Continuing my highly derivative series on church trends, the next 10 are from an article by church growth consultant and author Thom Rainer. (This is last one from Rainer.)
Trend 11: The remarkable shift toward continual learning.
Our research is showing that pastors and church staff tend to have greater success in their roles if they are intentional about continual learning. Some go the path of greater formal education, but more are receiving coaching and intentional programs of continual learning like the ministry we developed called Church Answers. An ancillary trend to this one is the increase in number of mentors and coaches for pastors and staff.
First, I’m obviously big on Bible study, and I wouldn’t trade my Logos, Accordance, and BibleWorks for 20 M.Div.’s or D.Min.’s. That is, I think the best learning is the learning you dig out for yourself through diligent study and conversation with your peers.
It’s just that I’m not seeing a high correlation between effectiveness and university education among our preachers. Maybe we’re teaching the wrong stuff. Maybe we aren’t helping our young ministers become truly independent students and thinkers. I really don’t know. (I would love to hear from some located ministers. Am I wrong?)
I’m much more hopeful of the recent trend toward coaching and mentoring, similar to the structures now routinely put in place in church plants and missions. That is, a preacher or other minister is paired with a more experienced minister, who helps coach the minister as he helps lead his church. (It would work for elders, too, you know.) A four-year Bible degree plus an M. Div. is unlikely to prepare most young ministers for the challenges of actual, located ministry.
The elders need to be made aware of these arrangements — as secrets will always be interpreted negatively. Humans fill gaps in their knowledge with their fears.
We covered a similar structure several months ago in the series on the book Direct Hit. The American Baptist denomination had great success with actual evangelism by bringing in outside consultants and setting the pastor up with a coach who’d had prior success in evangelistic growth. (Think of Paul as Timothy’s coach, even though Timothy served under an eldership.) It could work.