“But he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down” (Luke 13:8-9).
This past week, God “spoke” through some amazing providence, perhaps giving us some hints that He is about to do something big. On Monday, one of our ladies told me that Brother Steve Ayers, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Benzonia, Michigan was interested in training pastoral interns. Having heard that we had Randy as kind of a pastor-in-training, Brother Ayers indicated that he might call. Later that evening, the same topic came up, this time with Rob Stewart, Associate Pastor at Countryside Bible Church, outside of Jonesville. For several hours, we eagerly discussed how Countryside Bible and Open Door Bible could combine resources to train ministers in-house. All this discussion was in preparation for a five-hour meeting scheduled for the next day (Tuesday), in which some of Countryside’s leadership were coming together to brainstorm and plan for ministerial training. Exciting! I told Rob that it has been my dream for years to be a part of a log college for training ministers, similar to what William Tennent had in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania as a catalyst for the Great Awakening. In fact, the model goes all the way back to the apostle Paul, who taught the disciples daily in a school in Ephesus; as a result, all Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:9-10).
When Brother Ayers called on Tuesday, I was pumped. He indicated that in-house ministerial training appealed to many pastors in the Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches (MARBC). It seems that new graduates from college and seminary often lack the practical experience to make a new pastorate happen peacefully. Rather than let this trend continue, along with its injured relationships and the many young men who leave the ministry for good as a result, Brother Ayers desires to bring them into Faith Baptist for an internship. In fact, there is one businessman in the congregation there who might invest in fixing up a house with low-rent, studio apartments for the interns. Again, this is an exciting idea! But that was not all. In conversing with Brother Ayers, I suggested that he contact Tom Pryde, who has already successfully brought a greenhorn all the way through intense ministerial training to ordination. Today, that trainee is successfully serving a church in the Bay Area as pastor. (God be praised!) At some point, it dawned on me that Brother Ayers had seen Tom sing just the week before at the state convention of the MARBC. Tom had not been scheduled, but there was a last-minute cancellation, leaving a hole that he gladly filled. To top it off, Tom had been a GARBC pastor in California.
A meeting between Tom and the pastors of the MARBC could prove very fruitful, and it is one that we should pray about. As you may know, Tom is involved with an online seminary, Veritas School of Theology, which is currently headquartered in Texas, where the founder Paul Hanebury lives. Tom and Paul have been considering the possibility of moving their operation to Michigan. If so, perhaps Veritas and the MARBC could partner. Online education supplies the technical skills that many pastors either cannot supply or do not have the time to supply. In turn, the online format allows for the student to labor in a local church or in several local churches, where both personal acquaintance and in-house training lead easily into ordination and even missions support, if the trainee is called to the mission field. Moreover, if Veritas were to move to Michigan, students from Michigan churches could easily participate in one-week modular courses. The potential is very great.
Then, as if this was not encouraging enough, I read some articles from WORLD magazine and the Wall Street Journal, stating that a revolution is happening in the print industry. Online news sources and free newspaper articles are beginning to drive some newspapers out of business, with at least fifty currently in some stage of bankruptcy. A similar trend in education is right around the corner. Online schools are about to break the monopoly of traditional higher education. Will Christians capitalize on this revolution? This is the question of WORLD magazine editor Marvin Olasky. Instead of going to seminaries, students in the future will learn right here in the church how to become a pastor.
This trend, I believe, may be Christ’s last, major effort at fertilizing the American church, putting fresh zest right near the trunk of the tree–the local church. Thankfully, the American church is not completely without fruit, but the harvest is diminishing, and the need for fresh fertilizer is increasing. Will you join me in praying for its success? While I myself do not despise seminary, and still think that much face-to-face interaction is necessary in Christian training, I also recognize the value of experts sharing their knowledge via the Internet, and the value of re-emphasizing the role of the local pastor. Is that not a good way to learn how to serve as a pastor–to be apprenticed under an existing pastor? This is how colonial America often trained its up-and-coming pastors. What do you say? Will you as a church join me in praying about this exciting movement of God in our day? I look forward to what God will do. May He fertilize the church richly with men saturated in the truth of God’s holy word and in a love for His people! Amen.