“That won’t work here.”
This dispiriting reply greeted my overly enthusiastic description of something I had just heard at a pastor’s conference.
The gathering featured a speaker who had spearheaded an impressive reimagination of the church he pastored. He was now offering his model as a blueprint for churches like mine. So, of course, I purchased a few books and dreamed about implementing his vision in my church.
When a colleague threw water on my conference-induced fire, I chalked it up to the cynicism of the battle-weary: “it could work here if we tried!”
Over time, however, I realized there was more to the criticism than first met the eye.
It takes more than popular speakers, electrifying music, and a few days with hundreds of pastors to generate transformation in your church.
To be clear, I am not faulting conference organizers. The problem was mine.
I had a fundamental misunderstanding of how to lead change. I suspect I share that misunderstanding with a lot of pastors.
We might believe information will beget transformation. If I add to what I know, I will be a better leader.
Not so. Just this past weekend, my pastor aptly illustrated how knowledge alone is insufficient to spark transformation. “I’m all for good schools and great education,” he pointed out, “but education alone will not prevent you from being a racist or enable you to love your neighbor.”
We need something besides more information.
As director of the City Ministry Program (CMP) for City-To-City NYC, I am learning what the “something more” is and how to implement those features into training the next generation of ministers for metro NY.
CMP is a strategic urban education for pastors, parachurch ministers, seminary students, and emerging Christian leaders. It consists of four year long learning tracks in leadership, mission, preaching, and pastoring, with two additional intensives on urban ministry and Tim Keller’s book Center Church.
Those who complete the whole program receive a certificate in urban ministry from CTC.
A certificate doesn’t guarantee transformation. But what does?
We’ve identified five critical factors that will make or break your ministry training. Our team is working hard to incorporate all of them into the core CMP curriculum.
Here’s a deeper look at the five elements we think are key to ministry training and seeing transformation in the long term.
- Oriented around Jesus
Though this may seem obvious, it’s not just a point. It’s a Person.
For ministry training to be transformative, it must orient itself around the person of Jesus—his life, his words, his actions, his place in the biblical narrative, his rebukes, his laments, his yearnings, his prayers, his betrayal, his death, and ultimately his resurrection.
Too often, we treat Jesus like a mascot, whom we trot out to rile the crowd into a frenzy and to get people to do what we want them to do.
Jesus is no mascot.
He is Lord.
And because he is Lord, we must work to orient every aspect of our training around him—not around ideas about him, but around his person and in keeping with his Spirit.
Transformation begins and ends with him.
- Deferential to the wise
Someone could write a history of the United States under the title “The Next Big Thing.”
Perhaps more than any other culture, we love innovation and progress. We’re always on the lookout for the next sensation. Our nation’s history reminds us that it began as the kind of innovative “Next Big Thing” that’s come to define our society.
This inclination comes at a cost. The new, young, and fresh are more appealing, and we leave behind what seems outdated or aged.
It means we miss out on a lot of wisdom if Proverbs has anything to say about it.
Our push for the “Next Big Thing” elevates rock star pastors while they’re still young enough to look like rock stars. In our church contexts, we try to work in the hottest new trends we’ve seen them do. But these trends show remarkable but often short-lived success.
I’m not saying that young leaders have nothing to say, nor that we can’t learn from other people’s success. But I am saying that the pride of place in ministry training should go to the experienced, the aged, and the wise.
In CMP, we look to seasoned leaders with decades of experience first and lean on their hard-earned wisdom. Focusing on this perspective compels me to create more opportunities for experienced practitioners than our current culture typically allows.
I think our students are better off for it.
- Enriched by community
But there’s more to the learning experience than the teacher and the student.
We believe transformative learning happens best in community.
That’s not to say one can’t learn alone. But the biblical norm is ministry training in the context of community, whether it was the school of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures or the twelve disciples in the New Testament.
This conviction presents one explanation for our trans-denominational approach to ministry training.
Theologically, CTC NYC represents Protestant orthodoxy and includes a variety of perspectives concerning baptism, ecclesiology, spiritual gifts, the role of women in ministry, divine predestination, and so forth.
Furthermore, our faculty and students hail from all over NYC. They reflect the breadth of the city’s cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic conditions.
Diverse ministry training sparks fresh insights. Together, participants cultivate a sense of deep camaraderie in the work of the gospel. Ultimately, they walk away with a longing for the kingdom to come, expressed through prayer with and for one another.
You can’t put a price on the value that community brings to your ministry training. The relationships started here last a lifetime.
- Contextualized for here (wherever here is)
Perhaps more than any other, this point is where the “this conference will change your ministry” approach falls short.
I remember getting into a car to drive hundreds of miles to listen to pastors who had flown great distances to share their stories and encourage us in our way.
Then I moved to New York.
I attended another conference or two after that but eventually dropped out. Hanging out with old friends was great. Getting out of the city for a few days was refreshing. But the applicability to my ministry context felt a world away.
We believe contextualization is vital to ministry training. For a learning experience to be transformative for a pastor and their church, it must aim at a specific time and place.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: “But isn’t NYC full of many different contexts? Isn’t that what you just said in the last point?” And you would be correct.
That means transformative learning needs to leave room for students to process what they’re hearing with their wise instructors and with their learning community so that they can help one another work out implications for their unique ministry context.
All training is contextualized. The only question is what it is contextualized for.
And if it’s not contextualized for your “here,” wherever it may be, it’s unlikely to be transformative.
- Directed towards praxis
Contextualization, of course, brings us to the applicability of the training. The goal of ministry training is not for participants to walk away knowing more stuff than they did before.
The goal is transformation.
And that means putting it into practice.
Our teachers work hard to translate their instruction into true-to-life projects and actionable instruction to impact the ministries of our participants right now.
We like to say, “CMP engages the head, the heart, and the hands.”
We are not anti-knowledge, but we believe that the content you learn needs to get into your heart, disrupting your comfortable ways, exposing deeply held (false) beliefs, and ultimately leading you to deep repentance and faith in Jesus.
And then you need to know what to do with it. What does this look like in my church? How does this shape my witness in the community? Where does my leadership need to grow?
We don’t want to leave our students hanging. On the contrary, we want to come alongside them and help them fulfill their calling from Christ so that they might, in truth, do the ministry.
These five factors are our target in the City Ministry Program. We are in constant conversation about them, as we believe each one is critical to bringing about the transformation we pray our students will experience.
Because more knowledge simply isn’t enough.
Pastors, how would you rate your ministry training on each of these five factors? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
If you’d like to take a peek at what we’re doing, you’ll have a chance this summer!
In the coming weeks, our team would like to give you a taste of what pastors and leaders across Metro NY have already experienced. Check out our Instagram page to join our coming IGTV events.