A Senior Pastor's Take on Investing in Residents

Discovery Christian Church in Broomfield, Colorado (Denver) is several years into building a residency program.  Recently, we *sat down with the Lead Pastor of Discovery, Steve Cuss, to talk about the unique view a senior pastor brings to such an endeavor.  Discovery averages about 1,000 people on a typical week and is about fourteen-years-old.

Can we begin with an overview of where Discovery has been in terms of residency? We started residency in 2015 with one resident from Nebraska Christian College in Omaha. She began mid-year in January in our Worship Arts Department, and we added a second resident that summer onto our Children’s team. In 2016, we expanded by adding residents to our Youth and Discipleship departments. Currently, we have a total of 5 residents, and there is always an overlap between who is new and who is doing a second year. I can’t really keep up with it, and that’s why I’m glad we have Renae Loring, who serves as our Pastor of Global Ministries and Leadership Development.

You’ve mentioned that you view Discovery as a teaching church. What do you mean by that?Yeah, we see ourselves as a development church. I came to Christ as a teenager from a complete blank slate—an unchurched home. When I went to a Bible College, I got a 22% on my Bible Entrance Exam! I couldn’t put Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the correct order, for example. But, I did have a youth pastor that very quickly put us on the front lines of ministry; we had high ownership of the church service as teenagers. I’m sure we were pretty bad at it, but we really believed the weight of the church was on our shoulders.

Almost three decades later, I can draw a straight line from that leadership development to my skills today. So just like my youth pastor did for me, I want to make sure we don’t set the bar of excellence too high so that a residency cannot be involved. In order to be a teaching church you have to ensure they have the opportunity.

So, this model is much like a teaching hospital, right? For example, one doctor doesn’t walk into the room alone; rather, there’s a line of younger people in lab coats learning alongside him.Yes! The other added bonus of being a development culture is how well it develops our current leaders. Leaders don’t grow if they are not developing people, so I see two sides to the development coin.

What do you hope are the outputs? What are your expectations upon a student completing this program? I guess we have a few goals. One is to add to what they learn in college. Some pastors are quick to say things like, “I wish they taught me ____ in college,” but honestly, that has never made sense to me as there are some skills and experiences that can only be learned in the trenches of ministry.

I hope our residents learn to fail well, to build a resilience for what is a very tough role, to learn to engage with actual unchurched people, to understand themselves better, like what makes them tick or what ticks them off—just some base level self-awareness, and to learn some significant skill and craft in the process.

What does that look like? Well, yesterday, I took two of my residents to a lunch with a local Muslim imam and an urban African-American pastor to talk about racial injustice and systemic poverty. I’m constantly asking people I schedule meetings with, “Can I bring my residents along?” The week before we were teaching those same residents how to walk onto a stage after a worship song and lead what is next.

So, I expect our residents to come away with a broad range of skills for ministry. Most of all, I expect our residents to be brave and to continually step significantly out of their comfort zones and depend on God in their ministry.

From where does your motivation to do this come? After college, I served as a hospital chaplain for a year and did 4 units of “Clinical Pastoral Education.” The basic premise is to put a ministry student in a trauma-filled environment for a year in order for him or her to learn who he or she really is. I discovered a great deal about myself and how I perceive the world—what I am afraid of, etc. I come from a tradition that didn’t know what to do with a shadow or dark side. This experience really opened my eyes to the power of God which is available when I offer him my dark side, temptations, fear, etc. This experience motivates me to broaden our students’ experiences in becoming more self-aware.

It takes a commitment to fail positively, especially publicly (on stage, etc.) for residents. How have you determined where the line is for acceptability? Oh man, this one is very difficult. It helps that we have communicated to our congregation that “we hold excellence and development in tension,” and also that “everyone of us is in development.” I am better at preaching than our residents partly because of gifting, but mainly because I’ve done it more often. My first years at Discovery I had some really cringe-worthy sermons. Ha! So, will we have some uncomfortable moments from our residents? Yes. But, someone has to let them do this in a safe environment.

Surely you follow these “fails” with evaluation and coaching, right? Yes. I don’t think we have a handle yet on the “acceptable line,” but I look for courage and vulnerability. If a resident is courageous, willing to put himself or herself out there and give it everything, I’ll generally go to bat for them every time. If the resident is moving toward comfort, I’ll turn the heat up a good bit instead.

If a church your size is considering residency, what would you say to their senior pastor? Well, first I’d say, don’t do it to get cheap labor. You will have to truly invest in people, not extract from people.

Secondly, I’d say that you need residents to keep you young and open to new thoughts. Be open to their ideas that they share in meetings and in other settings. The energy our residents bring is fantastic!

Thirdly, if you want to grow as a leader, bring on a resident. If one of your key leaders needs to grow, make him lead a resident.

What are the ingredients required that go into making a successful residency? Logistically, you need money, housing arrangements, and a firm commitment from your staff to develop students. Then, you need a bit of time to figure it out. Assess your situation and realize what does your team and church intuitively do that is worth passing on, and then turn that into some sort of training path. It does not have to be formal, but it must be intentional.

For us, it is a 9-month class that meets every other week for 2 hours, and also a monthly lunch and a monthly meeting on spiritual health. That’s a purposeful commitment that is real. Lots of man-hours and personnel dollars go into this.

It helps a great deal, too, if you enjoy your residents’ company. I always look forward to time spent with my two residents; they are both outstanding, quality people.

 For a church your size to have a potentially deep bench seems like an added blessing to the process, yes? Yes! When I hire from within, I get excellent people who inherently get the culture but don’t have outside training. When I bring someone from outside, I get great fresh perspective and high adaptability, but cultural fit challenges.

With a resident, I get both.

 To learn more about Discovery’s residency program email Renae Loring, Director of Leadership Development.

 

*By this, we mean we emailed him questions, and he answered them…but you already knew that...

Dave Miller