Healthy Church Leadership with Bob Turner

Many churches today lack strong spiritual leadership. Without godly elders to shepherd and guide them, congregations often struggle in their efforts to grow disciples and spread the gospel. In this episode, Wes McAdams discusses how to develop healthy leaders with Bob Turner.

They examine Jesus’ model for training his disciples, emphasizing servant leadership and sacrificial love. You’ll gain insights into sharing wisdom between generations, as well as how to encourage every member to employ their unique gifts in the body. They offer practical steps every church can take to cultivate elders focused on nurturing spiritual growth.

Bob Turner brings years of experience guiding congregations in this conversation. As director of the Sunset Academy of Leadership Training, he provides resources to strengthen leaders through workshops, seminars, and online training content.

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Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)

WES: Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here, we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. It is so important for those of us who want to learn to love like Jesus that we be part of a community, a church family where others are loving us and we are loving them and we are working out our salvation together as fellow disciples.

But part of that is that every church community is supposed to have elders, is supposed to have shepherds who lead and guide and teach those in that community. 

In the book of Titus, Paul writes to this young evangelist, and here’s what he says in Titus 1, starting in verse 5: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you ‑‑ if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick‑tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self‑controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

But sadly, many, if not most, churches don’t have elders. They don’t have shepherds like Paul is describing to Titus. So what could we do to help make sure that every church is led by these kinds of shepherds? In order to help us answer that question, today I’m visiting with Bob Turner, who is the director of the Sunset Academy of Leadership Training. Bob is a wonderful follower of Jesus, a wonderful friend. I know that you and I both are going to enjoy this conversation, and I hope that it helps all of us to learn to love like Jesus. 

Bob Turner, welcome to the podcast, Brother.

BOB: Oh, thank you. Thank you, Wes, for not only the work that you do on this podcast, but I’m just so appreciative of the opportunity to get to be a part of today’s discussion.

WES: Oh, likewise. I can’t ‑‑ there’s a pretty short list of people that I consider some of the most Christlike, encouraging, Godly people, I mean, true Barnabas’s, and you are one of those, Brother. You don’t know me well enough to have encouraged me as much as you have over the years. You have just been such a tremendous encouragement to me, and I know of so many congregations that have been blessed, and family members that think very highly of you because of the good work that you’re doing. 

BOB: Well, I appreciate that.

WES: Let me start with just that idea of the work that you’re doing. Tell us about SALT and tell us about the ministry that you have.

BOB: It started ‑‑ really, in 2019 was when I was asked to direct the program called SALT. It’s a work of the Sunset International Bible Institute out of Lubbock, and they were in the process of developing the direction they wanted to take this program, and at the same time, I had just launched kind of my own business, if you will, or my own nonprofit, to try to help churches with leadership. So I went to the Vision Workshop that year in 2019, and I had my booth set up, and I met with Truitt Adair, and I told him what I was doing, and he said, “Have you ever heard of SALT?” And I was like, “No.” And he said, “Well, it’s the Sunset Academy of Leadership Training.” 

Through the course of several conversations with him and with Chris Swinford, they asked me if I would take on directing this program, and I was just elated to do so. And I love the work that we’re doing because what we’re trying to do, really, is provide a resource to congregations, a resource that will help them, whether it’s strengthening their current leadership, helping provide some direction, some strategic planning, creating vision, setting goals, plans, those kinds of things, or just to be a way to help them decide “How do we move forward? We don’t have leaders, and what does that look like moving forward?” And so we’ve put together a number of different resources on the website, the website. We have everything from some podcasts that we’ve done to some video clips on leadership. 

But the most ‑‑ to me, the most important piece on the website is we have just about 120 lessons that are designed for a Bible‑class format to have ongoing training, teaching, discussion about leadership and what leadership looks like and how they can develop leadership, and we cover topics from shepherds all the way down to leadership in the home, and so it’s just rich with the detail of lessons that are on there, so people can download that information.  It doesn’t cost anything, so I really encourage people to go to the website, take advantage of those lessons, and plus, the website kind of outlines what we’re doing as far as what we offer through workshops and seminars and training.  Anything that we can do either in person, online, in whatever way, we want to be a resource that helps churches in such a needed area when we think about leadership.

WES: Yeah. Well, I appreciate the work that you do so much, Brother. I know that it’s so needed and it’s so important. I was just thinking about somebody ‑‑ I heard a story one time about somebody who answered a lot of questions in sort of an open‑forum type of an environment, and he seemed to always have the answer, and he said, “I don’t know all the answers, but if you’ve done this long enough, you’ve heard all the questions.” And so I imagine that, with your work, that you hear a lot of the same types of questions and you probably find yourself giving the same type of biblical advice in lots of different places. So as you mentor current and future leaders, what’s some of the common advice that you give people from scripture?

BOB: That’s an important and significant question. One of the areas that I think ‑‑ probably the main focus that I have is maybe twofold. One is I really want leaders ‑‑ I want congregations to realize that the church was really designed for that purpose, to develop people to lead, to be a leader in their home, to be a leader in their communities, in their schools, and in the church, and when I look at scripture, God has always demanded leadership in all of those areas. And it’s interesting, you know, when you look at God working through leaders like Moses to prepare Joshua, you’ve got Paul preparing Timothy, and of course, above all, you’ve got the pattern that was established by Jesus as he worked with the disciples, and I’ll probably talk more about that a little bit later, but the idea of what Jesus did to prepare those men to take on the leadership of the church and such a transition from the old covenant to the new and what that involved.  

And so one of the things I like to ask congregations is, wouldn’t it be just amazing if the church had the reputation in our communities that, if you wanted to learn how to be a leader, then you should go to the Church of Christ? You want to learn how to be a leader in your home? You should go to the Church of Christ. They’ll teach you how to be a leader in your home. You want to be a leader in your school? You want to learn to be a leader in your community? You want to be a leader on your job? You want to be a leader in the church? You should go to the Church of Christ. They will teach you how to do that. And as many times as I’ve asked ‑‑ I don’t think I’ve gotten as much traction as I would like to, but I just think it would be so amazing that if congregations, in their communities, had that kind of reputation, that if you want to learn to be a leader, you should go there. 

I met with a congregation in Idaho one time, and one of the men in the group was a retired manager of a restaurant, and so we were talking about some of the plans and how they could be more known in the community and what they could be doing. I said, “You can handle this however you want to, but if it were me, what I would do is I would have this gentleman prepare about a two‑hour workshop on how to improve a manager’s ability to lead in a restaurant.” And they had many restaurants in their town. I said, “Then I would go and I’d put a flyer up in every single one of those restaurants letting people know that the Church of Christ at this location is offering a free two‑hour workshop to help your managers learn how to lead better.” I said, “You may not get everybody to come, but if you had eight or ten people in the community that came to that kind of event, what an impression that would make on the community for people to see the church actively involved in providing some training in that area.” And so I don’t know if they’ve done that or not, but I just thought it would be kind of a neat way to do those kinds of things. And churches are just loaded with people who have that kind of skill, you know, some kind of corporate work or maybe it’s a leader in their home, just whatever it is, that they could offer that kind of training, and I just think it would be neat. 

The other piece that I think kind of follows with that, as far as what I try to emphasize from scripture, is the importance of change. Now, change is not a word we like, and we tend to get a little resistant and fearful when we start talking about change, and so I try to clarify up front, I’m not talking about changing God’s word; I’m not talking about changing our worship, none of those things. But we need to understand that we have to continually adapt to some areas that will help us be more effective in equipping disciples to fulfill God’s will of making disciples. And I get tickled every time I talk about this because I say, you know, we talk about change every single week in our assembly. We just use a different word. We call it repentance, but it means change, and, certainly, we need to change some things. We need to change maybe our methodology that we’re using. It may be that we need to change the times that we’re meeting.  If there’s going to be a time that’s more effective, then maybe we could make that kind of change. But I’ve seen us get stuck in the rut for so long about doing the same things in the same ways and yet people want different results, and it doesn’t happen. Growth only comes with change, and so we have to be willing to make some changes in areas where we can so that we can have a greater and more effective outreach in our communities and to spiritually grow our congregations.

WES: Yeah, yeah. Let’s kind of shift and maybe get real specific about shepherds, or elders. Theoretically, we believe that every church should have elders. We see that in scripture. In fact, sometimes it’s kind of remarkable that these young churches ‑‑ that elders are appointed in every church. And so we believe that, theoretically, that should happen, but there are a lot of churches ‑‑ a lot of Churches of Christ that do not have elders, even those that theoretically say, yes, we want them, but maybe they’ve never even had elders, and so it has been decades and no elders are even in sight sometimes. I grew up in congregations like that that didn’t have elders or that maybe had a short stint where they had a couple of elders, but then quickly went back to not having elders, and we sort of had these men’s business meetings and things like that as this supplement.

So, in your experience, why do congregations sort of get in this rut where they don’t have shepherds and can’t seem to train up these men, and what can we do to address that situation?

BOB: There’s a lot to this. I want to start maybe by sharing some statistics. I don’t know if you’re aware of these or not, or if the listeners will be aware of this. Several years ago, I started trying to look into, okay, how many congregations have elders? How many congregations don’t have elders? And a gentleman that I’d met in Louisiana at the time had done some research with Flavil Yeakley Church Growth Center out of Harding when he was alive. And they did a lot of research into this, and what they came up with was that it’s estimated that somewhere around 65% of the congregations of the Churches of Christ do not have elders. Now, we’re talking about ‑‑ for example, if we have 12,000 congregations in this country, and that’s kind of the estimate that most people are close to, that means 7,800 congregations do not have elders, and that’s frightening. 

And then I talked with Roy Johnson one year. He was, of course, the director of Lads 2 Leaders, and as I was sharing with him some of these statistics, he said, you know, what’s really frightening is that of the remaining about 35%, half of those only have two elders, which means they’re one death, one illness away from having no elders. And so those kind of statistics really, to me, are very frightening, and we’re really trying to do some things that will help with that. 

As far as why that exists, you know, why there are so many congregations, maybe for decades, that have not had elders, I think there are a couple of reasons, and I’m sure this is not exhausted. But, one, as sad as it is, I think there are some congregations, they just don’t want elders. Maybe it’s because, you know, in those men’s business meetings there are some folks who maybe aren’t qualified to be elders but they like to have control and they want to direct the way decisions are made, that kind of thing. Maybe that’s the case. I’ve seen that in some congregations. 

But I tend to think that probably more of the reason why than not is we just haven’t ever thought about how to train people to do that. We just kind of thought that leaders would magically just grow up and they would want to be elders and that kind of thing. And as I’ve thought about it, you know, 75 years ago, I think we had a lot of congregations that had real strong elderships. You know, a congregation maybe had eight or ten good elders, but they never received any training, and so when the next generation came along, they’re trying to think about, okay, we’ve got a need to replace some of our elders. They’re trying to figure out, how do we do that? Well, they’d never had any training so they didn’t know how to train someone else, and so, as a result, the next group may have had maybe four, maybe there were five, and then the next generation came along and it was half again, and so, ultimately, we ended up with congregations that had no elders at all. 

And I think, a lot of times, congregations really don’t even know where to start. They look around, they don’t see men who are qualified, and the idea of, well, how do you qualify men to serve in the role of a shepherd, and they just never had any training in that. In fact, I’ve actually asked elders across the country, “How many of you have received any kind of formal training?” Zero. None. 

WES: Wow. 

BOB: None that ‑‑ I’m not saying they don’t exist, but of all the ones I’ve really talked to and asked that question to, none ever received any kind of training. In fact, I’ve even heard some of them say that the first thing they learned about being a shepherd was the day they stepped into that first elders meeting, and I thought, that’s not good. That’s challenging to think that there are men who are appointed into a position like that and have no way of knowing what they’re supposed to do and they haven’t been trained to do that. 

And so how do we address that situation, I think, is probably the biggest challenge. I think we need to start, obviously, with some kind of ongoing classes. There needs to be training for these men who are learning to serve. That’s why I think the lessons on the website are very helpful. I think it’s also important that ‑‑ we have to realize that leadership development is about a relationship that’s built. During the pandemic, I read a book by Mac Lake that was called The Multiplication Effect, and in that book, he talked about that leadership development is not a class you take, it’s not a course you develop, but it’s a relationship, an intentional relationship that you build, and I think that’s what’s going to have to happen. We’re gonna have to have some older members that are willing to really mentor and develop the kind of relationship with this younger generation that helps them prepare and be ready when that time comes.

A couple of other thoughts. One, I think we need to focus on the role of elders being shepherds and not decision‑makers, and I think this is probably the biggest falsehood when we think about elders. Now, I understand they’re going to make decisions, but that’s not their primary role, but we tend to view that as the role of the elders. They’re making decisions. They approve the budget. They decide who to hire, who to fire, you know, all that kind of stuff. But the spiritual responsibility that’s related to the health and well‑being of every member in the congregation is just critical, and I think we need to focus more on that role. 

And maybe, as kind of a follow‑up to that, is we need to start focusing more on the positive nature of this role. It’s been interesting to me that, over the years, one of the areas that people describe as why they’re not qualified to be a shepherd is they don’t have the desire. And I have asked a lot of people, you know, what’s kind of the underlying reason for that, “I don’t have the desire”?  Why would they not want to serve in this needed role and, really, one of the most important roles that we see in the church? And I think a lot of times it’s because they’ve seen such a negative side of it, dealing with the conflict, having to make decisions that 50% of the congregation may not like, you know, and those kinds of things. 

I interviewed ‑‑ actually, in Fort Worth, I interviewed a group of elders one time, and it was very interesting. I asked them a lot of different questions. I was just getting started and I was trying to find out as much information as I could, so I asked them a lot of questions. But the last question that I asked was, “What have you learned since you became an elder that you wished you had have known before you became an elder that would have helped you prepare for this role?” Immediately, one of the men said, “I wished I’d have known how long elders meetings were gonna last.” And I thought, there’s a lot of truth to that. But then, one of the men said this. He said, “I wished I’d have known how many lives I would change.” And I thought, that’s what we need to focus on. We need to start helping men see that this role is about changing lives because you’re shepherding them, and if we could emphasize more of the positive nature of that and the true heart of a biblical leader and just how they’re going to change lives, I think we could change the direction of how congregations are approaching that and maybe what they need to do as they move forward with it.

WES: I was with a different congregation, a different eldership, and they were one of the best elderships with whom I’d ever served, and I encouraged them ‑‑ I said, “Guys, this doesn’t need to end with you. You need to pass this on to the next generation.” But they were so humble, which is one of the things that I loved about them, but in their humility, they assumed that they didn’t really have anything to share with the next generation. But I think about what Paul tells Timothy in II Timothy 2, to take this training that he’s received and train other people, but that’s the other comment that I wanted to make, is the role of the teacher, the evangelist, the minister in a congregation with regard to this. 

I think ‑‑ back to your point about if elders saw themselves and couched their role as far as being shepherds rather than decision‑makers ‑‑ you even mentioned hiring and firing. I think so many preachers feel like these elders are my bosses, and there’s a degree to which that’s true, but there’s also a degree to which, if we are going to take on the mantle that Titus had or that Timothy had, then one of our roles, I believe, is to help ‑‑ if you are in a congregation that has elders, is to help them be the best elders that they can be, and that may mean help train them and teach them how to shepherd. And that feels very strange, and nobody will ever take that on if they feel like this man is my boss, but if they take it on as God has appointed me to teach and lead this congregation ‑‑ and the shepherds are part of that. 

And so one of the things that I’ve tried to do over the years is, you know, when I go visiting, take a shepherd with me. If I wish that we had more shepherds that were shepherding and visiting the sick, then, as an evangelist, I have to, you know, maybe ‑‑ maybe not, depending on those shepherds ‑‑ but take those guys along with me to say, “Hey, this is what I do,” “This is what I’ve seen,” “This is the experience I’ve had,” and help them learn to do that because, to your point, nobody probably has ever showed them that before.  And maybe they were a deacon for 20 years, and then all of a sudden they become an elder, and now they’re supposed to go and pray for the sick and anoint them with oil and lay hands. What does that mean? What does that look like? And so, if not ‑‑ if they don’t receive that training from other shepherds, then an evangelist can help to teach them and just walk with them in those things, and we learn together. You know, that’s the whole thing with the church; we learn together.

BOB: Yes. Yeah, that’s beautiful. That’s so true, so true.

WES: One of the things that I’ve just anecdotally kind of observed over the years is that it seems like the bigger churches are not necessarily putting out the biggest numbers of future leaders, of missionaries and preachers and teachers and people that are going into the world and spreading the gospel and planting congregations. Those people seem to be coming out of smaller churches. I grew up in very small churches, and sometimes the bigger churches ‑‑ they may have existed for a very long time. They have hundreds, if not thousands, of worshipers, but yet years may go by and not a single preacher or missionary or evangelist is coming out of that congregation and going into the world to preach the gospel.

First of all, I’d be curious if you’ve kind of seen that same thing, that smaller churches tend to be more apt to train teachers and preachers than larger congregations, and what have you seen in regard to that?

BOB: Well, I thought that was interesting. When I first saw that question, my initial thought was, I’ve never really even considered that. I would really be interested in knowing if there are statistics as to where many of these preachers, evangelists, missionaries ‑‑ you know, what size of congregations they’re coming from, because I spent eight years working at Bear Valley and teaching there and really worked with their international program, and, for the last five years, I’ve been working with Sunset, and it’s been interesting to be a part of that, and I’ve never really thought about, okay, what kind of congregations, you know, do they come from? 

I know that, you know, Tim Lewis up at North MacArthur, they’ve done an incredible job of producing a lot of younger men that I know came through Bear Valley. I can probably count at least six, maybe eight that they have produced. But outside of that congregation, I don’t know of there being other larger congregations that have done as much as like what you’re saying coming from smaller congregations. I think ‑‑ one of the thoughts that I had earlier was about the idea that some of these smaller congregations, in my experience, they had someone that they thought would be really good and so they sent them to a preacher‑training school with the intent of them coming back to help them, and then, when they got to school, they left school and went somewhere else and they didn’t come back to help them, and so some of those congregations developed a bad taste about sending their younger men off to train. 

But I really would be interested in knowing the statistics because there’s no doubt that we are dealing with a major shortage when it comes to preachers, evangelists, and missionaries, and we need to focus more on that and how we can develop them as much, if not more so, than we’re talking about leaders. We need to be involved in developing those leaders within congregations no matter what the level.

WES: Yeah. Just my own suspicion and my own experience with that is that, in smaller churches, like you don’t have a choice. You know, young boys, young girls, whatever, like you’re going to be put to use. You know, you’re going to be put to work, whether it’s teaching Bible classes, or it’s cleaning the church building, or it’s preaching or teaching or leading singing or whatever it is. In bigger congregations, you tend to be ‑‑ and it’s hard to find a better word than “consumer.”  You know, it’s very easy to come to church to get what you need and what you want out of it, but to put very little into it, and it’s very difficult to do that in a small church. If you go to a small church, whether you like it or not, your arm’s gonna get twisted and you’re gonna get put to work. And it seems like if it hadn’t been for someone doing that to me, if I hadn’t been sort of compelled into working and serving, I might not have realized, hey, maybe I could do this. You know, maybe this is something that the Lord is calling me to. 

So I think that there’s probably something there that larger congregations have to be intentional about. Obviously, we want to be attractional in the fact that we want to attract people that ‑‑ that they don’t have anything to give. They just need to be fed and they need to be loved, and so we want to be able to attract people like that and minister to them wherever they are. But we also have to be finding ways to, as you’ve been saying, build up leaders and tell them that even if you’re not going to be teaching and leading here, we need you to learn how to teach and lead so that you can go into all the world and spread the gospel and plant congregations and send them out. It seems like, in years past, maybe, some of these bigger congregations took that mission and they developed their own smaller training schools and they were training, but I just don’t see those kinds of things popping up now like they might have in generations past.

BOB: Well, I think there’s also been a major shift in the age of those who are going to receive training, and, again, you know, I experienced this both at Bear Valley and at Sunset. When I went to school, I was almost 30 years old. I had a family, three kids, and so, when we went, I mean, we were all in. We had given everything we had. We gave up our jobs. We went ‑‑ took our family there. There was no turning back for us, and several of the men that I was in school with were of that same sort. We had some that were a little older than me, but we didn’t have many that were younger than me, maybe one or two. Most of the guys were families, they had children, they had given up everything to come to school. 

But over the years, I think there’s been this shift to where now we’re seeing more and more younger, single guys that are coming, and that kind of has its pros and cons, obviously, because a lot of congregations are wanting to hire a family man, and so it makes it difficult for them coming out of school single. And they’re very knowledgeable, but a lot of times, because of their age and because of them being single, that a lot of congregations are kind of standoffish about hiring them even though they might do a great job. And so it’s difficult because I think we’re seeing that kind of transition to more of a younger and more single ‑‑ again, it’s not an absolute, but I think there’s been a big shift in the last 20 years, 30 years of what we’re seeing come through these schools for training, and I think we’re going to continue to see some of those challenges as we move forward.

WES: Yeah, that’s interesting. Let’s kind of shift gears again, and the theme of this podcast is “Learn to Love Like Jesus,” and you even hinted at this earlier, about following the example and the model of Jesus, so kind of help us to understand, what would that look like in all areas? If we really followed the example of Jesus, what would leadership look like?

BOB: Wow, that is a great, great question, and how much time do we have? No, I’m just kidding. 

WES: As much as you need, Brother.  

BOB: This is one of those areas that I really do a whole session where I talk about this pattern that we see on the part of Jesus, and I’ll abbreviate it, obviously. But the thing I love about what Jesus did is ‑‑ I really kind of narrowed it down to three specific areas that I think his model provides, and I think it starts with just a simple invitation. When you look throughout scripture, you find Jesus going throughout his ministry, and he’s calling all kinds of people, and two words that you see over and over is he simply said, “Follow me.” And I’ve often wondered, okay, here you have guys who are fishermen, tax collectors, you have all these people, and most of the time, when Jesus said, “Follow me,” they left immediately and followed him. And it makes me wonder, had they seen him do something before? Had they heard him teach before? I mean, what was it about him that would make them leave everything to follow Jesus? 

And then, as they’re going about their day to day, they’re just sharing life together, and so they are building a relationship.  Jesus is watching them, they’re watching Jesus, and they’re just interacting constantly, and then Jesus is going to select 12. Out of all those that he invited, he’s going to select 12, and the night before he selected those 12, he spent the entire night in prayer. And I often ask congregations, when’s the last time you heard a public prayer of someone praying that God would help us select the right people to serve in areas of leadership? And, you know, we don’t. We just don’t hear that very often, and I think it’s such a great example for us to learn, that, first of all, we need to just invite people into this role of following Jesus, and as we’re sharing life together, we get to know them, they get to know us. But, at some point, we need to be praying about, you know, God helping us select the right individuals to invite into a specific role as a leader and then being able to move forward. And so that’s kind of the first part; he invited them into it. 

The second is that he modeled for them what leadership was all about, and his ‑‑ obviously, his model of leadership was washing feet. It was about being a servant. And what I love about this is that Jesus is going to ask them, “Do you know what I’ve done to you?” And, I mean, it was obvious they didn’t. They didn’t know what was going on. Peter’s like, “Never shall you wash my feet.” But Jesus said, “You call me Master, you call me Teacher, and so I am; and if I washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” And he says, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you,” and that is the only time ‑‑ the only time Jesus ever made that statement, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you.” And he didn’t say, “I’ve given you an example of how to go out and preach the gospel to the world, so do that.” He didn’t say, “I’ve given you an example of how to be an evangelist; go out here and do that.” He didn’t say, “I’ve given you an example of how to do many mighty works; go out and do that.” He said, “I’ve given you an example of how to be a servant. Do that.” And from the humility and the epitome of love, he modeled for us that what true leadership is all about is not about putting ourself above others, but putting ourself beneath them, lowering ourselves to that position in which we are about serving the needs of others, and so I think it’s just the greatest model. 

And, finally, our world is starting to recognize that more ‑‑ that leadership is more about servant ‑‑ being a servant than it is about being, you know, the commander and the dictator. 

But the third part, I think, in the model that we find of Jesus is this idea of training.  And there are two parts to the training piece, and that is, one, he was very instructional, and then there was the experience. And so instruction involved kind of two parts. There was a formal and informal. Obviously, when we look at the life of Jesus, we see that there were times when he formally taught. I mean, the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, and so on. But he also taught them informally. There were times they were walking along and he was hungry, and he went up to a fig tree and there was no fruit on it, and so he basically condemned it, cursed it, and it withered and died, and that became a teaching moment for the apostles about prayer when they came back by that the next day. 

And so Jesus was involved in teaching them both formally, but also informally, but then he gave them experience. The limited commission, as we call it, he sent out 70, two by two, and gave them the opportunity to experience what he was going to be sending them to do long‑term. And so I think the model that we find of Jesus is just that simple invitation, model, and then train them. They’re going to need training and they have to have that opportunity to experience it so that they know what it’s like, and if there are things that we can help them learn from that, then we’re able to do that. 

And if churches today were to follow that, number one, I think we’d have far less division in the church. You know, the church in the 21st century has never been more divided than it is today. I mean, you look at the history of the church, it is more divided today than it’s ever been. And I know that you know this, that a lot of times these divisions are based on opinions and agendas and personality differences, an obsession to be right or to win the argument, and the list goes on and on. But the model of Jesus won’t allow that because it’s not about me. It’s about others and being more concerned about their needs and their wants and placing them above my own.

I recently listened to a podcast that ‑‑ a gentleman sent me a link to this podcast. I don’t even remember now what the name of the podcast was. The guy that was being interviewed, his name was Ken Joslin, and the only reason I remember that is because I wanted to give him credit for a quote he made in that podcast because I wrote it down. It was my one takeaway from that podcast, but he made this statement: “Great leaders want something for their people, not from them,” and I thought, if we could do that, if we would start leading from the standpoint of wanting something for people and not from them, we’d see more sacrifice, we’d see patience and tolerance and forgiveness. There’d be a lot more grace if we could follow that, and I think that’s what we see in the life of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come because he wanted something from people; he came because he wanted something for them, and that’s how we benefit from that today.

WES: Yeah, amen. I can’t help but imagine that there’s probably someone ‑‑ probably several someones that are listening to us talk right now, and they’re thinking, “Well, I’m not a leader. I’m not in a position of leadership. I’m not in a role of leadership. I go to this congregation, but I look at it and I know that it’s not healthy,” and they look at ‑‑ they look at ‑‑ whether it’s their eldership or the preaching or the lack of an eldership or the lack of leadership, and they just think, if it exists, it’s not healthy, it’s not spiritual, we’re not headed in the right direction, and they want to help things be better, but they don’t feel like they’re in a position or a role of leadership.  

What encouragement would you give to somebody who ‑‑ they might say, “I’m just a mom,” “I’m just a dad,” “I’m just here. I want to attend, I want to help this congregation any way that I can, but I’m not really in a position to affect change”?  

BOB: You know, I’m glad you asked that. I’m glad you stated it in the way you did about, you know, “I’m just a mom.” When I was preaching full‑time with a congregation in Arkansas, like a lot of preachers, I was trying to emphasize the need for us to be evangelistic and to reach out to people with the gospel and so on. And I had a lady in the congregation that came up to me, and she was so sincere, and the things that she said to me were just beautiful, and it’s made me rethink everything about, you know, how we emphasize that. But one of the things that she said was that, “You know, I just like to know that I’m doing the right things by trying to raise my children to know the Lord. I can’t get out and go do personal work, and I can’t get out and go do this.” And I thought, okay, I need to back up here and rethink this because that is ‑‑ I mean, a Christian mother, a Christian father raising their children to know Jesus, that is such an amazing piece of what it’s about, and how we encourage that within our congregations, I think, is just critical. 

I’ve also made the statement that you don’t have to have a title in order to do the work. I think it’s important it’s not about titles, and if a person recognizes that maybe the congregation isn’t healthy, they’re not strong spiritually, but they’re not really in a position of leadership to make what they might consider to be big change ‑‑ if they’re healthy and strong themselves, then one of the things that I think is most important is to find somebody in that younger generation and take them under their wing, start working with them and set an example for them and just build that relationship. I love how Paul told Timothy that “in your speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of believers.” 

And so, you know, I think it’s just such a critical piece that people realize that if they take someone under their wing and teach them how that ‑‑ in those five areas how to live life, then it’s gonna make a massive difference for the future. And, of course, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now, and if we would start planting those seeds now, then 20 years from now we’re gonna have some strong and healthy trees. And so if we’ll build those kind of relationships and encourage them and equip them, mentor them, then one day they’re going to be leaders, and I think it’s gonna make a powerful difference. 

And one last thought here. I don’t know if you know a gentleman by the name of Chuck Anderson, but Chuck has a program that he’s developed. He’s kind of a domestic missionary that’s working in the northern part of Michigan, and I first met him at Waterford, Michigan, a congregation there, and learned about the work that he was doing. I was just so taken by the work he was doing, how effective the work was. But he’s an evangelist; that’s what he does, and he developed a program called “Bring, Teach, Keep,” and he has a book written for each part of those because he says, in every congregation, you’ve got people who are bringers, you’ve got people who are teachers, and you’ve got people who are keepers. 

And, just briefly, a bringer is that person that ‑‑ they’re not going to teach. They may use their home. They may say, “Look, I’ve got somebody here that wants to study, but will you come and teach them? And I’ll open my home, I’ll fix a meal, you know, use my place to do that.” 

And then you have teachers. You know, sometimes teachers, that’s just their gift and they love to teach. They’re not necessarily going to be an extrovert. They may not be out here trying to introduce themselves to somebody to see if they want to study the Bible, but they’re going to be like, “If you got somebody you want me to study with, I’m all in. You know, just take me to them.” 

And then there are keepers, and the keepers are probably my favorite because keepers are those people that ‑‑ they know exactly what to say, and especially to a new Christian, because you and I both know there are some people in congregations, you don’t want them talking to a new Christian. I mean, they’re just ‑‑ you know, they’re listening, a new Christian’s gonna misstep and he’s gonna say something that’s not gonna be exactly right, and that person’s gonna jump down their throat and say, “We don’t do that here,” you know? And so, as a result, that new Christian’s gonna be like, “Maybe this isn’t the place for me.” But keepers, those are those folks that ‑‑ they know how to come alongside and they say the right things and they encourage and they develop. 

And if every person realized that ‑‑ whether they’re a bringer, they’re a teacher, or they’re a keeper, that each of those roles are so vital when it comes to growing the church to be healthy and strong, and instead of people feeling guilty that they’re not doing what somebody else is doing, live into what God has gifted you with and use that in a way that’s going to bring glory to God, and God will bless it and it will grow, and it’ll just be a beautiful thing, and a congregation eventually will become very strong and healthy. And I just love seeing that, and I think we all do. I think congregations that live into that are just excited about the fact that they’re following Jesus and they love it.

WES: Yeah, amen. I think that’s exactly why Paul uses that metaphor of the body in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, and we’re all different body parts. And I love what you said about not feeling guilty or even being angry at, you know, the nose for not being a better nose or the nose for not doing its job. You know, Sometimes your job is to just be the best appendix you can be or best little toe that you could be. Whatever it is that God has called you and equipped you to do, do that and you’re gonna bring glory to God and good to the body of Christ. 

And, Bob, thank you for the good that you are doing to the body of Christ because I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the work that you’re doing and the generations that it will continue to impact for the glory of God.

BOB: Well, thank you. And, you know, it’s funny because everywhere I go, I’m always telling people about their websites and about their social media platform, and one of the things I love about what you do is the fact that you put those little 30‑second, 45‑second clips from a sermon, just kind of a teaser to let people see this is what this lesson’s kind of about or an important point, and I think that’s what’s attractive to people in our communities. When they see that kind of thing, it gives them an opportunity to say, “I’d like to hear more about that.” So I mention your name everywhere I go, and I tell people, “You need to listen to his podcast. You need to listen to, you know, his sermons and things that he’s doing.” 

So thank you for the work you’re doing, and I really do appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the podcast today, and it’s such a great subject and I love talking about it, and so I’ve really enjoyed the discussion, so thank you.

WES: Thank you, Brother. I appreciate you.

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