“None of us have been faced with this sort of global pandemic at any point in our lifetimes,” said Jonathan Akin, director of young leader engagement at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “Ministry leadership, though, is constantly about facing the unexpected and adjusting on the go. So, while the specifics are unprecedented, the general truth is that ministry can be consistently surprising and require flexibility.”
Akin oversees the Timothy + Barnabas Institute (TBI), which NAMB launched to assist churches in the area of leadership development. Those who enrolled in the program became members of cohorts that are led by a ministry coach who is an experienced Southern Baptist pastor.
“I applied for TBI because I was in my first year as a lead pastor of a local church,” said Steve Browning of First Baptist Church Alpharetta, Ga. “I needed all the help I could get. There was no way of knowing then that we were all about to enter one of the most challenging and unprecedented seasons of church leadership in our lifetime.”
Navigating ministry in the face of the pandemic as well as the tension and unrest that has enveloped much of the nation has been a challenge. Yet, participants have said the coaching calls and virtual meetups have been a great support system.
“During this COVID season, my cohort conversations have been a lifeline,” said Mike Richardson, pastor of Tequesta’s First Baptist Church in Jupiter, Fla. “My mentor Jimmy Scroggins (pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla.) and my cohort brothers have given me the confidence I need to navigate leadership during these difficult times.”
Akin pastored for 11 years before transitioning to his position at NAMB, and he has also been an interim pastor during the current crisis.
“The need for something like the TBI has been great for a number of years,” Akin said, “but the fact that it launched two months before an unprecedented pandemic feels very providential. Obviously, we don’t believe in luck. So, we trust that God was orchestrating and using these initiatives to help better prepare pastoral leaders for these uncertain times.”
While many of the pastors participating are lead pastors, several who are a part of the TBI currently serve in other pastoral roles as they prepare for God’s call to become the lead pastor of a local church.
“For me personally, it’s been another orchestrated moment for growth and learning,” said Mike Stout, an associate pastor of LifePoint Church in Nashville. “Since our gathering in Atlanta, my cohort leader (Corey Abney, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla.) has provided a couple of opportunities to meet digitally with our group. I’ve learned so much in those times by simply listening to how God is using those guys to lead their churches faithfully in the midst of uncertain times.”
During one-on-one coaching calls, pastors have discussed what scriptures to preach from to encourage and equip their churches. They have encouraged one another and shared ministry wins and losses in a way that has encouraged and challenged them to move forward.
“God has used this coaching group in a powerful way in my life and leadership,” Browning said. “I know that our entire church has been blessed by the wisdom I have gained from TBI throughout this season of ministry.”
Several of the young pastors and coaches have told Akin that the timing of the TBI’s launch has been miraculous for them.
“I am grateful to NAMB for facilitating mentoring relationships that are helping younger leaders in the trenches of everyday local church ministry,” Richardson said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)