Why should we send our best people to Bible college?

Why should we send our best people to Bible college?

Imagine the CEO of a company you have shares in announces to the board that he has spotted someone with star potential working for the company. This person has got a golden future and could seriously help the company move forward into the future. Then, instead of promoting him from within he announces that he has encouraged the young man to go off to University to get further training. What would your response be? What if he said, ‘this man is so good that I have recommended him to another company who can take him on and train him in the business’? What would be your reaction to this? Surely, the best business sense would be to recognise the young man’s abilities and then to offer him in-house training which would enable him to grow and develop and ensure that his skill set and potential are not lost to the company, thus enriching all parties.

Now, I have always been bemused in evangelical circles by (1) the practice of sending our ‘best’ people away to Bible college for further training and (2) importing pastors and assistant pastors into congregations they have no affinity to or prior relationship with. In effect, what happens is that those with great potential are sent away for 3 or more years to pursue theological study and end up at some other church, whilst some other church sends their best away for the same period and their potential leaders, in turn, end up going elsewhere! Only in the Christian world do we seem to take this bizarre approach to developing our future leaders.

Last Monday we looked at what it means to ‘spend’ ourselves in making disciples on Housing Schemes. Refer back to this article for background.Today I would like to spend a little time looking at what it means to take our discipleship to the next level by ‘spending‘ ourselves in growing and developing leaders. In Niddrie we are taking a multi-level approach to training and developing future, potential leaders. So, for instance, if a person approaches me and says they would like to ‘go to Bible college‘ I immediately want to know their reasons why. Then I want to challenge them to consider taking time out and serve the church in some capacity in order to gain some ‘hands on’ experience of ministry realities in a pressured context. You soon get to see who is cut out for the work in the cut and thrust of real life, gospel ministry. That’s when the real heart of a person comes to the fore. That’s when we get to see character exposed in all its glorious sinfulness. In my opinion too many Bible Colleges are no longer servants of the local church. They are, instead, often servants of whichever local authority ratifies their degree course. This has left many of them (again, my opinion) basically operating without any real accountability at local church level at all. A service that was originally supposed to meet the needs of the local church, in reality often does no such thing.

That’s why at Niddrie we train our people in-house by using both the Porterbrook Network Training Material and CCEF Counselling Material. I believe that this approach to training is the future for church planters and leaders specifically for ministry in inner city housing schemes. Porterbrook frees me to theologically train my people and keep them in the area and as part of the local fellowship. A huge issue for those of us working in housing schemes is that the current theological system in the UK is weighed in favour the literate, erudite, reading classes. What about my illiterate evangelist guy? What about my local convert who would never cope with writing a ‘degree level’ paper but has such a keen insight into the local culture that only needs to be refined and nurtured with the right spending discipleship? Sending them to Bible College would be counter productive at many levels. That’s why, for us at least, a comprehensive, in-house training programme is the answer.

So, would I never send one of my people to Bible College? No, not unless they tested their ‘calling’ with us first. Of course there are exceptions to this. If somebody wanted to be a Bible translator, for instance. Or, fly for MAF. Would I work in partnership with a Bible College? Absolutely. Partnership being the operative word. I have worked, and would continue to do so, with local colleges who could strengthen our fellowship by offering ad-hoc theological courses and specialist lectures. The Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh is particularly good at this and have great foresight in offering these types of courses for  general church members as well as specialist practitioners. So, I am not decrying intensive theological training. In fact, I am advocating it. The context in which it is currently exclusively offered? Now, that I question. The fact that a godly, gifted young man with poor literacy skills wouldn’t even get short listed for a job in 90%+ evangelical churches in our country. This I question. The fact that a BA at the end of somebody’s name now carries more weight in the evangelical world than actual giftedness. This I question.

Now, here is where I confess my breathtaking hypocrisy. I am a child of the Bible College education. It gave me a good foundation. My core Ministry team consists of post graduates. But, importantly, it consists of those who don’t have any formal qualifications and even those who never finished school. Because at Niddrie we are seeking to be a training church, I strongly believe that both groups can learn from one another. Both recording their experiences, both preparing to train the next generation of indigenous leaders coming through. We need the educated middle class at Niddrie. We need their money, their structure and their discipline. But they need the less educated just as much. For too long men and women with testimonies like mine have been wheeled out at ‘testimony evenings’ in some random middle class church and yet we have been denied a place in church leadership. One of the reasons, I believe, why the church is nowhere on housing schemes is because we have a system that encourages converts to (1) stay stuck in testimony mode and (2) get out of their schemes at the first opportunity. Too many have, sadly and ironically, gone to Bible college and have never gone back.

In middle class circles we look for the cream of the crop because cream does rise but in housing schemes we have to dig that extra bit harder because nuggets often sink to the bottom. Gold is often hidden in the dirt and the muck and the crap. It takes time and effort to sieve through it and pull out a pearler. Jesus knew that. We forget how rough and ready the early disciples were. That’s why one of the things we are offering at NCC is an internship scheme for local people. So, they get to do jobs around the church, work in the café, or do some admin etc. If they work for a year without hassle then they can join our full time Porterbrook Training. For others it provides a confidence booster and for yet others maybe even a way back into other employment. It is very early days but we are trying to look at how we develop the next generation of ‘indigenous’ leaders through our modelling approach. So, everybody on my core team has a local person to mentor and train. It encourages a two way learning system and not merely a passing of knowledge in a passive manner. Is it foolproof? No. is it perfect? No. But we are trying to record our lessons every step of the way so we can pass our wisdom on. It’s very experimental but it is better than the nothing that is currently going on in leadership training in too many of the housing schemes of our nation.