In a pastoral ordination exam, John MacArthur once posed the question: “What is the first thing you should start doing when you begin local church ministry?” The candidate gave various answers. Dr. MacArthur responded: “Train up men.” Of course, the idea has been around for a millenia. Jethro nudged Moses to equip leaders over his thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Exod. 18:17-23). Jesus launched his 12 and the 70. Paul raised up plenty, including Timothy and Titus.
The propagation of God’s word throughout times seems to always be accompanied by intentional efforts to raise up biblical leaders. From a human standpoint, doing so ensures biblical shepherding for generations to come. We mustn’t have spiritual Hezekiah syndrome, throw up our hands, and say, “Well, at least things are good in my day” (cf. Isa. 39:8).
God has ensured that the faith will continue to be handed down. In 2 Timothy 2:2, we have a command which ensures the just that:
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
In the charge are four generations; Paul, Timothy, the faithful men, and the disciples of the faithful men. It’s a brilliant command which envisions no missing link in the chain of church history.
But things can get tricky in going from plan to practice. What could that training look like? Who should be involved in training? Just the senior pastor? All the elders? The congregation? Or, should I simply outsource the training to another seminary? Or, could seminaries beef up their ecclesiology and cultivate more of a symbiotic relationship with the local church?
Enter Phil Newton’s recently released book, The Mentoring Church: How Pastors and Congregations Cultivate Leader. The Mentoring Church dives deeper than most leadership training books on the issue. As far as references go, this is certainly one of the more exhausted works on New Testament mentoring. With just under 300 cited works, Newton has certainly done some homework. The work is more of a textbook than leisurely pastoral reading.
Newton sets out to demonstrate that training up the next generation of Christian leaders is the job of the church. Cultivating church leaders will most align with Scripture when training becomes intensely ecclesiological. For Newton, leadership training need not be left to parachurch ministries. Existing leaders do well to team up with their congregations for the launching of the gospel into the next generation.
Beginning with the life of Christ, Newton traces the idea of mentoring leaders through the NT. He writes:
Jesus’s most important work prior to the death and Resurrection the selection and training of the men who would represent him in the world in the coming days. Likewise, local church pastors and leaders must mirror Jesus’s mentoring practice when they prepare the next generation for gospel Ministry. To have served as a pastor but neglected train up future gospel workers fails at following Jesus is example in Ministry training (40).
Mentoring did not stop in the NT. Three chapters are given to observe mentoring from the Reformation on, up until the 20th century.
Community as the Context for Mentoring
Training takes place in gospel community rather than isolation. Whether raising up elders for lay service, full-time, church plants, or revitalizations, Newton argues that the local church community is the greatest context for raising up leaders. The best place to raise up men to who will establish healthy churches is in a healthy church (156). That way, leaders are refined both in the rigors of academia and sanctifying norms of unfashionable local church life. He argues that if either is lacking, then lopsided leaders will result.
Local Church-Based Models
The rubber then meets the road in four latter chapters. Newton gives an entire chapter each to four different local church based mentoring ministries. While they all differ from each other a bit, including the local church cultures, they all contain that one common thread; raising up leaders both with pastoral and congregational involvement. At this point, pastors of smaller churches may be tempted to wonder how they will ever develop something as those large, featured churches. Even so, the examples provide plenty of fodder for the church planting pastor in the earliest, fledgling stages with a core team of 15 people.
Finally, Newton concludes by setting forth a workable local church training model. He argues that the best pastoral training model be one that draws from the biblical, historical, and contemporary training models while adjusting to one’s pastoral gifts, the church is leadership dynamics, and the congregational context (180).
My only critiques are twofold. First, the first four chapters seem like a bit of a data dump. Even so, it is helpful to observe the large amount of data on training, both explicitly or implicitly from the NT. Second, for a textbook on training disciples, it appears that he failed to reference some excellent works from others skilled in the subject of training.
Nevertheless, I recommend The Mentoring Church to local church leadership teams and congregations alike. It would serve a spectrum of circumstances. For example, it would be a perfect book for those attempting to shepherd a church out of a spectator’s ecclesiology as it pertains to training up leaders. Church planters and revitalizers would benefit from it as they labor through the nascent stages of forming leaders. Finally, it would be a fitting book to take a church through in order to form their understanding of congregational involvement in the critical task of developing shepherds.
Overall, the book is a timely word for a generation which is experiencing a bit of ecclesiological anemia. Newton’s message is spot on: leadership training is fundamentally ecclesiological.