Nathan and Rachel Rose had felt called to overseas missions. They prayed. They searched the Scriptures. They participated in missions. As they did, God clarified the call.
“I felt like the Lord was just reminding me that you could go and be on the front lines or you could stay home and encourage people to go, send people and raise money and support for missions,” Rose said. “We felt like, if we’re not going to be on the frontlines, we’re going to be at a church that is creating and fostering an environment where people are getting sent overseas, as well as providing resources.”
Now, as the lead pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri, Rose and his team have developed a system to mobilize and train church members to become a new generation of pastors and missionaries.
Liberty is among a growing number of Southern Baptist churches that are not only discovering potential ministry leaders but playing a leading role in preparing them to serve in North America and around the world. Last month, SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd launched Vision 2025, a plan to see Southern Baptists reach “every person, every town, every city, every state, and every nation with the good news about Jesus.”
As part of that vision, Floyd called on Southern Baptist churches to: “Increase our total number of workers in the field through a new emphasis on ‘calling out the called,’ and then preparing those who are called out by the Lord.”
The call, Strategic Action 3, is a critical part of fulfilling the first two action points—sending five hundred more missionaries and adding six thousand additional churches in the next five years. To achieve these goals, local churches will need to discover more potential leaders and work with seminaries to train them.
Reaching the goal of expanding the number of ministry leaders called and requires engagement from a variety of entities within the Southern Baptist Convention. For example, last year the North American Mission Board launched its Multiplication Pipeline to help churches discover and equip future church planters and church planting team members in their congregations.
Gateway Seminary also launched the Call Project at youth and college events, which emphasizes a call to ministry and provides resources for those who sense that call. In 2019, 277 people indicated a call to ministry at thirty-seven events in thirteen state Baptist conventions throughout the West.
But local churches are at the heart of the SBC’s plan to train more leaders for ministry.
Rose describes Liberty Baptist’s effort to train members as two tracks. The first is the church’s Pastoral Training Center, led by church member Jared Wilson. Wilson also serves as an assistant professor of pastoral ministry at nearby Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The training center focuses on an eighteen-month cohort-based process where men discuss assigned readings, participate in individual and group coaching, and take part in “on-the-ground ministry experiences.” These experiences include teaching, preaching, evangelism, and accompanying Rose on pastoral care calls.
Many of Liberty Baptist’s participants, who must be either church members or working toward membership, are also enrolled at MBTS, but seminary enrollment is not required.
Liberty Baptist, which has three hundred in attendance on a typical week, has also a newer and more informal process to develop and deploy potential missionaries. Rose says he regularly challenges the entire congregation to consider God’s call to missions. The church operates a missions house, where missionaries on furlough can come and stay free of charge. The church creates opportunities for members to engage with these missionaries and learn more about the missions experience. Rose also says the church has created fellowship groups around missions that meet regularly where people sensing a missions call can share a meal and discuss where they are in the process. They also work toward getting these members on a mission trip so they can experience intercultural ministry firsthand.
“I think it begins with the preaching that calls people into missions, but honestly we have a lot of people in our church who are missions-minded and wanting to go overseas and trying to figure out how can they not only go overseas but help other people go overseas,” Rose said.
Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas, has also developed an extensive training process to develop leaders, both lay leaders and those called into full-time ministry. The process has three parts. First, every staff member is encouraged to have at least three discipling relationships at any given time.
“Personally, I have a group of young men that I meet with every week or every other week,” said Andrew Hebert, Paramount’s senior pastor. “That’s really individualized. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. I will start with that individual and see how God is moving in their life, what God is calling them to do. And then I begin to just walk alongside of them and help them to discern God’s movement and calling and activity in their lives. That looks a lot like discipleship. It looks like mentoring. It looks like friendship. It looks like being prayer partners.”
The church also schedules Leader Labs three times a year. These ninety-minute events are for anyone involved in leadership and cover topics like hermeneutics, what the Bible says about politics, and women in ministry.
The church also regularly invests in pastoral interns. These interns serve weekly on Sunday and Wednesday nights and serve an additional fifteen hours a week. They do everything from clean toilets to preach sermons to prepare a sample church budget and attend staff meetings.
Hebert says he sees the church’s role in training church leaders as a natural part of its call to fulfill the Great Commission. Seminaries have a part in the preparation process, but there are some elements that can only be done in a local-church context.
“Seminaries can’t always expose you to the mess of ministry,” Hebert said. “Seminaries can equip you in terms of theory, in terms of ideas. They can do the best they can to prepare you for what you might see or likely will see once you’re actually in vocational ministry. But the seminary is not the front line. There are some situations and experiences that you can’t really understand until you experience them. Seminaries are wonderful partners with local churches. But the local church is God’s Plan A for reaching the nations and making disciples and preparing leaders.”
Adam Greenway, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees with Hebert on the unique role of the local church in ministry preparation. While churches help people recognize their need for theological education and mentor and equip them for ministry tasks, seminaries come alongside and provide training in areas the local church doesn’t typically have the resources to provide, such as studying biblical languages, church history, and theology.
“Seminaries that are the most faithful are those that see themselves as a servant to the local church and see their work in partnership with the local church,” Greenway said.
Greenway adds that Southwestern is doing whatever it can to expand access to theological education. He notes that begins with strengthening the work at the main campus in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We still believe very strongly in theological education in the context of community,” Greenway said. “We think there’s something sacred about bringing together faculty and students here on Seminary Hill to engage in more consecrated study.”
But, Greenway added, thanks to online education, people can access theological study anywhere in the United States and around the world. The school currently has students from every US state and seventy countries.
Greenway notes that the language in Vision 2025 of “calling out the called” comes from the writings of L. R. Scarborough, the second president of Southwestern, and is a great example of the seminary’s commitment to serving local churches as they train ministry leaders.
“I’m so thankful for the leadership of our Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President and CEO Dr. Ronnie Floyd, a two-time Southwestern Seminary graduate, and for the way that he is drawing from this rich heritage with Scarborough and Southwestern seminary and calling forth a new emphasis in Vision 2025,” Greenway said.
Tobin Perry is a freelance writer in Evansville, Indiana, and is a member of Center of Hope Church in Evansville.