Our Wedding Hymns

Tomorrow is Shelby and I’s three year anniversary. Our anniversary is a good time to reflect on all the ways God has blessed me through Shelby, to repent of all the ways I have fallen short as a husband and follower of Jesus, and to remember the faithfulness and love of God manifested for Shelby and me in Christ Jesus.

As I look back on our wedding day, I can’t tell you the exact words of our vows. We chose traditional vows, but I don’t know them by heart. What I do know is our wedding hymns. On May 31st, 2014, Shelby and I held hands and sang two hymns along with everyone at our wedding. We sang Be Thou My Vision and My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.

Be Thou My Vision

  • Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
    Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
    Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
    Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light
  • Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
    I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
    Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
    Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art
High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whate’er befall
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all
My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

We chose these hymns as prayers for our life together. The first hymn is a prayer for us to follow Christ, and to make seeking His glory our aim for our life together (Psalm 27:4). The second is a prayer of praise to the God whose grace holds us up, no matter our circumstances or feelings. While I do not know our vows by heart, these two songs regularly come to my mind. And when they come to my mind, I remember the goodness and faithfulness of Shelby and I’s God.

Shortly after our foster-daughter moved in, our church sang My Hope is Built on Nothing Less. Shelby was in the back of the sanctuary, running slides. I was singing and holding our baby daughter. That was when I realize how wonderful wedding hymns are.

On our wedding day, we sang beautiful and timeless hymns, that we will sing in church gatherings for the rest of our lives. We will, Lord willing, see our baby grow up and learn the words to our wedding hymns. We will, Lord willing, hold her children as we sing these hymns. Be Thou My Vision and My Hope is Built on Nothing Less hold deep meaning to Shelby and I, but they are not simply songs we will sing on our anniversary. They are the hymns of the Church, and we will sing them as we gather with God’s people(1), as we rock our rock our baby before bed, and as we together remember the goodness of God manifested in Christ Jesus.

I am so, so happy we sang two beautiful and timeless hymns at our wedding. Singing is not a requirement for any wedding and no one should feel obligated to add singing to their wedding. With that being said, I hope you see some of the lifelong benefits of singing beautiful and timeless hymns at your wedding. Shelby and I

(1) I have sang My Hope is Built on Nothing Less in a Russian church. The verses were in Russian and only the chorus was translated into English. 

How Will Your Church Train Men for the Pastorate? Final Project Post 17

I am currently wrapping up a three year leadership development program at Hope Community Church. Part of the program is a final project, which is a presentation and a 25-60 page paper on the subject of my choosing. The subject I have chosen is “How to Train Men for the Pastorate.” To help me work through my paper, I am going to be posting 5-10 blog posts a week. Please be warned: You are seeing my rough-rough draft of each section. The main reason I want to use my blog to prepare for this project is blogging allows me to accomplish something every day. I appreciate any feedback you have, as long as it is given in a loving manner.

At the outset of this paper, I gave my intention to not be very specific and instead focus on principles. As we’re nearing the end of the paper, I want to give you room to think through how you are going to train men for the pastorate in your context. Let me give two hypothetical situations and make a plant for how this could play out in an average size church. This will, hopefully, help you begin thinking how you will train men for the pastorate in your church.

The Seminarian

A bright young unmarried seminarian is an active member of your church. He volunteers with the youth group. You tell him your desire to train men to be pastors, and ask him if he’d like to have you come alongside him in the next two years as he seeks to develop into a pastor. He agrees. Here are some ideas of what his relational pastoral training would look like.

Time Commitment

You ask for a time commitment of 20 hours a week. He has a part time job to help him get through seminary. The church frees him up to train by replacing part of his income. The rest of his income is replaced through financial support raising.

Biblical Thinking

Since he is in a seminary you trust, you do not require any further theological reading or papers. Instead, you ask him to send all his papers to you. You read them as a way of keeping tabs on his development of the pillar of Biblical thinking.

Christlike Character

You have a weekly breakfast with him. These are long, informal conversations where you talk through family life, school, and specific areas of temptation that you know are particular struggles for him. When he confesses, you remind him of the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and his identity in Christ.

Not only do you have weekly breakfast conversations. You also have a night every week where you have him over for family dinner. At these meals he is treated like any other member of the family. He helps with the cooking, helps clean up, and plays with your children. This allows him to see the chaos and beauty of family life.

You have a few ministry trips throughout the year. Whenever you go on a ministry trip, you take him with you. This allows space for more informal conversations where you will discover more about his character and influence him as you “walk along the road” together.(1)

Ministry Skills

Here’s a list of his jobs:

  1. Continue serving in the youth group. Have the youth leader give him more teaching opportunities.
  2. Have a list of people to regularly visit (some elderly, some students, some post-college students).
  3. Occasionally send him to visit after someone visits your church for the first time.
  4. Prepare to preach in the second semester of his first year.

The Carpenter, the farmer, and the student

A group of three men are showing signs of leadership potential. Not only that, but you’re very impressed with their character. Two are married with children and full time jobs, while the third is a student. The two married men are small group leaders, and the student is a member of one of their small groups. You share with them your desire to see more men become pastors. As the pastor, you have a desire to train non-vocational elders, church planters, and a bi-vocational or vocational pastor to replace you in the next five years. Here is a plan for their relational pastoral development.

Time Commitment

Ten hours a week. You will have seven hours of coursework and a three hour meeting each week.

Biblical Thinking

Your twelve month training will include book studies through Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, and Ephesians. It will also include the books, The King Jesus Gospel, by Scot McKnight. Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition, by Calvin Miller.

You will meet discuss the reading at your weekly meeting.

Christlike Character

Your weekly meeting will begin with sharing highs and lows of the week, as well as a time of encouragement and confession of sin. In the first six months you will have them read John Piper’s booklet, Marks of a Spiritual Leader. They will work through the points in that book every single week. In the second half of the year you will have them read The Meaning of Marriage, by Timothy Keller. (even the unmarried student).

Ministry Skills

You ask them to continue leading their small groups. You ask the carpenter, who is the student’s small group leader, to become his co-leader and train the student to start a new small group in twelve months. At your weekly meeting, you talk through how their small groups are doing. As you learn in the areas of Biblical thinking and Christlike character, you ask questions that will get them thinking how this new information changes how they think and lead in their small groups.

You ask the three of them to each preach one sermon in the second half of the year.

(1) Deuteronomy 6:7

 

The Three Pillars of Pastoral Training: Ministry Skills: Final Project Post 16

I am currently wrapping up a three year leadership development program at Hope Community Church. Part of the program is a final project, which is a presentation and a 25-60 page paper on the subject of my choosing. The subject I have chosen is “How to Train Men for the Pastorate.” To help me work through my paper, I am going to be posting 5-10 blog posts a week. Please be warned: You are seeing my rough-rough draft of each section. The main reason I want to use my blog to prepare for this project is blogging allows me to accomplish something every day. I appreciate any feedback you have, as long as it is given in a loving manner.

Paul doesn’t simply call Timothy to watch his life and his doctrine, he calls Timothy to fan the flame so as to be more skillful. As we look at the importance of developing men in ministry skills, I want to focus specifically on training men to preach. Generally, skillful preaching doesn’t just happen; skillful preaching requires that a man is given instruction, freedom to fail, feedback, and another opportunity to fail. Let me show you how this has worked itself out in my life.

I remember the first time I lead the teaching in youth group. It was December 10th, 2008. I was fifteen and had been waiting for a chance to teach since I was in early elementary school. I was so excited as I prepared for the discussion, and I felt so happy to be able to finally deliver a message. It wasn’t good, but I always look back on that opportunity with thankfulness in my heart for my youth pastor, Scott.

Flash forward to October of 2011. I was eighteen when my pastor, Nathan, asked me to come to a youth conference with him and preach at a breakout session. He gave me a book on preaching and asked me to implement some of the things I learned into the sermon. Nathan didn’t tell me what to do or how to prepare, he gave me freedom to try with the expectation that we’d be having a feedback session the week after I preached.

Scott and Nathan kept giving me room to grow in my ministry skills. Scott continue to seek my advice on issues concerning the youth group. Nathan brought me to more youth conferences. Eventually, he asked me to preach at a Sunday service. Scott didn’t ask me to lead because I was a good leader; Nathan didn’t ask me to preach because I was a good preacher; they gave me the opportunity to learn. Better than that, they gave me the opportunity to fail without feeling ashamed.

We have too many incompetent pastors in the world. Their incompetence is hardly their fault. Too many churches think salvation comes to people by putting on a great show on Sunday.(1) If the goal is putting on a great show, you’ll never let a pastoral-apprentice preach because most young preachers are not very good at preaching.(2)

Too many pastors are micromanagers. They are fine empowering people for the work of ministry, but they are often unwilling to platform people for the work of ministry.(3) As a pastor, training pastors should be as important of a responsibility as preaching. That might seem like an overstatement, but it isn’t. After all, if the local church doesn’t train pastors who will preach to the church when you’re gone? Training pastors is not primarily the work of the seminary, training pastors is primarily the work of the local church. And to train pastors is to give pastoral-apprenticeships the room to fail.

That is a scary calling if your church culture idolizes perfection and performance. Of course we want to let men training to be pastors to bumble around in their seminary preaching lab. But something wonderful happens to our churches when we let men learn to preach in the context of the congregation: The congregation begins to see the church more as a family, and less and less as a business or a weekly show.

The church should celebrate sub-par sermons from young preachers because the sounds of a bumbling, fumbling young preacher are the sounds of workers being trained for the harvest.

I am not suggesting we should be apathetic about orthodoxy. I am not saying we should take truth likely. No, before they preach men should have a good grasp of Scripture. But men should also have gentle and wise people in their congregation who will lovingly correct them. Men who are training to be pastors will need people like Priscilla and Aquila:

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)

Imagine if Priscilla and Aquila did not have the courage to correct Apollos. He might have gone on to spread his errors throughout the church. Instead, he was corrected and began preaching more in line with the truths of the Scripture.

Imagine if Priscilla and Aquila were mean spirited in their correction of Apollos. He might have rejected their criticism and continued to preacher. Or, he might have become discouraged and decided preaching wasn’t for him.

Priscialla and Aquilla’s gentle correction benefited people. Not only did it benefit people in Ephesus; Apollos went on to edify the church in Achaia.

In summary, training men to be pastors requires giving men instruction, then freedom to fail, then correction, and then another opportunity.

(1) A legacy left by revivalism

(2) Tim Keller says most people’s first 200 sermons on terrible. 

(3) Thanks for Larry Osborne for that observation in his book Sticky Church

The Three Pillars of Pastoral Training: Christlike Character: Final Project Post 15

I am currently wrapping up a three year leadership development program at Hope Community Church. Part of the program is a final project, which is a presentation and a 25-60 page paper on the subject of my choosing. The subject I have chosen is “How to Train Men for the Pastorate.” To help me work through my paper, I am going to be posting 5-10 blog posts a week. Please be warned: You are seeing my rough-rough draft of each section. The main reason I want to use my blog to prepare for this project is blogging allows me to accomplish something every day. I appreciate any feedback you have, as long as it is given in a loving manner.

Paul doesn’t only call Timothy to watch his doctrine closely, he calls him to watch his life closely. Jesus didn’t only call the apostles to teach, He called them to teach “them to observe all I have commanded you.” Jesus did not simply want the apostles to go around sharing about new truth. Jesus called the apostles to call all men everywhere to repent.

Jesus came to earth to show the world who God is. Now, Jesus’s Church is called to follow Jesus in the world, and in doing so, show the world who God is. The Church is the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). How we live says something to the world about who God is. Our churches must take spiritual development seriously. And who are people looking for for an example? Pastors. Pastors should be able to say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”(1)

The pastor as worship leader

Every pastor is called to be a worship leader. I do not mean every pastor is called to be a musician (thank goodness), I mean every pastor is called to be a lover of God.

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.(2)

This is true. Our end as Christians is not merely knowledge, nor is it behavioral change. Our goal as Christians is to step fully into our humanity by enjoying God.

This means the primary calling of the pastor is the same. The pastor’s primary calling is to enjoy God forever. The pastor is to enjoy God in his study, and in his preaching, and in his hospital visits, and in his bedside prayer with his children, and in elder meetings. The pastor is given the gloriously freeing obligation of enjoying his heavenly Father.

But how often do pastors forget their primary calling and settle for a more professional posture? No wonder then, so many churches lose their focus on enjoying God and become more focused on a thousand other things. If the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God, certainly that is the chief end of the local church.

Strategies for development in Christlike Character

When it comes to pastoral training, strategies for the pillar of Biblical Thinking seem easy to come by. Most pastors can wrap their head around the strategy of having trainees read books and take classes. But what strategies can be implemented for the area of Christlike character? Here are three strategies:

1) Classes with a focus on character

In LDI, the first year students take a course called Competing with Horses. In this class, students read a variety of books. Everything from books on spiritual disciplines, to emotionally healthy spirituality, to sexual assault and pornography. Cohorts can take the reading and work together to apply the teachings to their lives.

2) Regular times of accountability and confession

This is when you need to remind yourself that we are not professionals, nor are we training professionals. Christian discipleship requires regular confession of sin. We do not confess sin in order to embarrass ourselves. We confess sin so that another can remind us of our justification on the cross and God’s commitment to our holiness.(3)

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:13-14)

3) Show hospitality

There is no better ground for your trainees’ character development than your home. In your home, the disciple can begin to feel like your family. Not only that, but he can see you interact in your home. If you are following Christ, you will be happy to open the doors of your home to your trainee. Of course you will also have many more opportunities for confessing sin to him, because he will without a doubt see more of your sin. Do not have anxiety about that; observing confession inside a home is one of the most powerful means of spiritual development. Be a humble husband and father who quickly owns up to your mistakes. In doing so, you will set an example for your trainee.

Showing hospitality to your trainee might simply be a once a week dinner. But it might become more than that. If you have the means, having a man live with you can be a wonderful opportunity for spiritual development. Wisdom will have to decide what is best. For instance, if part of the trainees development is to live on his own, inviting him to live with you would do more harm than good.

It is easy for the pillar of Christlike character to become legalistic. Remind the trainees of this wonderful truth:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Through cohort training, and one-on-one confession, and books on spiritual development, remind students that, by Jesus’s sacrifice, they have been perfected. Remind them that God poured His wrath out on Jesus and therefore, God is not angry with them. Remind them their spiritual maturity is the work of a good Father who desires to see them look like Jesus.

(1) 1 Corinthians 11:1

(2) Westminster Catechism

(3) If you’re reading this paper and have never read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, you need to get your priorities straight. His chapter on confession is so helpful on this subject.

The Three Pillars of Pastoral Training: Biblical Thinking: Final Project Post 14

I am currently wrapping up a three year leadership development program at Hope Community Church. Part of the program is a final project, which is a presentation and a 25-60 page paper on the subject of my choosing. The subject I have chosen is “How to Train Men for the Pastorate.” To help me work through my paper, I am going to be posting 5-10 blog posts a week. Please be warned: You are seeing my rough-rough draft of each section. The main reason I want to use my blog to prepare for this project is blogging allows me to accomplish something every day. I appreciate any feedback you have, as long as it is given in a loving manner.

Paul calls Timothy to watch his teaching, or doctrine, closely. This is in line with the Great Commission of Jesus who called the apostles to teach people to observe all that He commanded them.(1) Orthodox Christian teaching cannot be assumed. Orthodox Christian teaching is not a list of technicalities; the teachings of Jesus are the most valuable possession the Church holds. Training pastors means training men to hold orthodoxy in their hand with all honor and respect. Without the careful instruction of the Scripture’s teaching, the next generation of pastors will fall into orthodoxy.

The world is already discipling men in its own image. If local churches do not step in with clear, sound instruction, the truths of the gospel will be lost in a culture. Read what Colin Marshall says in Passing the Baton:

“…the continued faithful proclamation of the gospel will not be secured by the writing of doctrinal confessions, or by the creation of institutional structures (as important as each of these are in their own way). The gospel will only be guarded and spread as it is passed from one faithful hand to the next; as each generation of faithful preachers passes their sacred trust on to the next generation, who in turn teach and train others, and so on. The gospel baton is passed from one hand to the next, in a relay that has continued for nearly 2000 years.”

If your relational pastoral training program is flexible based on the needs of the trainee, the amount you spend in theological training and study will depend on the background of the individual you are training. For example, if the trainee is already trained at a seminary you trust, you might decide to spend more time with the other pillars. With that being said, be careful not to assume a solid understanding of Christian orthodoxy, from the trainee. Since the teachings of Jesus are the most valuable possession the Church holds, it is a very dangerous thing to skim past the aspect of theological training and study.

Partnering with seminaries

I was trained at The Leadership Development Institute. LDI is a program within Hope Community Church, which has about 1500. Because of this, LDI has the resources to do all its theological training in house. The average church in America has 80 people. If you are pastoring an average or small sized church, you might find the demand of teaching classes to be quite difficult.

I encourage you to make training men for the pastorate a priority. With that being said, there can be great benefit in partnering with organizations and institutions around you. If a man is in seminary, consider finding ways to merge the experiences of seminary with the experience of relational pastoral development. Read his papers and listen to his thoughts on the books he’s reading. Seminary is not a bad word. Godly seminaries are a gift to the world and churches should disciple men who are in the midst of seminary.

Even if the trainee isn’t in seminary, you might want to consider creating a partnership with a local (or online) seminary. For instance, Lawndale Community Church, a church within the westside of Chicago, partnered with Northern Seminary to create a program for lay-leaders in their church.

Seminary gets a bad wrap in many church-based training circles, but the church should thank God for godly seminaries! Not only that, but partnering with a seminary might be a helpful way to provide world class theological training your church could not otherwise offer.

Not only can a church partner with seminaries, but a church can partner with programs like PorterBrook.(3) PorterBrook is a ministry which provides online theological training for members of churches all across the world.

If you can do all your theological training from within, great! If you use godly seminaries or other programs, great! The important thing is that you’re passing down orthodoxy in the midst of a relationship. One final word about the pillar of Biblical Thinking.

Training men to study for themselves

One of the best compliments a student can give a teacher is that the teacher trained the student to think for himself. Teachers teach students what they need to know. Great teachers go beyond that and teach students how to think for themselves. Great teachers teach men to wrestle with the Scriptures. The goal of any relational pastoral training is not simply completion of a program, but a lifelong of learning and leadership development.

(1) Matthew 28:20

(2) Passing the Baton, pg 15

(3) porterbrooknetwork.org

How to Train Men for the Pastorate: The Three Pillars of Pastoral Training: Final Project Post 13

I am currently wrapping up a three year leadership development program at Hope Community Church. Part of the program is a final project, which is a presentation and a 25-60 page paper on the subject of my choosing. The subject I have chosen is “How to Train Men for the Pastorate.” To help me work through my paper, I am going to be posting 5-10 blog posts a week. Please be warned: You are seeing my rough-rough draft of each section. The main reason I want to use my blog to prepare for this project is blogging allows me to accomplish something every day. I appreciate any feedback you have, as long as it is given in a loving manner.

In Hope Community Church’s Leadership Development Institute (the program this paper was initially written for), the three pillars of Leadership Development are Biblical Thinking, Christlike Character, and Ministry Skills. You could list this is a number of different ways. In his book Passing the Baton, Colin Marshall writes about the three pillars of his program which are Christian Conviction, Christian Character, and Competence in Doing the Work of Ministry. It doesn’t matter what the language is, it only matters that these crucial areas are covered so a trainee will grow to become a holistically competent pastor. Because I have come out of Hope’s Leadership Development Institute, I will use that language.

Why all three pillars matter

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:14-16)

Here Paul calls Timothy to not neglect his gift. Paul calls him to practice and immerse himself in the skills of pastoring. Then Paul calls Timothy to watch his life closely and his teaching (doctrine) closely. We find all three pillars of relational pastoral development in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy.

What if a man only had two of the three pillars? Imagine a man who has rock solid doctrine and wonderful skills, but his character falls short of the qualifications for a pastor. In America, we have plenty examples of men like this making very public moral failings.

Imagine a man who has great doctrine and wonderful character, but his lack of ministry skill keeps his church from reaching more people for Christ.

Imagine a man who has wonderful character and ministry skill, but terrible doctrine. This a great tragedy, because a man like this will likely attract a good number of followers.(1)

Every community in the world needs more men who watch their character closely, who watch their doctrine closely, and who work hard to develop their ministry skills more. In the following three chapters we will see some principles and strategies for training men in each one of the three pillars.

(1) In fact, Pelagius was known for his piety. He wasn’t some evil monster, just a wonderfully kind man who damaged countless people’s picture of God, man, and salvation. 

How to Train Men for the Pastorate: Relationship over program part 2: Final Project Post 12

I am currently wrapping up a three year leadership development program at Hope Community Church. Part of the program is a final project, which is a presentation and a 25-60 page paper on the subject of my choosing. The subject I have chosen is “How to Train Men for the Pastorate.” To help me work through my paper, I am going to be posting 5-10 blog posts a week. Please be warned: You are seeing my rough-rough draft of each section. The main reason I want to use my blog to prepare for this project is blogging allows me to accomplish something every day. I appreciate any feedback you have, as long as it is given in a loving manner.

Now that we have seen the importance of using relational language over corporate language, let’s look at the importance of cohorts.

Generally, when we think of discipleship we think of one-on-one training. The pastor spends time training another man to be a pastor. The pastor develops helps the man as he aims to look more like Jesus. But when discipleship is done in a one-on-one setting, the trainee often ends up looking more like the trainer than he looks like Jesus. I am so thankful for this observation from Jeff Vanderstelt. Read what he says about one-on-one discipleship in his book, Saturate:

“Early in my development as a Christian, I was taught that discipleship happens best through one-on-one meetings. I’m certainly not opposed to one-on-one meetings. However, if you look at the life and ministry of Jesus, and subsequently the ministry of the apostle Paul, you certainly would not come to the conclusion that one-on-one discipleship is best. Jesus discipled his followers while they experienced life together in community. We know they ‘got it’ because the story of how they continued to live tells us they were devoted to one another in the day-to-day stuff of everyday life. Jesus’s way of discipleship cannot happen in one-on-one meetings alone.

If I discipled Randy in a one-on-one relationship alone, who would Randy most look like?

Me.

Certainly there are parts of my life that should be emulated. However, it’s pretty clear that I have plenty of other areas that are not worthy to be copied. Besides, I’m only one part of the body of Christ.

Who do we want Randy to look like?

Jesus.”(1)

Discipling in a cohort takes humility, because it says the other trainees have something to teach one another. Not only is each trainee being challenged and sharpened by your perspective, they are being challenged and sharpened by the perspectives of their brothers and sisters in the cohort.

Discipling in the context of the cohort also gives trainees space to live out the commands of Scripture. Let’s say a theological disagreement was realized in a theology class.(2) The teacher will not only look for right theology out of the trainee, but will want to see the trainee show love to his fellow cohort member. On a personal note, if there’s one thing I know I have grown in through my own cohort learning, it’s being more gentle and patient in the midst of disagreements. In a college setting, I could give abrasive responses to classmates and never realize the impact that had on their heart. But in the context of a cohort that spends three years together, I learned how people with different personality types respond to my tone and natural temperament. This knowledge gave me the chance to realize my need to grow in kindness and patience. I am now a better husband, son, pastor, and friend because I have learned the importance of dealing with intellectual disagreements with love and gentleness.(3)

What if there aren’t enough trainees for a cohort?

Cohort learning isn’t mandatory. It is simply more ideal than one-on-one training. It would be better to train a man one-on-one than it would be for him not to be trained. If you are in a setting where cohort training is not possible, that is alright. Just start training individuals and pray more individuals would want to receive training.

With that being said, a small church might be able to implement some form of cohorts by partnering with other churches. A man might spend the majority of his training in a one-on-one setting, but the trainer could connect him with other pastoral-apprentices. Maybe the trainees could meet weekly or monthly for conversation and accountability. Thanks to the internet, this is even possible across nations. Skype and other video calling services give trainees in small towns the opportunity to connect with each other.

Cohort training isn’t a requirement for relational pastoral development, but consider how you might implement it in your own context. The benefits are great, so think outside the box to discover how you can use cohort training, no matter your context.

(1) Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate pg 105

(2) Not that that would ever happen.

(3) Two notes. First, I am not as good at this as I want to be. Secondly, there is a place for harshness and snark. With that being said, it should not be our go-to response as Christians.