The RCA developed the commissioned pastor designation [link to page describing CPs, telling how to become one, and including a CP story, or several] in order to multiply pastoral leaders as a way to ensure the exponential multiplication of new church plants in the RCA.
While growth happens when you add followers, exponential growth comes only by multiplying leaders. The apostle Paul learned this in the Ephesus period of his early church planting movement: “What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul put this insight into practice on his third missionary journey in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10). As a result, the message of the kingdom spread through a whole region and many churches were planted.
Raising up leaders from within the local church, from the harvest and for the harvest, is the key to deep and rapid change in a region. Lead followers and you will add; lead leaders and you will multiply.
Jesus exhibited this strategy extensively. Beginning with crowds in the marketplace and neighborhoods, he made converts whom he then apprenticed daily as disciples. The disciples became workers in the harvest under Jesus’ “show-how” method of having disciples do what he did and teach what he was teaching (Matthew 9:35-10:8; Luke 10). Declaring and demonstrating the kingdom of heaven was central and foundational to all that followed. These leaders were formed in the ministry by a strong, field-based, apprenticing method, where Jesus personally knew each emerging leader’s calling, character, competency, and chemistry with others. “Classroom” teaching of large groups was largely reserved for the crowds; leadership development happened night and day, up close and personal.
The designation of commissioned pastor has its roots in this biblical concept of “equipping-leaders.”
Ephesians 4:11-13 is the “architectural design” passage in terms of defining equipping-leaders. It describes the leaders Jesus still gives the church today so that all of God’s people are equipped for ministry in the marketplace and with each other. As the Ephesians passage teaches, the result of properly functioning equipping-leaders in the church is unity, maturity, and fullness in Christ.
Since his ascension, Christ has continued to give his kingdom apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers—five leadership roles that equip the saints and that are meant to work in concert with one another. This is very evident in the New Testament (Acts 13:1-4; 14:4, 14; 1 Cor. 12:28) and in most parts of the world today, especially the Global South.
The call in the commissioned pastor era is to look where the reformers of the 16th century were pointing—to Christ, the New Testament, and the early church. Churches need to again receive the five-fold equipping leaders Christ is sending them in order to reach their full redemptive potential.
The commissioned pastor designation is all about:
Vision: To release all the leaders Christ has given us to serve and equip the church, allowing them to reach their full potential in the kingdom.
Mission: To restore a multiplying and sending church for the sake of our society, in order to see a far more holy, catholic (kingdom-wide), and apostolic church emerge under strong biblical leadership.
- Being church-based, because the church cannot over-delegate the crucial role of leadership development for churches to learning institutions such as seminaries.
- In-ministry formation so that tested-ness, fruitfulness, and prayerfulness develop along with understanding and skills while on the job.
- Life-long learning: humility and hunger for continued development in the context of real ministry should mark a leader, rather than certification and tenure after schooling with or without demonstrated impact in evangelism, discipleship, and leadership.
- The five C’s—calling, character, competency, chemistry, and courage.
- A strongly biblical worldview.
- Process-oriented leadership development: the wide end of the funnel is the congregation, which calls and equips commissioned leaders who can then go on to the classis designation of commissioned pastor.
- Parity between commissioned pastors and those with the title of minister of the Word and sacrament, especially when a CP is assigned a similar ministry such as church planting or pastoring a church; the same gifts, calling, empowerment by the Holy Spirit, word, and kingdom shape the leader in both the seminary-based and the church-based training environment.
Flexibility: The equipping-leaders approach develops leaders in contexts where the church needs indigenous leadership to emerge. This is true, for example, for Native Americans, who have had a difficult time receiving back seminary-trained leaders.
Accessibility: Commissioned pastor training is inexpensive and is usually available nearby; an emerging leader can stay in his or her ministry context and doesn’t have to take on a large tuition debt that would shrink options for a “tent-making” approach to ministry.
Accountability: The equipping-leaders approach meets the RCA standards for all church leaders as described in the Book of Church Order, and it is under continual classis and church supervision. In addition, commissioned pastors are reviewed and evaluated annually, receive ongoing training, and undertake a five-year reenlistment check on their fruitfulness and function.
Exponential growth: Because the context for such leader training expands exponentially from dozens trained by seminaries to thousands raised up by other leaders, and because the equipping leaders themselves can in turn train other leaders, leadership for the church multiplies steadily in the third and fourth generations, as in the model demonstrated in 2 Timothy 2:2 and Ephesians.