Leadership Training in the Local Church


About twenty years ago I was attending a conference of Christian leaders and at lunch found myself sitting next to the Principal of a major British Bible College. As we chatted he discovered that I was seeking to train men for the ministry in the local church, and in the course of conversation I confessed that I was seeking to produce men of God. To my astonishment and dismay he promptly said, “Oh, that’s impossible in a Bible College. The students are so ‘bolshy’…demanding their own rights, etc..” We ate on in silence for a few minutes as I pondered the significance of his remarks.

Now this booklet is not intended to be an attack on institutional Bible Colleges.[1]  For some people they are the only avenue of training. I shall be ever grateful for my initial Bible training at the Bible Training Institute, Glasgow[2]  which provided a useful preparation for the Bristol University Theological Department. As I was brought up in a liberal church and converted in my late teens, it seemed the only way to gain some Bible teaching and training for Christian work. But though Bible College and Seminary training may be one way, it is my conviction that it is not the only way, nor in some cases is it the best way of training.

For one thing, the emphasis needs to be on character, and it is difficult in a large institution to give the close personal discipling that is necessary to form character. That is rather more easily accomplished in the closer pastoral relationships that should exist between a minister or elders and those under their care. Discipleship is mainly to do with forming character. It is impossible to read the New Testament carefully without seeing that godly character is one of the main emphases of both Jesus and the apostles. Yet can we honestly say that character training receives a great deal of emphasis in theological colleges? In most cases it is assumed that people will take care of that aspect of Christian growth for themselves. Of course much of our preaching and teaching should be aimed at shaping character (e.g.. Col. 1:28). But is the public ministry enough to accomplish that goal?

The Lord Jesus Christ never told His apostles to make church attendees; He commanded them to go and make disciples. Of course a truly biblical disciple will join a local church and gather with other Christians for worship and ministry (Heb. 10:25), but the emphasis in the New Testament is not so much on gaining converts or church attendees but on making disciples, concerning which Anton Baumohl remarks:  Discipleship is not a private affair; it is experienced and worked out in the context of a community in which co-operation and teamwork are important to the vitality of the whole.[3]

Discipleship concerns every Christian. But what about leadership? Not all Christians can be leaders in the local church, but there is a shortage rather than a surplus of leaders in local churches today.

And here a strange anomaly appears. Most evangelical churches want well-trained ministers. Some denominations place great stress upon a well-trained ministry. Yet very few churches expect lay-leaders to be trained for their tasks. This is especially strange in those churches that emphasize the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Many churches have elders as well as ministers. Some refer to the lay elders as “ruling elders” and the ordained ministers as “teaching elders” yet few expect to provide training for lay elders as they do for full-time teaching elders. Now of course most laymen are busy with their careers and many have had highly specialized training in their particular skill or profession, but that is no reason to neglect totally the training in biblical, theological and practical matters concerning the local church. The fact is that precious few leaders in the local church have had any specific training for their leadership role.


Do local church leaders need training? And should we expect that training to be carried out in local churches? The present writer’s answer to the first question is, “Normally, yes” and to the second, “If at all possible.”

Anton Baumohl writes:

The time has come for the local church to take more responsibility for the training of its own leaders, and for training to become an integral part of its function.[4]

Baumohl then goes on to suggest six reasons why this responsibility should be returned to the church.[5]

It is beyond argument that Jesus trained His disciples. A. B. Bruce has dealt in magisterial fashion with our Lord’s method of training.[6]   Jesus trained men “on the job.” And it seems obvious that the apostle Paul, and maybe the other apostles, also followed that procedure. As Alex. Hay writes, “Christ’s method … was to teach the theoretical through the practical”[7] There can be no denying that in the past at least, colleges have tended to teach primarily the theoretical, and the practical through that. Of course in recent years there have been valiant attempts to make training courses more relevant, and to ensure that the students get “some practical experience.” But with the best will in the world, such training, as far as the practical side is concerned, comes second best to on the job training under an experienced pastor.

Not every minister could take on this task of theological training. Not every church could cope with this method of preparing men for the ministry, but every minister should be capable of training laymen for leadership. At least far more could do so than are doing at present.

As far as the academic side of training is concerned, if a minister can teach others how to learn efficiently and how to do research his students are well on the way to achieving a theological education. In his inspiring work, How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler imagines a university staffed by the greatest minds of all time. “Would anyone want to go to any other university, if he could get into this one?” asks Adler, and continues, “There need be no limitation of numbers. The price of admission – the only entrance requirement – is the ability and willingness to read.”[8] If we apply that to the theological, spiritual and pastoral spheres the parallel is obvious. Yet reading, even reading well and widely, is not enough. Practical training is required, and where better could a man learn pastoral work than alongside a working pastor? Incidentally we should not assume that everyone knows how to study.

During the introductory session of the Leadership Training Course we seek to teach participants how to study. One of the students was a medical doctor who had obviously studied for many years, yet she remarked that this was the first time she had ever been taught how to study. She commented that her study life would have been very different if she had learned these techniques earlier in her career. [9]

Another consideration is the cost of training. College fees have risen enormously in recent years. But it is possible to train people in the local church for a fraction of the amount it costs to run a college. For one thing, most church premises are largely unused during the week. Here is a resource which is being wasted.

One of the most important advantages of training in the local church is the close personal supervision the student receives. This surely is a biblical principle. One has only to think of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and His disciples,[10] Paul and Timothy to see that.  For those who are concerned about what is taught in some colleges, another advantage is that the church and minister constantly supervise the content of the course when a man is trained in his home church. For all too frequently men have lost their faith or been infected by Liberalism through attending certain theological colleges. It is a simple fact of history that colleges that once were soundly evangelical have gradually become Liberal through the pursuit of merely academic goals. It is not that I am opposed to academic pursuits; far from it. But I do believe that a godly character is more important, and that academic study must go in tandem with an emphasis on the trainee pastor’s walk with God. If the local church is sound and has a well-trained faithful ministry then it is my conviction that, other things being equal, the local church is the best place to train. After all, some of the most famous ministers of the past had no formal theological training. Richard Baxter is one, of whom Marcus Loane wrote: “Baxter remained at home with his father, and furthered his studies by a course of private reading. This meant that he had no academic status in the ordinary sense of the word… “[11]

Against this idea it may be argued that to go away to college widens a man’s horizons and broadens his outlook. Yes, that certainly is a consideration. But if in the local church course the reading is wide, if several men are being trained at once, and if ministers from other churches are brought in to teach in the local church training school, that need is easily met.

Again it may be pointed out that “a prophet is not without honour save in his own city,” and that it may be difficult for a young man to train in his own church, particularly if he has grown up there. That may be true enough, but as elders have to gain, to earn, the respect of their congregation, why should not budding ministers? For example, if a married student is not keeping his children in order or is neglecting his family in violation of 1 Timothy 3:4,5, that could go almost if not completely unnoticed in most colleges, since married students almost invariably live outside the college. Such a situation could hardly go unnoticed in a local church. Someone has whimsically remarked, however, that there are two types of churches: churches where problems are dealt with and churches where they are not!

Furthermore, it is not necessarily suggested that men trained in the local church should become ministers of that particular church, though that is not impossible. In our own case three former students served as assistant ministers before being called to churches of their own.

When men go away to Bible College or Seminary they often have the opportunity to preach in various churches round about the college, and this may be considered to be an important part of their experience. But there is no reason at all why men trained in the local church should not have exactly the same privilege and preach in a variety of churches.


It is a fact that most young people seem to allow the governmental side of church life to pass over their heads. But when a man starts to read theologically and pastorally and starts to study the Bible with the ministry in mind he begins to think about these things. It is unusual for a college to get its students deeply involved in the government and running of local churches. But by staying in his home church the theological student can both study these matters and as a regular member of the church be truly involved in the inner workings of his own local church.

As far as study materials are concerned, quite apart from books, there is an abundance of courses available, of many kinds and levels of difficulty. Distance learning has long been recognized as a valid and important method of education.

It is the present writer’s submission that training for the ministry in the local church is an effective way of preparing for full-time Christian service, and that it ought to be considered by more churches than are doing it at present. But the training of lay-leaders is a matter that every local church ought to take very seriously.


In this section I want to concentrate on the training of lay leaders since this will concern the majority of those reading this article. The training of ministers in a local church setting will be considered later.

The first question we could ask is, how were leaders trained in the Bible? Is there a pattern discernible in the Scriptures? It is the present writer’s conviction that there is such a pattern. Potential leaders, in both Old and New Testaments, were singled out and given specialized instruction. To those who might object and say that the regular preaching and teaching should be enough to produce leaders the answer is twofold.

First, while it is obviously true that leaders do emerge with no specific training, more leaders and probably better equipped leaders would be produced if specific training were given.

Secondly, the Lord Jesus Christ obviously did not consider that his general preaching and teaching was enough, for he made a point of selecting twelve men and giving them specific training, We read in Mark 3:14 that “He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach.” (NASB). It is clear that close personal contact played a large part in our Lord’s training of His disciples. He spent time with them quite apart from and in addition to His general teaching and preaching. Therefore we need to consider this method of training people for leadership. It takes two forms: small group tutoring and individual discipling.

  1. Small Group Tutoring.

We have already seen that Jesus chose twelve from among those who followed Him. These twelve were not His only disciples. He had many more. But He wanted to give them special attention and specialized input. For example, when He gave teaching to the crowds on the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13, He later gave private instruction and elucidation to the twelve. Small group Bible studies are commonly found in churches. But this method can be used with great effect for the training of elders and deacons.

The present writer used this technique in several ways. First of all the existing leaders were gathered each Saturday for many months. At that time we were holding monthly preaching rallies with visiting speakers. On that Saturday we met at 4.30 pm for tea and an informal time of instruction from the visitor, prior to the rally which began at 7.00 pm. On the other Saturdays we met at 8.00 am for one hour except that on one Saturday per month we continued until about 11.00 am for church business.

Also young men who seemed to have some potential as leaders met with the writer at 6.0 am once a week for prayer, discussion and teaching. It is significant that almost all of those young men are now in full-time Christian work.

Eventually we commenced a regular Leadership Training Course for lay leaders, although those who came for ministerial training also took this course at the beginning of their ministry course.

Gathering actual or potential leaders for specific training in leadership principles is an invaluable way of producing or equipping leaders.  This may even have been the way in which Jethro’s advice to Moses was implemented in Exodus 18 (see verses 19­ – 22).  But Jesus did not deal with the twelve in a group only. He sometimes took three of them aside for companionship, special tutoring or particular experiences.

For example He took Peter, James and John onto the Mount of Transfiguration, and again when the disciples went with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane He took Peter, James and John a little further. This leads to the other aspect of training, namely, individual discipling.

  1. Individual Discipling.

Moses had his personal assistant Joshua whom he seems to have groomed to follow in his footsteps as leader (see Exodus 17:9-14; 24:13; 33:11; Num. 11:28; 27:18-23; 32:28 etc). Samuel was tutored under Eli and eventually outclassed him in faithfulness and effectiveness. Elisha became the assistant to Elijah and eventually became his successor (See 2 Kings 3:11 and compare I Kings 19:15-21 etc).

In the New Testament we find that Jesus gave individual attention from time to time to his disciples, and Paul clearly associated with various individuals who assisted him and accompanied him upon his travels.

Ted. W. Engstrom writes:

To the Christian believer, there is no greater “mentor” than Jesus Christ the Lord. How He fashioned His meek-­spirited followers into an invincible company of overcomers is a display of divine mentoring to which we humans can only aspire…

He continues:

Moses taught Joshua, Naomi taught Ruth, Elijah taught Elisha, Elizabeth taught Mary, Barnabas taught Paul, Paul taught Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos…[12]


  1. Knowledge of the Bible

It cannot be denied that knowledge of the Bible is at a low ebb today.  Every Christian ought to be growing in their knowledge of the Word of God, but leaders especially must know their Bibles.

  1. Christian Doctrine.

Church leaders should have the basic doctrines of the faith clear in their minds.  We are all exhorted to be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) but this must certainly be true of leaders. Again it might be argued that this should be dealt with in preaching and teaching and that is certainly the case. But if ministers only realized how little of their sermons were remembered by the average member of the congregation they would be shocked. Besides, in private tutoring one can go more deeply into subjects, discuss problems, even test the trainee on his knowledge of the study.

  1. Spiritual Development

This includes both Christian character and leadership qualities, which are not the same thing.  A person may be a lovely Christian but have no leadership ability at all.  On the other hand, a person may be able to lead people but be lacking in Christian graces.  Each of these is important. Church leaders must be both able to lead and godly.

While the general preaching and teaching should be a leading factor in such development, there is nothing quite like personal discipling with its concomitant of accountability to help people to grow in grace. This, incidentally, also challenges the life of the trainer. In times of individual discipling and informal fellowship trainer and trainee can share what they have learned in their devotions. The trainer can recommend books to read which can then be discussed. They can pray together and share one another’s problems and trials. The trainer can take the trainee on pastoral visits and preaching trips. In doing this kind of training it is important to have a programme and goals in mind. There is a wealth of literature available on this subject of discipling.

  1. Practical Matters.

How often does the average minister preach on “How to lead a Bible Study”, “How to lead a discussion Group” or “How to lead a Prayer Meeting”? These and scores of similar subjects are taken for granted, but should they be? Obviously some church members are already trained in these skills by virtue of their profession, but it must not be assumed that all – even ministers – are necessarily experienced in such skills. And what about counselling from the Bible, or exercising discipline? What about giving comfort to the bereaved or going after someone who is wandering from the faith?  All of these matters need to be covered in adequate leadership training.



  1. The Leadership Training Course

The Leadership Training Course was conducted over a ten month period, from September to June.  We met once a month on Saturday from 10.0 am to 4,0 pm during which there were three interactive lectures, and two tutorials when the material was discussed and questions were answered.  There was a coffee break and we had lunch together. The meetings in December and June were expanded into a week-end away at a conference centre.  Many participants remarked that these were the highlights of the course. Each month printed notes/worksheets were issued and written homework was set on assignment sheets. Three books were studied during this period: Spiritual Leadership by J. O. Sanders, Know the Truth by Bruce Milne and Bible Survey by William Hendriksen.  (Some years other books were substituted).  The participants also audited two cassette tapes by leading preachers each month.

This course ran for over twenty years and in addition to the main courses held in Dunstable, branch courses were held in Belfast, Lowestoft, Parbold and Yarm. Since the writer retired, courses have been held in Liverpool, Truro and Welwyn. Over 600 people from around fifty churches have taken this course, many of whom have gone on to further training for the ministry or mission field.

The subjects covered in the 180 pages of worksheets were, Regeneration, Conversion, Leading a person to Christ, Baptism, the Work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit-filled Life, Spiritual Maturity, the Word of God and leadership, the reliability of Genesis 1-11; the Local Church, the Covenants and Believers’ children, Practical leadership, Leading in public prayer and worship, Leading a prayer meeting, a discussion group and a Bible Study; Being a leader, Spiritual warfare and Intercession, the Body of Christ, Pastoral care.

The interactive lectures covered a selection of such subjects as: How to Study, read and take notes; What is Leadership; Qualifications of a Leader; Leadership and Covenant; the Task of Leadership; the Cost of Leadership; Styles of Leadership; the Making of a Man of God; Humility and Servanthood; Discipleship; the Process of Discipling; Ministries and Elders; Ministering to our wives; Meditation on the Word; Being a Watchman; Handling Finances; Teaching Adults; The Nature of Worship; Spiritual Warfare; Intercession; Pastoral Care; Home Groups in the Local Church; Working as a Team; Making an Impact for God; The Gifts and Calling of God; The Call of God; Delegation; Integrity; How to Interpret the Bible; How to Study the Bible; How Satan attacks; Casting down strongholds; Deception and Discernment, etc.


The following is a description which was used effectively over a period of many years, during which about twenty people were trained for full-time Christian service.  All students had previously taken the LTC as described above, if not they took it during their first year.

Lectures were given on Wednesday and Friday mornings, some by visiting lecturers. The remainder of the time the students carried out assignments and their set reading.  The lectures covered subjects not dealt with in the distance learning courses, or supplemented them where this was needed.  New Testament Greek and Elementary Hebrew were included.

  1. Distance Learning.

Since it is virtually impossible for a pastor to provide all the necessary academic training, basic material may be supplied by one of the many distance learning institutions, thus leaving the pastor and other local teachers free to concentrate on the character and practical aspects of the course.  In this way most of our students gained a BA in Bible/Theology.

  1. Pastoral Theology.

The procedure we found most helpful was for the students to read a book on this subject each term, sections of the book being set each week.  The relevant section is then discussed in a weekly tutorial with the pastor or his representative.  In such sessions questions may be asked, knotty points discussed and problems thrashed out.  The Pastor’s experience is invaluable in such sessions.  Such books as The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, Rediscovering Pastoral Counselling and Rediscovering Expository Preaching by John MacArthur and associates, and many other fine volumes, when discussed in depth provide a much better training that can be achieved in a series of lectures.

  1. Devotional Life and Literature.

The personal devotional life of the ministerial candidate is so often taken for granted in colleges, and consequently neglected.  But it is vitally important.  No one can effectively serve the Lord who does not maintain his spiritual life.  For this subject the same procedure as above was adopted.  A series of biographical and devotional books was studied and discussed, such as Power through Prayer by E. M. Bounds, Jonathan Edwards by Iain Murray, George Whitfield by Arnold Dallimore, Robert Murray McCheyne by Andrew Bonar, and many other fine works.

  1. Practical Training.

This covered such subjects as Leadership Principles, How to Lead a Bible Study, a Prayer Meeting, Worship, a House Group.  Speech training, Sermon preparation and preaching, Counselling, Elders’ and Church Meetings, Exercising Discipline, Pastoral Visitation, Door-to-Door work, and so on.  As the student progresses in knowledge and experience he is able to take more and more active part in various meetings.  The well-known procedures in mentoring are applied.  “Tell them why, show them how, take them with you, get them started with you there, then allow them to go alone, but to report back, keep them going, check up on them.”

Because the trainee is under close pastoral care, character and spiritual principles can be dealt with at any time and through the various other subjects. Three or four years under such a regime have been proved to provide an excellent training for the pastoral ministry.

[1] Still less oppose religious education as the Black Rock Baptists did in 1832. See Tom Nettles useful chapter on Training Men for the Ministry in Beardmore, Roger 0. (ed.), Shepherding God’s Flock, (Harrisonburg, Va. Sprinkle Publications, 1988), ch. 11.

[2] This became the International Christian College, Glasgow, but has since closed.

[3] Anton Baumohl, Grow Your Own Leaders: A Practical Guide to Training in the Local Church, (London: Scripture Union, 1987)

[4]Baumohl, op. cit., p. 24.

[5] Ibid. p. 24ff. It is true that Baumohl is writing chiefly about training lay leaders, but much of what he says applies very directly to the training of ministers.

[6] A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1877).

[7] Alex. Rattray Hay, The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary (Barnston, Wirral, New Testament Missionary Union, 1947), p. 480.

[8] Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book, (London: Jarrolds, 1940), p.34f.  This book is still in print and is now published by MJF Books, New York.

[9] Women attended the Leadership Course, since they needed to learn how to teach women and children and also to understand their husband’s work, but they did not attend the Ministry Training Institute which was for men only.

[10] “Not the least important task which engaged Jesus in the course of His ministry, was the formation and instruction of an inner circle of disciples.” Smith, David, The Days of His Flesh, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), p. 87.

[11] Loane, Marcus L., Makers of Religious Freedom, (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1960), p. 163.

[12] Ted. W. Engstrom, The Fine Art of Mentoring, (Brentwood, Tennessee, 1989), p. 5.


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