The Answer Is Yes
He wants to theologically train and license homeless men? Do we do that in the EFCA?
How do you say “we don’t do it that way” to Pastor Richard Berry? The short answer is: You don’t. When one of our pastors and his church are seeing men’s lives transformed by the Holy Spirit, and he tells you that they’re asking for theological training, you jump at the chance.
You see, up there in Skowhegan, Maine, where Richard pastors, the whole community watched as a homeless shelter sprang to life in his church and then became its own church: Church in a Church EFC. Lives are being changed, and even the county health department and the sheriff can’t deny it. God is obviously up to something, and we aren’t about to stand in the way.
By “we,” I’m talking about EFCA GATEWAY—a training process for theologically equipping men and women for ministry leadership. Richard sought our help in June 2011, recognizing that many of the men in this new church/homeless shelter were eager to grow spiritually but were not in a position to get traditional seminary education.
Although GATEWAY had never before taught theology in a homeless shelter, the request really wasn’t that unusual. Ever since its beginnings, GATEWAY has been eagerly training future leaders of any and every demographic and location.
Back in 2006, two EFCA leadership groups began talking about how to train and credential the growing number of ethnic pastors joining the movement, many of who had neither seminary degree nor ministerial credential. Those two leadership groups were the Hispanic leadership team and the EFCA’s Board of Ministerial Standing, which develops standards and recognizes individuals for EFCA credentialing.
GATEWAY grew out of that conversation, officially launching in fall 2007.
While many forms of informal theological training exist, what makes this training unique is that it’s synced to the credentialing requirements of the EFCA. Not all who take this training seek credentialing, but that is the level at which it is taught, with curriculum based on the EFCA Statement of Faith. We use our own pastors as coaches; we use EFCA churches as our sites. Then we connect students who want credentials to their district credentialing board.
As GATEWAY celebrates five years, the training is now being run in 60 locations across 13 districts; almost 600 students have applied. The future can only hold more powerful changes. For example:
- GATEWAY’s directional team* has already revised the curriculum four times—always incorporating new ideas from previous classes.
- While GATEWAY’s first target was ethnic and urban leaders, it quickly expanded to church planters and young leaders. Now, a third group is requesting training: second-career and “boomer generation” individuals who still have much to contribute but who don’t plan to go to seminary.
- The training venues are also up for creative expression, as demonstrated by an online class offered in the Texas/Oklahoma District. Bob Rowley, superintendent, wants half of the churches in his district to daughter an ethnic church in the next 10 years, and he sees GATEWAY as the right tool.
- And our training is expanding internationally, starting with classes that serve EFCA churches in Mexico.
When the first EFC leaders came to America in the 1800s, they didn’t speak English. Not all were seminary trained or ordained. They believed in empowering Spirit-filled lay leaders. So when Pastor Richard Berry of Skowhegan, Maine, asked about serving a different kind of student, no one thought to voice, “We’ve never done it that way.”
In fact, you might instead say that this is the way we’ve always done it across the EFCA: preparing all kinds of leaders for all kinds of churches and ministries.