The stability and growth of the Church has always depended on having a dedicated and trained ministry. We learned this lesson in the early days of our church experience. Ambassador College was largely begun to provide workers to care for the many parts of the growing work of God. As ministers were trained and sent out to pastor congregations, the Church grew and developed through the 1950s and 1960s. Our “seed corn” today derives from that period. We continue to nurture and to plant in God’s field of harvest.
Ministerial and Member Services (MMS) continues to develop education programs for the ministry of the United Church of God. In the past two years we have brought on 10 new trainees to help in the all-important job of caring for the membership. To equip these new trainees, and our existing base of elders, we are developing a comprehensive training program. Currently, a five-member team of ministers forms a group working within MMS to pull together existing training modules and to create new programs. Those members are UCG president Victor Kubik, MMS administrator Chris Rowland, Darris McNeely, Steve Myers and Randy Urwiller. This group created a mission statement for the program: “The purpose of the ministerial education program is to equip all elders and their wives for the work of ministry for the edifying of the Body of Christ.” Here is how we are working to accomplish the job.
Pastoral Development Program
Two years ago, when we decided to begin hiring men as trainees, Roy Holladay, then MMS operation manager, directed that these new men, and other recent hires, go through an on-site, intensive period of training to develop skills needed for the role of pastoring full time. In late August 2015, the first class of 11 men and their wives were invited to the home office in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 10 days of classes and interaction with the training staff. The curriculum included discussion on the calling of the ministry, visiting, managing the schedule of a pastor, sermon preparation and handling critical counseling situations. The 10-day immersive experience proved helpful in addressing many matters and helping the men and wives to bond together as a new group of dedicated servants to the Church. A second session was held in November 2016, and that class brought in 12 men and their wives, including some from Canada and Africa. A third class is planned for this November.
To build beyond this on-site program we recently began an online follow-up program that gathers the men together in a bi-weekly online meeting. An advanced curriculum has been set that includes classes under four categories. They are:
Beliefs and doctrines: This subject area is to help ground our ministry in the core beliefs of the Bible, so they are equipped to teach as they have been taught.
General ministry: This subject area is to educate our elders in various aspects of effective service as ministers of Jesus Christ.
Personal life of a minister: This subject area is to educate our pastors on their responsibility to themselves and their character.
Congregational ministry: This subject area is to educate our pastors on aspects of their work as overseers responsible for the overall welfare of God’s people, as they are organized into congregations.
These classes meet with about three dozen ministers and will be an ongoing element in our plan to develop a competent dedicated ministry that is equipped with not just knowledge but also a heart for working with God’s people and those He will add to the Church.
Training for Wives
If you notice in our mission statement above we include our wives in the training. We have not neglected to include periodic online sessions for the wives to be able to connect with experienced pastoral wives to discuss matters relating to their role in the team created by the pastoral couple. Much experience has been gained about the unique stress put on the wives and the children of a pastor. For many ladies, making the transition from being a member of a congregation to the wife of the trainee/pastor is challenging. We do not neglect helping them effectively fulfill their important role.
Since 2012 MMS has had another online educational class for the ministry. Meeting weekly for two hours, classes have been conducted in many areas of biblical studies and pastoral care. Currently, Dr. Frank Dunkle is taking the class through the Pentateuch. This part of training is our oldest continuing class. Ken Graham has done a good job of keeping the class going through these years.
MMS is continually assessing the training of the ministry. We recognize the importance of ongoing professional development for our men and wives.
The Purpose of the Ministry
Our training is meant to equip our men and women for the work of the ministry. Doing this requires we put our selection of men and their training into the scriptural stream of selection and training we see in the book of Acts. Christ told His disciples to go and to preach the gospel and all things He commanded and to make new disciples. They were promised the power of the Spirit to do the job. They were to go from Jerusalem “unto the end of the earth.” On the Feast of Pentecost that job began.
As the Church grew, it became evident that more trained help had to be brought along. In Acts 6 we find a description for a group chosen to fill the needs. “Therefore brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3). So it was done. The result of this action strengthened the ability of the Church to further its mission. “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
On another occasion, in Antioch, when that congregation determined to send out a great mission to the gentiles, they again gathered to deliberate who among them would be best to go. “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers . . . As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:1-3). This resulted in the first great evangelizing journey in Acts and a great expansion of the Church.
The lesson we draw from these two examples are these: First, we must carefully seek the guidance of Jesus Christ as we select His ministry to work with His Body, of which He is the head. Christ is building His Church, and we are called and privileged to have a part in that eternal purpose. Second, selecting and training workers to assist in this is a critically sensitive and important job. We are told by example to do it with prayer, with fasting and seeking guidance from God. In Antioch, the men considered for selection came after a significant investment of training to equip them for that role. Paul and Barnabas spent a year training disciples in this congregation (Acts 11:25-26).
Our Father is in the process of bringing together all things in heaven and earth in Christ. By His power, He not only raised Christ from the dead but is working in us, those who have been predestined to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ. Christ is the head of all things to the Church, and we are fellow workers with Him in the care of the disciples. Every minister of Christ must understand his role in the context of the scriptural teaching about the purpose of the Church. When we take care to select and train the ministry based on these principles, we can expect Christ’s blessing.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise masterbuilder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:9-11).
We ask your prayers that our efforts to select and train the future ministry of the United Church of God will have Christ’s blessing.