Lecture 3: Developing Lay Pastors
We are going to talk about how to develop a lay pastor program in your church. At least we are going to tell you what we have done and you can use this in your own ministry to again, fit it into whatever doctrinal distinctions you have or church structure things that you do.
I. Pastoral care.
A. Small groups.
One of the things you are going to find is that the larger you grow as a church, the harder it is to bring pastoral care for everybody in the church, praying for them, serving their needs, encouraging, mentoring them. You can structure your ministry for better supervision, quality, and better results. But how do you spiritually shepherd the flock once it has grown beyond the scope of the senior pastor? You know, the average size of a church in America is about 70 to 90 people, the average size of a Protestant congregation. Why is that? Because most pastors don’t grow beyond shepherding people or having other people join them in leading folks.
Structuring and supervision is one thing, but pastoring is another. Some people say, “What about small groups?” Small groups provide community, they provide accountability, ongoing life changes. As a matter of fact, when you have a good small group program in your church, your counseling will go way down because again, people have a place where they can share and be prayed for and counseled.
B. Reduce senior pastor overload.
However, there are still times when you need that pastoral mantle that represents the authority of the church, church strategy, the DNA of the church. Lay pastors are trained to do funerals, they are trained to do weddings, pastoral counseling, handle Biblical conflict resolution. They provide theological purity for the church as well as guidance.
By multiplying lay leaders with the pastoral mantle, you are going to find you will reduce pastoral overload on the lead pastor or church staff. Just this week we have a lay pastor doing a wedding. We also had a lay pastor stop in at the hospital for a very important crisis because all of the other staff and pastors were deployed elsewhere. I can tell you about times every single week when lay pastors step up and get involved in bringing the pastoral mantle.
Also, you take better care of the people in your church. The bigger you grow, the less access people have to the senior pastor. More and more, sometimes they just want to talk to a pastor. They just want to be prayed for by a pastor. So you can take better care of your people when you have more people appointed as lay pastors in your church.
C. Develop pastoral leadership.
Also, you can tap into and develop the pastoral leadership in your church. Often there are actually retired pastors or there are people who have been pastors and for some reason have stepped out of it. Or, some people have strong pastoral gifts that are never going to be full-time pastors. You can tap into those leaders and raise them up, train them and allow them to do some of the pastoral duties.
Then you provide a leadership pool for future hires. I think we all know the advantages of hiring internally because they carry the DNA of the mission of the church, the values of the church. When you have a really good lay pastor program, you get to see them, you get to see God’s hand on their ministry, you get to sense the calling that God has on them because you see the fruitfulness around them. That gives you a pool for potential hires. Whenever we consider hiring in our church, one of the first places we look at is the people that we already have and what they are doing. That is why it is a good thing to develop a lay pastor program.
II. Lay Pastor Program
Let me tell you the five things that we do.
A. How do you find a lay pastor?
First of all, how do you find them? How do you find a lay pastor? I really believe that you find elders doing what elders do, shepherding people. You find them doing what elders do. In 1 Timothy 3:1 it says, “It is a trustworthy statement that if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” An elder has an innate sense of strong, responsible spiritual care for the people around them. As a matter of fact, if you look at the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and the Book of Titus, those qualifications show active ministry involvement. They have to have a reputation that involves the people. They have to be able to teach, there is teaching experience. They are hospitable, that is, they are a people gatherer. If you look at the qualifications, you see a lot of them that can be read only by a person who is already in ministry.
I will give you an example. I found one of our lay pastors by reading an e-mail. I was copied an e-mail from one of our small group leaders. I knew that he had been a missionary in the past. I knew there was some spiritual training and spiritual background there. He got involved in a situation where he went the extra mile to shepherd and take care of a family. I said, there is a leader. You can see, he is doing what elders do.
We have a small group leader who continues to produce leaders out of his small group. He is a leadership producer. He is faithful to his small group. His small groups grow, they multiply. God’s hand is on this guy. He is this natural shepherd. He is an elder.
We have a marriage mentor who year after year not only mentors couples but keeps producing mentors. We took a look at this guy and said, he has strong leadership gifts, he has a strong shepherding heart. He is doing what elders do.
We have a teacher who has been teaching financial peace for years. He stays after, he talks with people, he coaches people, he meets with people, he shepherds them through. You can just see again that pastoral mantle on this guy.
We find them doing what shepherds do. When I see men like this, the first thing I do is, I go to the staff, I sit down with our lead team and I say, “I have some names I would like you to consider. I really sense these men doing what elders do. What do you think about them being lay pastors?” I will get feedback. A lot of times they will say, “Yes, I know this guy, he served with a youth ministry” or “he has been with us from the beginning”. You hear a little bit of the testimony. If nobody has objections, then I invite them to coffee. I sit down, I get to know them, I find out about their family, how they are doing. Then if I feel the time is right, I ask them, “Would you be interested in joining our lay pastor program?” I always challenge them, I say, “You know what? We need to care for the needs of the body. We need more pastors to do funerals, do weddings and counseling. We are going to train you for all of that. We also need more men to stand beside the pastor and to uphold the vision and mission of the church. We always want to surround our pastor with Godly men who are praying and trained to carry out the mission of our church and I want to invite you to be a part of that.” I rarely get a “no” once we have gone through the process and we have sensed that they are in the right season in life.
You find elders doing what elders do. It is so important to find them that way.
B. Train them well.
The second thing is, train them well. Train them well. The goal of our training is three-fold.
a. First of all, we want to sharpen their leadership skills because we really feel that when you are going to be a lay pastor, you are going to be leading people and leading some kind of ministry. Because of that, we make a commitment to invest in their leadership and sharpening of that gift.
b. The second goal is doctrinal purity. One of the roles of an elder in the church and a lay pastor in the church is to guard the doctrine of the church. In Titus 1:2 it says, “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” We live in a society that is theologically illiterate. More and more in our churches, we need to have more people besides the pastor and the staff who know good doctrine and are able to guard it. So, doctrinal purity is part of our goal in training.
c. The third is practical pastoral skills, as simple as teaching them how to take a couple through a rehearsal, to do a wedding, the proper way to do a funeral, how to handle yourself at a funeral home, etc., etc. All of the little things that we learn by experience. We want to teach them practical pastoral skills so that they will be able to do that.
C. Advanced training.
One of the things we do with our training, we aim at master level training for our people. We do that very intentionally. We give the best training we can to our small group leaders internally and all of our ministry coordinators, even our staff.
One of the things we want to do with our lay pastors is kind of what their appetite for deeper study. To do that, we will partner with local seminaries or Bible colleges and we will invite people to come. We had Dr. Fred Shea?_____(09:53.6) come from Phoenix Seminary to teach on sanctification to our lay pastors and give them three hours on why it is important, how people grow. We had Dr. Gary Manning ?_____(10:02.5) come from Talbott School of Theology to teach New Testament or Gospel Interpretation and how to properly go into the Gospels and to understand truth well. We have Linda Miller coming. She works for Ken Blanchard Ministries. She goes worldwide, training people on how to coach leaders. She is coming and I told her, “Linda, come in and give us masters level training.” She has some books they are going to read before she comes. She is going to sit down and train them on how to coach leaders well.
We are committed to finding the best kind of training we can. When it came to hospital visits, we went to a local hospital. We found a chaplain that has been doing ministry for 50 years. This guy is just a treasure. I had him come before our men and I said, “Teach them what God has taught you about going into hospitals and ministering to people who are hurting.” We got years of experience poured into our men.
We look for the best resources we possibly can to put in front of our lay pastors so that they get as close to masters level training as possible. You have to budget for it. We budget $500. per session, that is about $3,000. a year because we are doing a two-year program. We do it once every two months, three hours on a Saturday morning. Our budget is able to sustain that. Honestly, I will sit down with a professor and I’ll say, “We would like you to come. This is what we budget. If this will work for you, please come.” I almost always get a “yes” because there they are eager to come and pour into some lay pastors. But you are going to have to budget for it and plan a good honorarium for the people that come and do that for you. It is worth every penny to have them there for three hours, pouring into your people.
Again, our format is Saturday mornings from 9:00 to noon every two months. You say, “Why do you use that format?” Because when we find elders, they are doing what elders do. They are leading ministries, they are leading small groups, they are meeting with people, they are mentoring their own families. They are active in ministry, so we don’t want to pull them away for very long to do things. So again, once every two months, Saturday morning, we have them come from 9:00 to noon and they will have a three-hour session on one of the subjects that we do. That pace seems to fit because in-between we have some other things for them as well.
Let me tell you some of the subjects that we are training our pastors in. First of all, is spiritual vitality. We do three hours on that. Personal spiritual discipline, talking about how to develop the lifestyle of a Godly man in this particular season in history, how to be a Godly man.
Secondly, we teach Biblical interpretation and application. They have nine hours. They have some theology there, they get sanctification. At this time they have New Testament and Old Testament interpretation. We give them nine hours of Biblical interpretation and theology and application.
We do spiritual leadership, six hours with preaching, speaking units that they are going to do. Then there is pastoral leadership. For the pastoral leadership unit, we have our own senior pastor do that because we feel like there needs to be a time when there is a DNA download from the senior pastor, the vision pastor of your church to your lay pastors because they carry that into the body. So they get to spend good time with the senior pastor. By the way, in addition to that, they go to his house for dinner. He gets to know them really well, so that they are around him, providing that spiritual support.
We do a unit on evangelism for three hours, sharpening their personal skills in sharing the Gospel. We think every single pastor needs to be able to sit down with somebody and lead them to Christ, to have that skill down pat and be able to do that.
We also spend six hours in team building. Multiplication and disciple making is one of our subjects. The other is coaching leaders. How do you oversee and coach leaders well? We are going to do that.
D. Pastoral ministry training
The final one is pastoral ministry. We do nine hours there. Hospital visits, funerals, marriages, counseling, conflict resolution. We have training in these things just to teach them how they can again, very practically do it, and I mean practical. Step one, this is how you do a wedding. Step two, this is how you walk people down the aisle. This is who comes first, this is how you lead them through it. Same thing with a funeral. What are the dos and the don’ts when you are in a funeral? What are the things that are appropriate to say? How do you handle it when there are non-Christians? Etc., etc.
Some of the things that we take for granted after being a pastor for so long, we have to teach them step-by-step in pastoral ministry. So we do that in pastoral ministry skills.
That is the training that we have and we already have it laid out. It is a two-year program. We know exactly what we are going to be teaching over the next two years. Then we are going to recycle it. As soon as that ends, we are going to continue the cycle and again, teach the same subjects or adjust it as we go, depending on what we think is important.
Something else that we do for our training purposes is we do shadowing with experienced pastors. It is actually one of the best things that we do with our lay pastors. For instance, we just had a baptism. We had our pastor and executive pastor as what we call our anchor people in the pools. We also made sure that they partnered with one or two lay pastors, so that the lay pastors are learning the whole concept of baptism, how you talk to people, what you ask and what you do. Some of them, for the first time, got to actually officiate a baptism for somebody.
We also send people. I’m doing a couple of weddings this fall. I have asked a couple of our lay pastors who have never done a wedding to come with me to the rehearsal and to come with me to the wedding and sit in the back and to watch how I walk through a wedding. I did the same thing with a funeral recently. You bring them along and so they shadow you and you teach them right then and there and you talk on the drive there and you talk on the drive back. You are getting them ready for ministry and shadowing with experienced pastors.
We also have something called the monthly triad meetings, to put into groups of three, and they are expected to meet once a month, just for a cup of coffee. It could be after a service, before a service. They debrief what they are learning as pastors and things that are going on in their lives. Remember, these men are busy. They are often already involved with lots of ministries, but we want to know how they are doing as pastors. So, the triads meet and I intentionally put one of our senior leaders, a senior lay pastor, together with two of the younger ones so that they can learn from one another.
Then we have our monthly staff or leadership meeting. This is something that our church does anyway. Once a month on a Tuesday night the senior pastor will address the staff, coordinators, all the volunteer leaders in our church. So I ask our lay pastors to come to this because that is where we find out a lot of the new things that are going on. He will give us cutting edge information, this is the next thing we are going to be doing and he gives our lay pastors a chance to feel like they are part of the leadership community. Often they are already leading ministries anyway, so we want them there.
At those meetings, I will ask them to come an hour early and I will actually sit with them and say, “Let’s debrief some pastoral experiences. What are some of the things that you have dealt with?” Sometimes we have encounters with homeless people in our church. I want them to know how to handle that. We have encounters with really bad doctrine or heresy. I say, “How are you going to answer this question?” A new controversy comes out or something happens and we all learn again as pastors how to deal with that together. That is always a really, really good meeting.
G. Theology course.
The last thing that we offer them for training is the nine-month theology course. I talked about it in the other section. We take Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology.” We divide it into about 36 chapters. We meet for three weeks and then we take a week off, then three weeks and we take a week off. For those who have not had Biblical training, we will take them through and we will discuss in a 90-minute lesson with some memory cards and everything else, we will try to give them the best theological immersion that we can outside of seminary. People love the course. It almost always happens that whoever takes the course, if they have not stepped into leadership, will step up, begin leading small groups, begin leading ministry because they feel so equipped. It is something that we have done and we ask all of our lay pastors to take it unless they have gone to seminary.
So we train them well. Again, depending on your church, your doctrine, your structure, you can develop a training program for them. Let me encourage you to go for the absolute best training you can get for them. You won’t be sorry. Also, people will step up, they will feel privileged to be part of a program.
III. Commission them.
Thirdly, we commission them when they are ready. That is what we call the laying on of hands in scripture. In 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul is talking to Timothy and he says: “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.”
We lay hands to commission people in the church. At the very beginning of this process, we acknowledge that there are going to be some men that are ready sooner than others. We have some young men in their 20s that are kind of starting out, but they have shown that promise and that pastoral heart. I know they are going to have to go through the full two years in the program before we actually even consider laying hands and saying “We are going to make you a pastor.” Right now you are a trainee, you are not a pastor yet. On the other hand, I have a man who was an executive pastor in another church for 20 years. We have a person who was a missionary for four years. We have another man who was a pastor of a church for 10 years, senior pastor, then retired and got out of ministry.
So we have people with theological training. We have people with ministry training. After they have gotten into the program, when we feel they have downloaded the DNA of our church and they have shown that commitment, then we commission them. Some people, almost right away. Again, it is totally up to you. We acknowledge that some men will be ready sooner than others.
However, one of the things we do is, we have a pastoral profile that we give everybody at the beginning of the program. There is an experience checklist on that profile. We have everybody fill that out so that we can see what they have done and not done. Here are some of the things we have on that profile: You have established personal devotions. You have established personal devotions in groups with people. You have led a small group. Small group leadership is important to us. You have multiplied a small group. You have done weddings or funerals. You have done hospital visits, counseling for somebody in some situation. You have led a ministry. You have developed a ministry team. You have recruited and trained other leaders. You know how to present the Gospel. This is important. You have personally led someone to Christ.
As a matter of fact, we had a leader who just joined our program and just before his first training, he came with a big smile on his face, beaming, and he said, “Guess what? I get to check this box because I led somebody to Christ at work and it was awesome.” He was so excited to be a part of the pastors. He had never led anyone to Christ and he led someone to Christ at work. We were excited for him.
We also have, have you served the poor? Because Jesus said specifically to serve the poor, prisoners and the widows. Have you served the poor? Worked in homeless ministries of some kind? We actually have a lay pastor who ran a ministry on the streets for 10 years to homeless people including a food bank and all of those things. Have you served in prison in some kind of prison ministry? Because we want to expose our men to prison ministry. We think it is important. Have you gone on the mission field? Have you left our borders? Have you gone out somewhere in the mission field and have you seen what God is doing there and learned those lessons?
Those are the kinds of things that we want our lay pastors to be experienced in. Why? Because they are going to be mentoring and raising up people who may be called to all of these things. We want them to have a sense of experiencing the different avenues that God is reaching out to in this world so that they can mentor other people in those things.
One of the things we will do in terms of their training is, we will make sure they are checking off those boxes. As we go to every lay pastor’s training, we will say, “Have you checked off any new boxes?” When we meet with them, we make sure that they are growing in their experience. Once I feel they are ready, we bring their name to the lead team and the senior pastor and we say, “Would you have any problem whatsoever asking these guys to become lay pastors at our church?” Then we give them a name tag and then we get them started.
IV. Leave them where we find them.
Number four is an important part of our philosophy. This may answer some of the questions that you are wondering about. I know that some people say, “If you start recruiting lay pastors, they are like the best leaders. You are going to pull them out of the youth ministry or pull them out of this ministry. It could cause confusion or jealousy.
What we do is, we leave them where we find them. It is an important part of our philosophy. I think that is why it took off so fast because the whole lead team was on board right away when we said that. We leave them where we find them. We let them shepherd the circles where their passions have led them. This also prevents the staff team from feeling like all the leaders are going to one place and you are stealing them. Our lay pastors in this church are spread over 16 different areas and we listen to these areas where our lay pastors are. Children’s ministry, youth ministry, tech teams, security, facility teams, new believers ministry, small group ministry, marriage ministry and marriage mentors, financial peace, university, ushers, missions, core classes, Hispanic ministries, our visitor ministry called VIP ministry, our worship ministry and our parking ministry.
They are spread all over the church and we love that because what that tells us is that for all of the people that are serving in our church, they are not very far from a pastor. The idea is, like in our children’s ministry, we have hundreds of volunteers that serve there. When their moms go into the hospital, who are they going to turn to? When they have the joy of having one of their kids marry, who do they really know as a pastor? It is going to be the lay pastor over them that prays for them, that is there for them, that takes care of them. So wherever people are serving in the church, they are not that far from someone who is praying for them, supporting them, there to meet all of their pastoral needs. You know what that does? It frees up our senior pastor to cast vision, to pray for the church and to teach well. He ministers to the staff. He takes care of the lead team and the people that are there close to him. But everybody in the church has their needs met.
V. Deploying lay pastors.
How do you deploy lay pastors? You found them doing what elders do. You have trained them well. You made sure they have a breadth of experience. You have commissioned them when you felt ready. Then you leave them where you found them. How do you actually deploy them?:
One of the things we do is, first we put them on the prayer request list. We actually have a whole bunch of prayer requests that come in every week and we divide them among our pastors so that we know that pastor will pray for a person, send them a personal note that they have been prayed for. We add them to the list. Again, as we grow as a church, more and more prayer requests come in and we want to be sure that pastors aren’t just praying real quick and writing a note; but that people are taking time to really pray for people and then acknowledging that prayer. So we put them on the prayer request list right away and they start receiving prayer requests from people.
We also place them on the funeral and wedding lists. We have one pastor that oversees our pastoral care and all wedding requests and funeral requests go through him. He has a list of the staff and now of the lay pastors. Once our lay pastors are fully trained, we will have 24 on that list. As funerals or weddings come in, obviously if it is people we know that are close to us for one reason or another, we will take them and they will request us specifically. Otherwise, we have plenty of pastors to take care of all of the needs so that our senior pastors are not running a morning wedding and then doing a funeral in the afternoon, then preaching at night. No, we have plenty of pastoral care for everybody. So we put them on the funeral and wedding lists.
Then we place them in the lobby during the service time to meet the needs of the body during the services. Some of them are involved with ministries, like I said, spread out. For those that are not involved in the weekend ministries, we schedule them for time in the lobby, so that at any given time there are two or three lay pastors standing in the lobby because after a sermon, when people have been convicted, or they have been inspired by God to take some action in their life, they will come looking for a pastor, and they are to be prayed for. So we have plenty of pastors there to meet those needs. A homeless man walks in, a lay pastor goes over. We have plenty of pastors to shepherd and take care of our flock.
Our ultimate goal for each lay pastor is to equip them to become all that God has called them to be. We realize that from time to time, God is going to give us a highly gifted person on whom he may have a calling. So we take them as far as they will possibly go. Some of them say, ”I’m thinking of seminary.” We say, “Go for it. We will support you. Get a degree if you feel called to do that if you want to take that next step of equipping. Go for it.” They can do it in the context of the ministry they are doing here.
When we begin thinking about hiring, the first people we look at are our lay pastors. We have a hiring queue like all churches do in terms of priory hires. We are looking at them. We say, “This person has been faithful. This person is doing well. This person is in a situation.” I already have a couple of lay pastors in my mind that are right on the queue, that I would love to have doing full-time ministry with us. You put them on the hiring queue.
There is one more thing. You have to celebrate with them when God calls them away. We had a lay pastor, he was the head of our men’s ministry. We got him involved in training. He went to seminary. He felt called to lead a church. This church in California called him and we celebrate that God gave us a season with him to equip him and then to send him off. Because after all, every one of our leaders, every one of the members of our church, they belong to who? They belong to Jesus. They don’t belong to us. But God gives us a chance as pastors to equip them and take them as high as they can possibly go.
Again, what this program has done is made sure that everybody who walks through the doors of our church will never be very far from a pastor and that our senior pastor will be free to lead well and that everybody’s pastoral needs will be met.
Develop a good lay pastor program.