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Lifting pastors, staffers to the Next Level

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–At one point in its 10-year history, Next Level training was the best-kept secret in the Southern Baptist Convention, Bert Ross says. But it’s a secret no longer, judging from positive feedback from SBC churches and Baptist associations across the United States.

More than 13,000 documented presentations, workshops, certifications and exposures featuring Next Level’s curriculum were tallied during 2007 — and nearly 6,000 so far in 2008, said Ross, the North American Mission Board’s national consultant for the Next Level Leadership Network. Through a process-driven curriculum, Next Level trains pastors and church staff members in team and personal development, assessments and diagnostics and leadership.

Many churches have the mistaken idea that leadership training was the invention of the corporate world, not the Bible, said Ross, a trainer and coach for 25 years.

“Everything that has been taught in leadership and teamwork you first find in the Scriptures,” Ross said. “Look in Genesis at Moses. His father-in-law, Jethro, told Moses to get some worthy men to lead and then to delegate duties.

“Jesus took 12 guys, molded them into disciples and changed the face of the world. Look at Paul. The whole concept of team and leadership development is exemplified and taught throughout the Bible. Next Level is all about teaching these biblical principles in practical applications for the betterment of His Kingdom.

“Unfortunately, we have allowed the corporate world to steal these ideas and use them without giving God the credit. Team-building, leadership development and strategic planning should be offered to churches too,” Ross said.

Developed as a ministry of the North American Mission Board, the SBC-wide network of 12 Next Level master trainers and dozens of certified trainers and instructors are available to churches through state conventions and local associations.

Bob Bumgarner, director of church development for the Florida Baptist Convention, has been involved in Next Level for nine years.

“Leadership is about taking people on a journey -– a journey with a specific outcome,” Bumgarner said. “We’re not just trying to help people gain leadership information, but help them know how to use leadership skills on their journey. Leadership is a process, not a program.”

Thanks to Cooperative Program funding, Next Level is able to offer local workshops at nearly no cost to attendees -– sessions which, in the corporate world, would cost $1,500-$2,000 per person. Normally, the North American Mission Board pays the trainer’s honorarium and travel expenses, while attendees pay their local expenses such as meals and transportation. NAMB also covers the costs of workbooks and other printed materials.

Far too many directors of missions (DOMs), pastors and church staff members -– even at larger churches — have not been exposed to quality leadership and teamwork training, yet they desperately want and need it, Ross said. And particularly among bivocational pastors, the small churches they serve usually lack funds to send them to conferences for leadership development and encouragement.

“Our pastors and church leaders wear so many hats,” Ross said. “We expect them to be good leaders, good managers and know how to handle people. I’ve had pastors say, ‘I know Hebrew and Greek backward and forward. I can preach the best sermon in the world. But I don’t know how to develop leaders, my church staff or how to work with difficult people in my church.’ Next Level comes alongside and helps them.

“We’re out there to serve our partners,” Ross said. “Almost every state convention has a Next Level trainer on its staff ready to train, and most of them are going 100 miles an hour. All are seasoned veterans in ministry. They may be DOMs, church planters, in Christian education or in collegiate evangelism. But our trainers know pastors, the churches and their cultures.”

Courses such as “Building Powerful Ministry Teams,” “Leadership Greatness” and “Transforming Conflict” are three of Next Level’s more popular topics, Ross said.

Bob Turner, pastor of River of Life Church in Portage, Wis., said Building Powerful Ministry Teams (BPMT), for example, “enables pastors, church people and associations to understand how to create and develop effective team ministry. BPMT is the heart and soul of River of Life Church. It’s not just another program, but is in our DNA as a church to empower and equip those whom God has brought and called to live on mission for Jesus Christ.”

Ken Steele, pastor of Prairie Springs Church in Sun Prairie, Wis., said BPMT “is not a program designed simply to help your church or even fix it. If you use BPMT, it will transform your church. When our church implemented BPMT, a whole transformation of leadership took place. The more people on your church team who go through this material, the more effective your church will become. As a pastor, BPMT is a lifesaver.”

The Next Level training team does not engage in what Ross called “workshop-dumping.”

“We don’t just go in and dump a workshop and leave,” Ross said. “We train our trainers to be process coaches. We want them to sit down with the pastor and walk along with them for 12-18 months -– to be his coach or a mentor if he’s younger. We stay in touch by phone or e-mail. We want to help them figure out how to take the church God has given them to where He wants it to go.

“Workshops are just one tool in the Next Level toolkit,” Ross noted. “We try to simplify the material so that it’s so easily understood, our trainers can teach it on the back of a napkin over lunch or breakfast with a pastor. But later, we stick around to walk him through the in-depth process. We listen carefully and answer him where he’s at -– not where we think he should be.”

What do personal development, leadership and teamwork skills for pastors and their church staffers have to do with spreading the Gospel?

“Without leadership development, primary energy is used on secondary causes like putting out fires and always reacting to problems,” Bumgarner said. “But when you apply leadership, the main thing can stay the main thing because leaders know what the main thing is. And a leader knows how to build a team around him to work on the secondary things.”

True leaders “start things, they initiate and steer. They focus and shape direction. They inspire commitment. They facilitate change. If they go too fast, they stop and back up and bring others up to speed,” Bumgarner said.

Mark Millman, church planting strategist and director of missions for the Central Baptist Association in Sun Prairie, Wis., said Next Level leadership training is having an impact on churches in his association.

“Three of our churches -– River of Life Church, Three Rivers Fellowship Church and Prairie Springs Church -– are all seeing amazing results. Some of our churches have experienced direct growth from practicing the principles shared by the Next Level courses,” Millman said.

Millman’s wife Debbie added that Building Powerful Ministry Teams is helping churches begin “to function as teams with a common purpose, clear roles, accepted leadership, effective processes, solid relationships and excellent communications. This is great for the cause of Christ in Wisconsin.”

Ross encourages those interested in scheduling Next Level training to contact their state convention first, since almost every state has a Next Level trainer in place. For more information, visit www.nextlevelleadership.com or e-mail Bert Ross at [email protected] or Susan Wolff at [email protected].
Mickey Noah is a staff writer for the North American Mission Board.

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