Converge has planted over 752 churches over the past forty years. This past January, at their annual Unleash Conference, they committed to planting another 312 by 2025. And a pandemic and social and political unrest have only emboldened that goal.
Barna’s recent research would suggest that church attendance and connection have dropped sharply over the past five months making it difficult to predict the long-term impact of the pandemic. But what is known for certain is that the trends of attendance and continual societal shiftings are drawing a downward slope.
But we are not satisfied, nor will we give in to any feeling of inevitability with current predictions. And the most certain path forward is through intentional partnerships that bring together strengths for a stronger and faster approach.
A few years ago, Ed Stetzer (Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center) and Lee Stephenson (Executive Director of Church Planting for Converge) began dreaming and discussing an intentional partnership that would bring together the Wheaton College Graduate School’s strength of exceptional theological and leadership training and formation with Converge’s strength of an industry-leading process and pathway for long-term, gospel-centered, community-altering church plants. Operating on the shared values that healthy churches plant healthy churches and multiplicative leadership should be intrinsic with every church leader, a ministry residency was developed that highlights the practical aspects of how to confidently plant a strong, healthy church on the theological underpinning to “(g)o therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19a).
The church needs new leaders. The church needs future leaders. And us current leaders have been charged by the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, to prepare the way for them to step forward.
There are three key aspects that Wheaton and Converge believe every church planting and ministry resident need:
- A Champion. Someone who is on the ground with them. Someone who can be the emotional and spiritual supporter that the Resident needs to help them see the value and practice of every pastor needing a pastor.
- Significant Leadership. Being put in a place of leadership that allows for the Resident to take the content and interpret and apply it in their context. As important, significant leadership allows for a Resident to appropriate fail and learn while also having the opportunities to succeed greater than anyone else on that church’s staff.
- Training and learning. Receiving the opportunity to hear from the leading voices in church mission, leadership, planting, and movement. While highlighting the value of education, this partnership has intentionally held fast to the priority of application and future possibilities.
Through the partnership with Wheaton College, church planting and resident students will enroll in a curriculum delivered online over the course of 43 weeks. With a variety of instructors, including Wheaton professors like Dr. Ed Stetzer and Dr. Rick Richardson, students will be introduced to curriculum that will help them grow their leadership skills, church planting strategies, discipleship practices and learn more about themselves as a church planter and pastor.
Those who complete the certificate can also receive advance standing to pursue a graduate degree at Wheaton College. Wheaton offerers an M.A. in Ministry Leadership which prepares church planters and pastors for more effective ministry and mission.
Jesus’s words are as true today as they were two thousand years ago when he looked at crowds around him, “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”
This partnership is to help raise up and train new and more effective church planters and pastors for kingdom impact.
For more information about the MA in Ministry Leadership go to https://www.wheaton.edu/graduate-school/degrees/ma-in-ministry-leadership/ Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.