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Mentoring initiative nurtures churches & seminarians

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Noah Madden chose New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, in part, due to the lostness in the city. After spending his formative years in Canada, Madden wanted to be involved in Gospel witness outside the Bible Belt.

Madden planned to immerse himself in the city, study at NOBTS and apply the practical aspects of ministry in a local church setting.

Through a unique residency initiative at Lakeshore Church, Madden not only learned the “ins” and “outs” of local church ministry, but found “a safe environment to practice ministry and make mistakes and learn. It helped me process where I fit in ministry.”

As with Madden, most Southern Baptist seminary students see local church ministry as an important complement to classroom studies. The “hands-on” experience of the local church ministry enlivens and enhances the academic work of the classroom. But few receive the type of intentional mentoring Madden received.

Lakeshore’s Equip L1 and L2 Residency provides an opportunity for NOBTS students to gain intentional firsthand ministry experience through mentoring in the local church as a complement to the classroom experience rather than a replacement.

The idea flows out of a real need in New Orleans. Students like Madden arrive at NOBTS full of evangelistic fervor and ready to serve, but finding a ministry opportunity can be daunting. Churches often lack the financial resources to hire students in ministry and rarely have a formalized strategy to shepherd and mentor students who serve in their church.

When George Ross came to New Orleans in 2013 as a SEND missionary with the North American Mission Board, he quickly identified this issue. While some students were able to work and volunteer in local churches, few churches had intentional channels for hands-on mentoring to help the students thrive. Ross believed that both the churches and the students were missing an opportunity.

“To grow and become equipped ministers, students need someone to invest in them,” Ross said. He was convinced that ministry coaching and a focused church-based learning experience would help students maximize their time in seminary.

An opportunity arises

Through his role with NAMB, Ross became involved in the replant of the former Pontchartrain Baptist Church, a congregation that had struggled since Hurricane Katrina. The church decided to close its doors and allow Canal Street Church to plant a new congregation — Lakeshore — in the old building. Lakeshore Church takes a team approach and is led by planter Bo Smith along with Ross and Madden. Both Smith and Ross are bivocational, meaning each has a full-time job outside the church.

With a burgeoning church plant and no full-time pastor, Ross knew seminary students would have a place to serve at Lakeshore, so the Equip residency was born out of a desire to ensure that the relationship was mutually beneficial. Lakeshore would make an eternal investment in the lives of students as the students poured their lives into the church’s ministry.

“When a student leaves the residency, we want them to be a better-prepared leader, a better-prepared pastor, husband, father … we want to help mold them in these areas,” Ross said.

Lakeshore uses NAMB’s L-1 and L-2 Church Planting Pipeline Training, which prepares students for the next steps of the NAMB church planting approval process.

The two-year residency program at Lakeshore started in 2016 with five residents. Madden and four others in the residency group completed the program in May. The church recently ordained Madden who will continue to serve at Lakeshore.

Madden and his wife Tarin heard about the residency from a seminary neighbor before the program’s official launch and it sounded like a good fit. After a conversation with Ross, Madden sensed that he should apply during his first year of seminary.

Madden said the residency program helped him wrestle with church ministry issues that are difficult to address in a classroom setting. On a weekly basis, Madden and the other residents have the opportunity to apply what they learn at NOBTS and Equip in practical ways through the ministry of Lakeshore Church, he said.

“For me, two areas of the residency were most helpful — one being my emotional health and the other was understanding my personal strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “The residency helped me to be emotionally aware of grief and frustration, and it helped me with staff relationships.”

Replicating the model

While Ross is involved directly in the Equip residency at Lakeshore, which will have 16 residents this fall, his idea helped foster a small movement in the New Orleans area, with 39 NOBTS students serving in a leadership capacity as residents at other church plants. Some serve as children’s ministers, youth ministers and mission coordinators; others serve in pastoral ministry roles.

One of the results of the intentional residency efforts is a renewed commitment among seminary students to spend time off-campus interacting with people who need the Gospel. In the process as students are being equipped to lead churches or church plants, local churches and church plants are being invigorated.

“They are serving in church plants in capacities that have enabled us to see an incredible church planting movement happen in this city,” Ross said. “So a lot of churches are doing the residencies, and there are a lot of churches doing some type of leadership development. I am very grateful for that.”

The Equip residency and similar efforts benefit from a new partnership between NOBTS and NAMB. Students who are training for church planting ministry at NOBTS or its undergraduate Leavell College can earn up to 19 hours of course credit toward a degree through the residency.

For more on the NAMB/NOBTS partnership, visit www.nobts.edu/namb.