PUEBLO, Colo. (BP) – In his work with churches in the Royal Gorge Baptist Association (Colo.), Nate Templin noticed a pattern – most of the pastors of those churches had moved to Colorado from the Southeast.
Templin wanted to find a way for churches in his region to raise up leaders from their own congregations – leaders that were born and raised in the West and didn’t need to learn about the culture. So he worked with other leaders to create the Acts 13 Experience, based on the church at Antioch.
“Most churches I talk to say will say, ‘We don’t have enough leaders,’” Templin said. “But I think as I spend more time in churches, I think churches have more potential disciple-making leaders than they know. I think they just have to have a plan to develop them.”
The program is designed as a two-year cohort where groups meet for training every other week. The cohorts meet at Steel City Fellowship in Pueblo, Colo., a church Templin helped re-plant several years ago.
The first cohort, started in 2018, comprised 10 people from a variety of churches in the association. To date, two cohorts have completed the full experience, with another one currently in its second year.
Templin said while there are some cohort members working in vocational ministry, most participants are lay people. Cohorts are also very diverse, including everything from high schoolers, business owners, bivocational pastors and stay-at-home mothers.
The training is free for members of churches in the association. More than 10 churches have had members participate so far.
Templin wants the program to be a force for multiplication in the West.
“I think the need is big,” he said. “I drive around the West and go, ‘Where are the churches?’ Or we see empty buildings that used to be churches. If we want to see a movement of the Spirit of God in the West, then we have to be faithful to be the ones that do the work as leaders of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry which is making disciples.
“We don’t have all the answers, we just want to find where there’s a little bit of spark, then pour gasoline on it and hopefully it moves far beyond us.”
Harland Cason is a lay leader at Steel City Fellowship who helped Templin create the Acts 13 Experience.
Cason said while the curriculum for the cohorts is adjusted every year, the five core areas are a biblical overview, biblical hermeneutics and interpretation, systematic theology, leadership development skills and personal spirituality.
Cason, who now lives in Pensacola, Fla., is working to establish a cohort in his local church there. Several associations throughout Colorado, and even other states such as Vermont, have reached out to the Royal Gorge Association about starting a similar discipleship program.
Seeing multiplication take effect is the highlight of the experience for Cason.
“That is the dream and it’s been very fulfilling,” Cason said. “I love to see people that we’ve had a little hand in leading go out and make disciples, grow spiritually and apply themselves and be involved in ministry.
“Indigenous people know their own culture already, so to be able to create leaders inside that culture who can lead at that level, you’re saving a lot of time and effort. We felt like it was a way to affect that culture in a replicative way.”
Some of the members of the original Acts 13 cohorts are now serving as leaders in the program, helping create and teach curriculum.
One such leader is James Wedding, a member of Steel City Fellowship who works as a firefighter.
“It’s the church’s responsibility to raise up their own leadership,” Wedding said, “and there’s something about a church being able to raise up their own leaders that speaks to the health of the church.
“I enjoyed the program because it was never theoretical; it was always real world. Through the process I got a real itch to help out when I was done with the program.”
Templin encouraged other churches and Baptist associations to take the first step toward creating this type of discipleship program because the need is great and the laborers are few.
“The need for more committed and prepared disciple-makers is as great now as it has ever been in the history of our nation and probably the world,” Templin said.
“My encouragement is literally just do something. There are plenty of resources out there, including the NAMB pipeline and many other things. The key is put something down on paper, do something and then adapt it later. It doesn’t have to be rocket-science.
“The hard work is that everybody talks about it, but very few of our ever put it into a ‘let’s do something.’ For me, developing disciple-making leaders is the game-changer. The time is now, and your availability is more important than your ability.”