in this phase, we learn the fundamental mindsets that determine how we view everything else. If these are missed or missing, we are left to act not really knowing why we are acting. And, worse, with no real standard to create a more Biblical means test for success/effectiveness. 

It seems to me that in this phase we are dealing broadly with four topics for discovery. Who are we

  1. We are the people of God. We might plummet two aspects of this truth: First, who the people of God are in the Old Testament. And, second who the people of God are in the New Testament.
  2. We are the shepherds of the Jesus flock. In this, I would want to minimally see a working theology of leadership and an outline of the responsibilities of leadership.
  3. We are the emissaries of the Gospel. Two issues stand out among others. First, what is the Gospel? And, second a review of the history and expansion of the Church from Pentecost to today. 
  4. We are the friends of God. This is a make or break topic for anyone in leadership. The effectiveness of all of us in leadership rises or falls in the growing intensity of each ones intimacy with the Father. And, so we are in desperate need of learning relational disciplines: prayer, meditation, fasting, solitude, silence, are topics that need to be addressed as “windows” to the world of church leadership that we will occupy with others. If they are not learned and practiced, who cares what we believe, how good we preach, how great the worship is, or how many people attend “our” church. 

In the second phase we are dealing with the ministry disciplines, and asking the question, what do we do

  1. We need to understand Scripture. It seems to me that two issues in this regard dominate anything else. First, hermeneutics or how to interpret Scripture. Second, how to use the many tools available for studying the Bible in the original languages. With so many tools now available on the internet, I cannot see why learning Greek or Hebrew, for the vast majority of those in local church leadership, serves any purpose anymore. It is one of those sub-categories dominated not by reality, need or even clamoring desire, but by training dominated by the teaching function, and out of balance from the other functions. 
  2. We need to understand God. I think that some form of a Biblical theology, framed as much as possible around self-study, would be a good start.
  3. We need to know how to lead other believers to know Him. Several sides of the communication function need to be learned. First, how to organize your thoughts. Second, how to communicate your thoughts in a public domain. And, third how to do all of this in smaller venues, i.e. discipleship.
  4. We need to know how to understand the world around us. Pluralism is a reality of the world at large, and now the reality of America as well. A world full of diversity has come to our doorsteps, and we need to understand it, especially its religious convictions. Further, we need to learn to appreciate our own doctrinal diversity within the evangelical Church. Finally, there is a desperate need to recapture the ability to explain ones convictions, i.e. apologetics.

The third phase is where we need to help each other specialize in who God has made each of us to be in the body.

But, even here, there are a few core issues that need to be learned. For example: 

  1. How to empower and release people
  2. How to organize the work that people do. 
  3. How to act as a team. 

Beyond these topics, the rest of the training ought to be specific to the function and/or the gifts. What does it mean to act apostolically, or prophetically, or evangelistically, etc? 

Much can be said, but it is my conviction that apart of the process of learning to training other leaders is learning to think through the process that is most appropriate in any particular given context. This does not mean that everything needs to be a new creation. Much can and should be borrowed and adapted from other places. But, the adaptation necessary will not be fully considered nor effective if we have not gone through the process of asking the prior questions. Once the prior questions implicated in the above article are processed, then we are free to take our content from many other people and places that have created a course that will serve our purposes. 

One other thought needs to be addressed. The beginning of all effective leadership is that which goes on in local churches, not in silos like Bible colleges and seminaries. A local church which is effective in the pursuit of the ministry of the purpose of the Church in the world as described in the New Testament, and as seen in the book of Acts, has a far better chance of producing the kind of leaders we need for this hour of Christianity in America. 

But, two factors will determine the ability of these kinds of churches to provide this needed starting point for training. One, are they willing to act in a more Biblical way in the expression of Church in their city. Nothing in the New Testament leads us to believe that church is anything like unto X church on the corner of main and first in a city. The churches of the New Testament were much broader geographical expressions than we are left with today with our myriads of denominational and non- denominational expressions. Paul’s letter to the Romans could never be misunderstood as something written to the First Baptist church of Rome! It would have been understood by all to have been penned to all of the believers in Rome, no matter where or when they met. 

The kind of training I am referring to will not really be as effective as it could be unless and until it is delivered by a broader coalition of churches in a city. Each church will undoubtedly deliver portions of it themselves. But, the model, the content, the time, the expertise, all will be better served by the broader coalition. 

Finally, the single most important factor, which will determine the effectiveness of such training, is whether we feel it is imperative enough to give priority time to. But, I think that I can guarantee you, the growth of the Church in America will be directly related to local churches beginning to train more leadership than they actually need! 


Gatekeeper foundations
The fundamental mindsets through which we view everything else. 
Focus: Who are We?

  1. The people of God
    1. In the Old Testament
    2. In the Church
  2. The shepherds of Jesus’ flock Theology of leadership
    1. Responsibilities of leaders
  3. The emissaries of the Gospel What is the Gospel? 
    1. History and expansion of the Church
  4. The friends of God
    1. Spiritual and relational disciplines Prayer
    2. Meditation
    3. Fasting etc. 


Ministry Disciplines
Focus: What We Do 

  1. Understanding Scripture Hermeneutics
    1. Use of tools that help understand the Biblical languages
  2. Understanding God Biblical Theology
  3. Leading other believers to know him Homiletics
    1. Discipling
  4. Understanding the world we live in
    1. Pluralism (other religions)
    2. Christian diversity (other denominations) Apologetics 


Ministry Applications
Focus: How we do ministry

  1. How to empower and release people
  2. Organizing the work that people do
  3. Apostolic foundations and applications
  4. Prophetic foundations and applications
  5. Evangelistic foundations and applications
  6. Pastoral foundations and applications
  7. Teaching foundations and applications
  8. How to act as a team
Dwight Smith, Founder

Dwight Smith, Founder