As you follow your current educational or career path, do you ever wonder whether God may be calling you to some aspect of professional leadership in the church?
“It happens to believers frequently,” explains Rev. Kevin Walden, Associate General Secretary for Congregational and Pastoral Effectiveness with American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA). “We always recommend that people sensing a call talk first to their pastor about it, and then based on a pastor’s recommendation speak further with their Regional Executive for advice on possible steps to take.”
ABCUSA’s Professional Ministries Team currently recommends three preparatory tracks to pastoral ordination — a standard track which includes four years of college and three years of seminary training, or an equivalency track in which alternative degrees or years of service may be substituted for a portion of one’s training, or a regional training track. About one-half of ABC regions have a regional training program that can lead to ABC regionally recognized ordination for those who complete such training, according to Dr. Jeff Woods, Associate General Secretary for Regional Ministries, ABCUSA. Ultimately, congregations decide on whether a candidate has the qualifications to serve a particular church as a pastor. “It is not a one-size fits all type of situation,” Walden says.
One example of a dynamic regional initiative with a mission to help aspiring leaders to clarify their goals is the Academy of Christian Training and Service , an online school for individuals who want to know more about God, or for those who’ve heard a calling and want to know better how to make use of their gifts. Pastor Ruth Moore is the Dean of Advancement for Academy of Christian Training and Service (ACTS), which conducts classes on Saturdays. Currently, ACTS has 10 classes with 10 instructors.
“My job is to help people recognize their calling over a two-year period, find their gifts so they can understand their calling,” Moore explains. “Some will find they are called as a pastor. Some will discover preaching is not their gift, so they may become an evangelist, Christian educator or some other kind of leader, or they may simply enjoy the enrichment and growth that comes with studying with us.”
ACTS currently has 20 students and has graduated 350 individuals over the various threads of its 26-year history. Because the initiative is now online, Moore explains there are no boundaries for participation. “Two of our students are from Montana and get up early each Saturday to engage at 6 a.m. in a class on preaching,” she says. Moore herself is a graduate of the program. She appreciated the enrichment of Christian Studies several years ago even though she was already a pastor at the time. A number of pastors pursue ACTS study as a form of continuing education, she notes. ACTS has four tracks – Certified Lay Ministry, Youth Ministry, Christian Studies and Personal Enrichment.
“We have students with all kinds of backgrounds,” Moore says. Some are fresh out of an educational route and are young. Some are retired. One man, a warehouse worker who has engaged in packing boxes for the past 20 years, decided to explore a new career path with ACTS. Another man who holds a Masters’ degree in Religious Studies decided to enroll in the initiative after his wife died. He is on a path toward becoming a Certified Lay Minister in the church. Still another candidate signed on anticipating becoming a pastor. Along the way he decided he lacked sufficient preaching skills and is on the way to becoming a missionary. ACTS has an equal number of men and women enrollees, Moore says.
ACTS student Valerie Black enrolled in the Certified Lay Minister Program in 2015.
“Although I was called into the ministry and had been preaching sermons for at least two years before I began my first class, I noticed that after starting classes I had a better understanding about ministry,” Black says. “My sermons were better and I had more confidence when I preached. My education through this wonderful program was not only limited to preaching. We learned about all aspects of ministry, Christian Education, Pastoral Care, Ethics, Missions, Evangelism, etc. I was a sponge soaking it all up.”
“Beyond the educational aspect of the program, I formed a bond with my classmates,” Black continues. “Although our classes occurred online, we were able to confide in each other, support each other as we struggled in and out of class, provide constructive criticism when needed and cheer each other on during moments of triumph. We realized that we are not only brothers and sisters in Christ, but we also became friends. Our wonderful instructors treated us not only as students, but co-laborers in the Gospel. I have to say that as I am about to graduate from this program, I know beyond shadow of a doubt that I am not only a better minister, but I am a better Christian, a better person.”
Walden spoke about the impressive nature of the ACTS students he encountered while teaching them about Pastoral Leadership until recently. As an example, he mentioned a UPS employee, Derek Wolfe, who graduated from ACTS with a Diploma in Certified Lay Ministry August 19. “Derek is a lay person with such a deep love for Jesus and is so very deep in his desire to serve the Lord. His writing ability to communicate his thoughts is amazing. Though quiet, he was never ashamed to share his faith at work and then share those experiences in a class.”
Many students who will become certified for ordination are likely to pursue a bi-vocational career path as is the case with Moore herself, she explains. “Churches with a declining membership these days may not be able to support a pastor serving full time,” she says. “We work to train pastoral candidates to understand in advance the challenges they may face in today’s congregations.”
In speaking of the critical value of regional training of leaders for today’s church, Jeff Woods says, “The search options for congregations that cannot afford a full-time pastor are often very limited. History has shown that many of these congregations call pastors with little or no knowledge of American Baptist life.”
“Training bi-vocational pastors is an excellent way to expand the pool of qualified ABCUSA candidates,” Woods continues. “Calling a pastor who has been trained in a regional ABCUSA program can help to create a strong connection between the congregation and the region.”
Moore has an extensive business development and marketing background in addition to her pastoral service. She has a British background and at one time served as Global Communications Director for Tyco Electronics in Harrisburg, Pa., where ACTS is based. Mid-career she made a change after a Tyco downsize and entered the health care marketplace. Now, she is director of Business Development and Admissions for the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute. A key marketing aspect of her current post is to help patients get access to the care they need in a complex marketplace.
“I really enjoy my ACTS work with students both inside and outside of the virtual classroom,” Moore says. “My experience helps me to think outside the box and in counseling students I know that I am doing God’s work.”
Moore agrees with Walden that initial discernment conversations are best held with a pastor and Regional Executive who will know of various training options to pursue possibly locally.
But she is also eager to engage with discerning people who would like to talk to her. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The website to learn more about ACTS is www.acts4ministry.org.
Click here to learn about regional educational initiatives, and connect with your pastors and regional executive minister to discuss your ministry goals.