With Rich Nathan
In 1987 a church of 150 people in Columbus, Ohio, decided to become part of the Vineyard. Around the same time Rich Nathan-a member of the church and a business law professor at Ohio State University-became the first full·time pastor of the church. Slowly but surely they reached out to the city. growing as they went. Today, over 6,000 people attend weekend services, more than 1,000 people a year come to Christ. and forty percent of each newcomers’ class is made up of unchurched people. Each month the Columbus Vineyard’s new building (which opened in 2000) hosts over 600 events. Senior pastor Rich Nathan says, “I have experienced God going beyond what we imagined in our wildest dreams. We were never trying to be a big church; we just wanted to be obedient-to worship God. preach the gospel. teach the Bible, pray for the sick, make disciples, and care for the poor. The Lord has done far beyond what I had in my heart in the early days. It has been a real experience of grace.”
Along the way, the Columbus Vineyard has intentionally raised up many leaders and sent out numerous church plants. Many more are now being trained at Vineyard leadership Institute, which Is based at the Columbus Vineyard. Rich is consistently involved in training and mentoring young leaders. But the kind of intentional training that now occurs was not always present. We asked Rich to tell us more about how that developed.
One day about eight years ago, as I was praying over our church’s lack of church planting and our struggle to develop staff pastors, the Lord spoke to me and said, “Rich, you won’t be able to reap where you haven’t sown.” It was a very simple word, but as I looked at our church, I realized we were good at bringing people to Christ and discipling them, and could train them up to the level of small group leaders-but that was it. (We had only planted one or two churches at the time.) We just seemed to keep hitting a ceiling. A lot of the small group leaders seemed to be feeling, “Where do we go from here? We’ve gone through your training so many times that if we hear the Vineyard Five Step Prayer Model one more time, we will kill you.” Many had run around those bases, and wanted the next thing.
There was very little mentoring being done by the pastors, and we had no academic program, so we weren’t able to develop more Biblical depth within the church. That’s why we birthed the Vineyard Leadership Institute (VlI). We began VLl to try to bring together deep theological education with a hands on practical component. I spoke to the other pastors and said, “All of us need to get into the job of mentoring.” So that was the initial impetus for our internship programs.
Imparting Key Values
There are certain values I want those I’m mentoring to take hold of. I want them to become deeply Biblical in their thinking, so that the person really evaluates life and ministry through the lens of Scripture as opposed to pragmatism or faddishness. I love helping people respond out of a depth of real intimacy with Scripture and theology. That comes out of who I am, and also is at the very core of how I relate to people. I want to talk with people theologically. I’m not opposed to discussions about what’s “working” for you, but I want somebody to be able to sift that and to think about how it ties in with what she deeply believes, what God is really saying to her in his Word. I think that the American church in general is so marked by pragmatism and by faddishness, and that in the Vineyard we have reflected the larger church, hopping from one thing to another. One year it’s the healing church. The next year it ‘s the prophetic church. The next year it’s the postmodern church. You escape the Baskin Robbins 31-flavors kind of church life by being rooted. Then you aren’t so threatened. You don’t feel like you have to be the most innovative person in the universe. But you sure feel like you are doing God’s will because you are in touch with God’s heartbeat in the Scriptures.
Raising Up Women Leaders
We also train and mentor without respect to gender, including church planting and being a senior pastor. I invite women into my preaching mentoring. Part of the reason that many women do not emerge as church planters or senior pastors, I believe, is because women have learned to filter those callings out, so that they interpret such calls as “ambition” that needs to be “put to death.” All of us have in our minds the range of possibilities that exists for us, and it really is the role of leaders to expand that range, to say to somebody, “You know, you could do so much more than you think you can. Here is a whole realm that you have not even thought about”-like being a church planter, being a senior pastor, or leading different kinds of ministries.
As for cultivating and mentoring woman leaders in the Vineyard, there is a theological hurdle that needs to be surmounted by some Vineyard churches. I think the senior pastor has to run the paint in this controversial area, has to be willing to take the hits of disapproval, depending on your church’s cultural environment. I went on the record loudly and publicly because our city’s church environment is very conservative culturally. I felt that women would only emerge and feel really comfortable if I was extremely public about my perspective. I felt I needed to not just quietly “permit” things. I needed to say, “You are welcome here, and you are welcome to dream and hear from God about any possibility in ministry.” Pastors can sometimes read the reticence of women to step forward into a “creation mandate,” or they read into it some kind of theological justification, some other proof that their perspective is right , rather than thinking, “You are socialized to believe that certain things are just not what God has for you.” There has to be a shift in the cultural signals of a church, so that women are welcomed and blessed in all that God might want for them. The theological shift is only the tip of the iceberg. I know that lots of women who come to our church from other evangelical backgrounds find that they are able to breathe. They feel like the straightjacket is off. They tell me that this is the first time they have ever felt that maybe God has a place for them. It has also helped that we have a vibrant women’s ministry – so the message is not, “Only if I lead men am I valuable.” There are many opportunities to minister among women, to exercise spiritual gifts among sisters.
The Advantages of Interns
For pastors who are thinking about more intentionally mentoring, they should also consider that most of us have more work than we can handle! And we don’t have the financial resources to pay for everything that we need to have done. So, simply on a cost-benefit basis, it makes eminent sense to train interns. I talk with so many pastors whose first thought is to hire either a half·time or full-time associate, when that ought to be their last thought! Start with volunteers. and if that doesn’t work out because you need the consistency or number of hours a volunteer can’t commit, then think about interns. Why pay $40,000 a year plus health benefits plus an office plus secretarial time for an assistant pastor, when you can get an intern for a stipend, and have them work off-site? Frequently these are younger people who come for a year or two. They are already in motion. You can use VLI AtA Distance (VLlAD) to develop the theological component during their internship, as well.