Rhetoric abounds about the need for ministerial education, but what about leadership training for laity? Are we missing opportunities for addressing church health?
The rhetoric is true. Ministerial education is essential to current and future ministers. When I was a seminary student, the dean at Logsdon Seminary, Tommy Brisco, would say, “If we require medical doctors to have numerous years of education so that we can trust them with our physical well-being, why would we expect less of those who attend to our spiritual health?” In contrast, the importance of theological education and leadership training for the laity never is argued as ardently.
But why not? Historic Baptist distinctives would insist appropriate training for laity also is important. Two historic Baptist tenets that illustrate this point are the priesthood of all believers and congregational polity.
Believers as priests
If we consider all believers to function as priests who have equal access to God and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, then the minister is of no more importance than the congregant. As ministers and laity, we are co-priests administering God’s grace to the world. Although our priestly roles and functions may vary from minister to congregant, the responsibility of being a priest merits appropriate training.
And as we hold the conviction that all matters of a church should be decided by a congregation rather than its ministerial leadership alone, an educated and trained laity is vital to a local church’s ability to fulfill its purpose and mission.
Although the minister’s role is to lead the congregation toward more holistic discipleship, the decisions that define the directions of local Baptist churches should come from their congregations. Secular organizations guided by a democracy of their constituents are concerned with proper constituent education. Why should we be any different?
From a practical perspective, laity often are the primary source of educational systems in the Baptist church—teaching Sunday school, Bible studies and small groups—as well as the “front line” of pastoral care.
Teachers could benefit
Rarely is leadership training offered to our teachers beyond providing curriculum. Weekly Bible teachers could benefit from short classes or workshops covering not only concepts of biblical interpretation and backgrounds, or even theological principles, but also training in instructional methodology.
The people who comprise our congregations have different learning styles, and a teacher’s ability to adapt and innovate is essential for the training of 21st-century disciples.
In the case of pastoral care, while ministers make regular visits to people’s homes and their hospital rooms in times of need, deacons often are right by their sides. Ministers rely on deacons to amplify the pastoral care they are able to give.
Deacons who are educated in how to provide this care—what questions to ask, what to say or not say, etc.—could embody the presence of Christ more fully to those in need.
In many ways, we all are laity, and we all are ministers. And so as equal parts of the body of Christ seeking to fulfill Jesus’ mission for us, the need for educating and training ourselves—ministers and laity—is the same.
Meredith Stone, women in ministry specialist
Baptist General Convention of Texas
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