Imagine that the pandemic swept through your part of the world, and that all public assemblies of more than three people were banned by the government for reasons of public health and safety. And let’s say that due to some catastrophic combination of local circumstances, this ban had to remain in place for 18 months.
How would your congregation of 120 members continue to function—with no regular church gatherings of any kind, and no home groups (except for groups of three)?
If you were the pastor, what would you do?
Leading in Crisis
The statement above was written as a thought experiment by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne in the conclusion of their 2009 book, The Trellis and the Vine. Marshall and Payne proposed it in light of the swine flu that was spreading at the time. I doubt many of us remember it. And yet, as I write (April 2020), we are sheltering at home due to the Coronavirus global pandemic. It has been four Sundays with no church gatherings, including Easter, and we don’t know when we will gather again. As our federal, state, and local governments respond to the crisis and make plans for the future, our question remains, except that our reality has shifted from “…what would you do?” to “…what are you doing?”
Marshall and Payne propose that the answer is leadership development: the ongoing development of faithful men who are also able to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2). Regardless of church size, one pastor cannot shepherd an entire congregation alone. Consequently, they suggest that you, as the lead or senior pastor, take ten mature men aside during this pandemic and equip them “in how to read the Bible and pray with one or two other people, and with their children. Their job would then be twofold: to ‘pastor’ their wives and families through regular Bible reading and prayer; and to each meet with four other men to train and encourage them to do the same.”
Let me offer another thought experiment. What if you had followed such counsel eleven, ten, even five years ago? How would shepherding during a global pandemic look differently than what you’re presently experiencing?
As our elders reflect on pastoring the flock of God among us during a global pandemic, we’re seeing how following this counsel prepared us to shepherd our people. To be sure, we were just as surprised as other churches and pastors. And let me be clear. We are trying to figure things out as we go along just as other pastors and churches are doing. We have much to learn, and we have and will continue to make mistakes along the way. Still, my point stands. The Lord prepared us years ago by guiding us to order his church with the appropriate pastoral structures and by leading us to practice the ministry of the word as laid out in the New Testament.
In Ephesians 4:11, the apostle Paul argues that the ascended Christ has structured his church for ministry and mission: apostles and prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. The apostles and prophets are the foundation upon which Jesus is building his church (2:20). It is to them that the Father revealed the news that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16-17; see also Ephesians 3:4-5). This apostolic word – the gospel – is the foundation of the church. The evangelists broadcast this message to those who have not heard it. And the pastors and teachers regularly restate this message to the church. To what end? That the church would be equipped to grow into the likeness of our Lord Jesus (Ephesians 4:12-14). How? By reverberating throughout the church the gospel word it hears from its pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:15-16). That’s how King Jesus designed the ministry of the word to function in the church. This apostolic word – the gospel – is the foundation of the church. Click To Tweet
We cannot build Jesus’ church on any other foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). This is why Paul, as he prepared to face death, wrote Timothy in Ephesus and charged him to raise up “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). That is the only legacy Paul was concerned about – faithful leaders who, after his death, would continue building the church on the foundation of the gospel word, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. So, the question remains, how will we identify and develop the next generation of church leaders?
Developing Future Leaders
I wrote The Leadership Formula: Develop the Next Generation of Leaders in the Church to answer that question. I confess we don’t have it all figured out – far from it. And I understand the title may be a little off-putting to some of my more seriously minded theological friends. But the point still stands. The Lord Jesus structured his church for ministry and mission over 2,000 years ago – whether facing famine or feast, poverty or prosperity, war or peace, pandemic or health. It stands to reason, then, that ordering our churches according to Jesus’ design will prepare us to face whatever may come. So, my aim is simply to encourage pastors and church leaders in what the Lord has already established. No matter the context, Jesus will build his church on the foundation of the gospel word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet
The Leadership Formula, then, is not a “formula” for success, however you may measure that. It is a mnemonic device to help us formulate a plan for identifying and developing the future leaders our churches need. All I have done is compile the biblical qualifications for pastors or elders in a manner that has proven helpful for our church. Essentially, to identify such men, we have sought to observe personal character, biblical and theological convictions, care of the congregation, and competency to teach the word over time. Using this “formula” or process – if you like that language better – to identify faithful men for church leadership has bred credibility with our congregation.
The Leadership Formula
(Character + Convictions + Care + Competency) observed over Time = Credibility
On the face of it, it’s as simple as that. In actuality, it’s a demanding process. It requires patience (1 Timothy 5:22-25), and it entails risk (2 Timothy 4:10). Still, this is how the Lord Jesus has structured his church for ministry and mission.
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne end The Trellis and the Vine with this question: “after 18 months, when the ban was lifted and you were able to recommence Sunday gatherings and all the rest of the meetings and activities of church life, what would you do differently?” My hope is that if we order our churches as Jesus has designed, we will not need to do much differently. We will continue preaching and teaching the word, while the church receives that word and reverberates it to one another, that we may all grow into Christlikeness. No matter the context – large gatherings or small groups, families or individuals – Jesus will build his church on the foundation of the gospel word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Brother-pastors, until Christ returns, let us give ourselves to identifying and developing the next generation of faithful men who will teach others also.
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the blog for Credo Magazine and is used with permission.