ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Dozens of pastors came together in late January for a two-day coaching session through the North American Mission Board’s Leadership Institute. The twice-annual event provides in-person time for pastors and coaches who are participating in year-round cohorts with eight to twelve other pastors led by a more tenured pastor.
“There aren’t a lot of places where pastors have people intentionally investing in them to help them think through how to be better shepherds and leaders,” said Jonathan Akin, who oversees the Institute. “We have seminary, which is great, and pastors get to learn theology. They get to learn to preach. There are certain things when it comes to leadership, though, that you can’t learn in the classroom. You have to learn through evaluated experience.”
NAMB launched the institute in early 2020, right before the pandemic upset the flow of how churches operate. During that stretch, groups of pastors were able to communicate during monthly calls to help one another navigate that unprecedented season.
Stephen Cutchins, pastor of First Baptist Church North Augusta, S.C., was one of those pastors. He was roughly three years into his first time serving as a senior pastor at North Augusta when he joined a cohort at NAMB’s Leadership Institute.
“I was put in with pastor Jimmy Scroggins [of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla.]. The cohort I was a part of was transformative for me,” Cutchins said. “I came in, and we had our first session. Immediately, I felt I had a safe place to talk about real issues I was dealing with. It wasn’t just therapeutic. We talked in a coaching environment with a competent leader who had already been through many of the things I was going through along with other leaders who were going through it all at the same time.”
NAMB Leadership Institute cohorts last for two years, and participants meet in-person twice a year in Alpharetta where they worship, listen to sermons and panels as well as meet for much of the time with their cohort for group coaching.
Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., spoke on church health during the opening session and gave practical advice about the importance of being biblical, consistent, patient and humble in steering a congregation toward spiritual health.
“We need church health. We need people who yearn for the gospel, that know the gospel, that live the gospel, and I’m convinced that’s where I want to lead Hickory Grove Baptist Church,” Pressley said.
John Mark Harrison, pastor of First Baptist Concord in Knoxville, Tenn., also spoke on church health from 1 Peter 5, on leading a church out of an unhealthy situation by preaching the word and “pursuing the presence of God.”
“God has been writing a story in your church, and your job is to connect to the heart of the church and the heart of the people in the church,” said Harrison. “As God puts a vision for the future in your heart, you’ve got to articulate that vision in a way that the people see it as a continuation of what God has been doing in their lives.”
Akin, James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., and Stephen Rummage, pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, led main sessions on various aspects of preaching. Scroggins spoke on creating a multi-generational church.
“This is not about [reaching younger families] so your organization can be larger,” Scroggins said. “It’s about [reaching people] for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s about doing what God has called you to do as a missional outpost in the neighborhood where you live and where your church exists. It’s about being a good missionary.”
The size and structure of the NAMB Leadership Institute sets it apart from a typical conference. Participants have the chance to ask questions directly to the speakers during and after the main sessions as well as in the smaller group sessions within their cohort.
“Having these coaches who have been doing pastoral ministry for decades and are investing in other pastors has just been incredibly helpful and huge,” Akin said of the coaching process. “We hear almost on a weekly basis from guys who are in the Institute, that it has been a lifeline for them.”
Cutchins, after finishing his two years as part of a cohort, became a coach in the NAMB Leadership Institute himself and is currently leading a group of pastors through the two-year program.
“The vision is for the North American Mission Board to come alongside and be the ‘guide on the side,’ the resource, the encourager, the equipper of the equippers—like Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, to equip the saints to do the ministry,” Cutchins said. “I think that seems to be the vision that I’m sensing from the North American Mission Board as a recipient and now on the coaching side where I’m facilitating. As I talk with these guys, they’re having an experience of being equipped and being trained.”
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