At Charity, pastoral training program prepares rural church leaders for ministry

At Charity, pastoral training program prepares rural church leaders for ministry

For years, Richard Weeks has desired to see leaders from his association be raised up to support smaller churches throughout the region. Here’s how Weeks has gotten to see that dream come to reality over the past several months.

For Kevin Hall, standing behind the pulpit is a surreal experience. 

Raised in Clinton, N.C., Hall grew up learning about the gospel from an early age through his time at Grove Park Baptist Church. Throughout college, he felt God was leading him to pursue ministry — but after college, he found himself in a season of life where his faith wavered. 

For more than 15 years, he kept his distance from the faith of his youth and from the calling he felt God had placed on his life. 

“I took a 180 and ran from the call for a while,” Hall said. 

Four years ago, that direction changed. A personal crisis prompted him to “fall on his knees” and return to Christ. Hall, along with his two children, began to attend Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Clinton, where he returned to his faith and found his way back to his calling. In January 2024 he fully surrendered to a calling to ministry, just as God had prompted him several years before. 

In the following days, Hall would receive an unexpected call from his pastor, who asked him to preach the upcoming weekend while his pastor recovered from sickness. After preaching for his church that Sunday, Hall was asked to join the pulpit supply for neighboring churches in the Eastern Baptist Association. 

“It’s been a sort of whirlwind process, seeing how the Lord works,” Hall said. 

Hall has been given several opportunities to preach since January. But even he admits that he still has a long way to go and much more to learn — which is why, over the past several months, he’s been so grateful to sit in on a newly-established pastoral training program geared toward ministry leaders in his association. 

“(It’s been) an opportunity to learn from pretty strong men of faith,” Hall said.

The need for training

For years, Richard Weeks has desired to see leaders from his association be raised up to support smaller churches throughout the region. 

Weeks interacts regularly with pastors and churches across the association in his role as director of missions for the Eastern Baptist Association, in addition to his work at Charity Mission Center in Rose Hill with his wife, Tammy Weeks. Through his time in ministry, he’s seen a great need that exists in smaller, neighboring congregations. 

As an association of predominantly rural churches — with only three or four churches above 100 members, according to Weeks — many congregations have struggled to find pastors to lead their flock. 

“It was beginning to be really hard to find guys who would pastor these small churches,” Weeks said.

Recognizing the gap, Weeks began to pray with others that leaders within the association would recognize a calling from God and step up to meet the pastoral needs of these rural congregations. Toward that end, in 2022 Weeks partnered with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) to begin offering Equip courses at Charity Missions Center. Open to pastors, ministry leaders and church members alike, these courses helped establish a groundwork in the Bible and the essentials of the faith.

As church members began attending these Equip courses, some of them started to recognize that God was leading them in a special, surprising direction.

“Men began discovering that God was doing something a little extra in their life,” Weeks said. “They began to ask questions about bi-vocational ministry, which is what we really, really need in our area.”

By spring 2024, nine men had expressed interest in learning more about pastoral ministry, allowing Weeks to begin another course at Charity: “pastors-in-training” classes. Geared toward those exploring the possibility of pastoral ministry as well as those who have already been serving in ministry, these classes aim to give church leaders a handle on the calling and responsibilities of pastors. 

Weeks said that by the time they had their second lesson, the class had already grown to 12. Together, these men have committed to meet every other week to begin learning more about the calling of the pastor and the ins and outs of pastoral ministry. 

“They’re men from our local congregations that just feel like God is speaking into their heart about either doing pulpit supply, or bi-vocational ministry or even short-term interims,” Weeks said. “Right now, we’re in the early stages of helping them figure out what God’s trying to use them for.”

Photo by K. Brown. Richard Weeks (left), who serves with his wife Tammy at the Charity Missions Center in Rose Hill, N.C., has desired to see leaders from the Eastern Baptist Association be raised up to support smaller churches throughout the region.

Training for the calling

Each of the men in Charity’s “pastors-in-training” course comes in facing unique circumstances, each feeling that the Lord is leading them in different ways.

For Jim Lofts, pastor of White Oak Baptist Church in Clinton, the course serves as a way to help “fill in some gaps” in his understanding of pastoral ministry. Although he has served in ministry for more than 45 years working with youth and senior adults, only in the past year has he served as a pastor in an official capacity.

“Being the first time (in the pastorate), I wanted to make sure that I had more training,” Lofts said. 

For others such as Hall, the course is helping them discern where God may be leading. Although Hall is unsure whether he will move into a pastoral role or work in some other area, he’s confident that God is using this course to prepare him for ministry in the church. 

“I don’t know what the end goal is or where the Lord has me specifically — I don’t really see that light at the end of that tunnel yet,” Hall said. “But I’m just trying to prepare for whatever.”

Despite their various circumstances, the men agree that the “pastors-in-training” classes have been a vital benefit for their preparation for ministry. Covering principles such as pastoral calling to practical aspects such as preaching, counseling, leading weddings and funerals, and facilitating baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the men say that they are getting a true look at the life and ministry of a pastor.

“I wish every county had a place like Charity and programs like that,” Lofts said.

A vision for healthy churches

Every other week, Weeks leads these classes with a clear goal in mind: He desires to find leaders who can commit themselves to ministry so that rural churches throughout the association will thrive. 

“My end goal is that we raise up men who have an understanding of what bi-vocational ministry is,” Weeks said. “Because honestly, that’s our greatest need.”

Weeks envisions these pastors in training being sent out to the many rural churches looking for pastors or to the many more churches that may have pastors but still need additional support from ministry leaders. 

With a lineup of pastors in training, he’s hopeful that his vision of an association of healthy churches can become even more of a reality. 

“We’re excited God has given us this opportunity,” Weeks said. “I’m a big church revitalization guy, and I want to find a way to keep our churches healthy.”

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