“People think this type of leadership education is above them, but it’s really for anyone,” says Connie Willems.

By Tim Poppen

Leadership development is a popular subject—and its importance can’t be understated. Within the Synod of the Heartland, there are two new programs offering theological education and leadership training to equip people to serve their local communities: All Saints Center for Theology, Spirituality, and Leadership in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the Lincoln School of Ministry in Lincoln, Nebraska.

All Saints is a training center housed at Our Lord’s Community Church (RCA), offering courses in theological studies, spiritual formation, and leadership development. At the core of All Saints is a nine-month journey that includes three courses, each with a practicum that strengthens students’ calling, gifts, and ministry. Students can take individual courses, or they can sign up for all three in order to complete the certificate.

“We want to provide the highest level of training to people in the church,” says Connie Willems, associate director of All Saints. “This is seminary-level training, but you can stay where you are. No need to quit your job and go away someplace to study. The courses to encourage and develop leadership are right here.”

Creating an educational environment like All Saints was a long-time dream of Brock Bingaman, its founder and director. (He’s also associate pastor of discipleship at Our Lord’s Community Church.) For more than 15 years, he has wanted to have a program like this that’s grounded in the local church. Bingaman has taught at the university level in the past and provides much of the “academic muscle” for the program.

“Our biggest issue is that people think this type of leadership education is above them,” Willems says. “But it’s really for anyone who wants to travel on this transformative journey with God. We learn to do life with God and life with each other. We also want people to stay in their own church and to serve the local church. Having this type of academic training lets people learn, grow, and serve all at the same time.”

That same desire to serve the local church and the community is the driving force for Lincoln School of Ministry. Like All Saints, it offers a three-course program designed to equip people who might not have easy access to theological education. The school’s location in downtown Lincoln adds a different flavor to the school and its goals.

Lincoln School of Ministry is hosted by F Street Neighborhood Church (a dual-affiliation church plant of the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church in North America), in partnership with two other local ministries, Northern Lighthouse and Jacob’s. F Street Church is located in one of downtown Lincoln’s poorest and most diverse neighborhoods. Homelessness and addiction are not uncommon. F Street Church and Lincoln School are practicing grassroots ministry at the very roots. Instead of trying to recruit outsiders to come and serve the needs of this community, the school is working to raise up leaders from the inside.

“In the past, churches have tried to recruit disciples rather than make them,” says Jeff Heerspink, pastor of F Street Church and one of the leaders of Lincoln School. “Raising up people out of the local church is where the future ministers will come from. A former homeless person or former drug addict might be the best minister option for others in similar circumstances. They know the area. They also know the people and their situations, which makes them the best fit to serve right here. They just need to be equipped with the right tools. We hope that the Lincoln School of Ministry can provide that training for them.”

Each of the program’s three trimester-long courses explores a core aspect of ministry. The first course, Foundations, covers theology, Old and New Testament studies, and church history. The second course, Ministry, includes specific skill training in communication, pastoral care, and evangelism. The final course offering is Leadership and focuses on both personal and organizational leadership.

Students do not need to be members of F Street Church, but because the focus of the program is on serving the local church, applicants must be connected with a church and be actively involved in ministry.

“It is our hope to use all the resources that God has provided for us to work as churches and individuals together to equip the body of Christ for ministry,” says Heerspink. “We desire that we raise up leaders for not only our local churches but also to fulfill the mission of the church to reach all nations.”

Classes at both All Saints and Lincoln School of Ministry are open to anyone. You can find out more about All Saints at Our Lord’s Community Church’s website, www.olcc.org, and about Lincoln School of Ministry at F Street Church’s website, www.fstreetchurch.org.

Tim Poppen is media specialist for the Synod of the Heartland.