James O. Maxwell and David L. Lane have spent the majority of their lives behind the pulpit. Combined, they have more than 50 years of experience training preachers. Both have written books and articles on preaching and theology.
Both believe that mentoring is an essential part of the ministry-training process. Lane counts Maxwell among his own mentors at Southwestern Christian College. Maxwell serves as vice president of institutional expansion at the 230-student, historically black college in Terrell, Texas.
Maxwell earned a Doctor of Ministry from Southern Methodist University and is minister emeritus of outreach and development for the Roswell Avenue Church of Christ in Kansas City, Kan. He and his wife, Betty, have three children and five grandchildren.
Lane ministers for the Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas. He has a Doctorate of Philosophy in Clinical Theology from Aspen University. He and his wife, Stephanie, conduct marriage enrichment conferences. They have three children and two grandchildren.
How did you receive your preacher training?
Lane: As a child, my grandmother taught me how to pray, walk by faith, seek intimacy with God, the filling of the Holy Spirit and how to exegete Scripture. As a result, I started preaching at age 12.
I was serving as the minister of a congregation while a junior in high school. That is when I met my preaching mentor, Eugene Lawton. During my freshman year at Southwestern Christian College, James Maxwell became another mentor. These men have impacted my ministry the most. What they and my grandmother poured into my ministry ignited the passion to train ministers as my life’s mission.
Maxwell: I was inspired to preach when I attended Southwestern and witnessed students preaching at such an early age. Before this time, I believed that preachers had to be “perfect,” but when I saw that many of those students’ deportment was not as good as mine, I was convinced that I could preach.
I also was influenced by R.N. Hogan’s great preaching ability and J.S. Winston’s skill in the development of the local church, including conflict resolution. For more than 20 years, I assisted him in conflict resolution in Churches of Christ.
Is there an adequate supply of preachers for African-American churches?
Maxwell: There is not an adequate number of preachers with formal training and experience to deal with the complexities of a church with more than 150 members. A great number of “self-made” and congregationally trained ministers are not equipped to be pulpit ministers for larger churches, though there are exceptions.
What are the main means for producing preachers for African-American churches?
Maxwell: The main sources are the local congregation and Southwestern Christian College. Many of Southwestern’s graduates have honed their skills by continuing their education at Abilene Christian University, Oklahoma Christian University and Harding University. Some have continued their training at schools of preaching.
Describe the mentoring process for African-American preachers.
Lane: Most ministers are taught, trained and ordained by a seasoned minister and are sent out with either a letter of recommendation or an ordination certificate from the local congregation into the world to serve in ministry.
Usually the mentor maintains a very close and personal relationship with the mentee for the duration of his ministry. The mentor serves as a resource person during the points of crisis in ministry, a sounding board for doctrinal or personal challenges as well as the encourager during bouts with discouragement.
The mentee is expected to do the same for another younger minister. His ministry to him should include helping him understand the philosophy of ministry, preparation and delivery of sermons, ministry expectations, setting up ministry committees, the art of church administration, project management, as well as the training and ordination of elders and deacons.
How is the training process for African-American preachers unique?
Maxwell: Very few predominately African-American churches have good preacher-training programs, yet men with raw talent are allowed to preach.
It is safe to say that most of our preachers did not begin their higher education at a Christian college, a school of theology or a school of preaching. Many of our preachers have been privately trained and mentored by other preachers, and have taken correspondence or on-line courses.
I estimate that more than 50 percent of our churches that are able to support a full-time minister and his family have ministers who are alumni of Southwestern Christian College.
What challenges face African-American preachers today?
Maxwell: Adequate financial support, including retirement, is a major challenge for preachers. Because of this, an estimated two-thirds of these preachers need additional jobs to make up for this lack of financial support.
A second challenge is ministering to a church without elders, deacons or a desire for scriptural leadership.
A third challenge is churches that need assistant ministers, youth and family ministers, education ministers and outreach ministers — and to compensate them appropriately.
Finally, there is always the challenge of burnout because ministers have carried so many roles for too long.
What is the typical relationship in an African-American church between the preacher, elders (if they have elders) and members?
Lane: Leaders in our congregations tend to operate as either servant leaders or authoritarian leaders. We must avoid the extremes of authoritarian elders and authoritarian ministers.
Elders and ministers are to be servants and leaders — not bosses. Problems occur for most congregations when ministers and elders fight over position instead of focusing on function. Christ and his word is the authority in the church, and because he has all the power there is none left for the minister or the elders.
When the elder performs his role as shepherd and the evangelist performs his role as minister, the congregation operates in an environment of growth and good health.
What expectations do African-American churches have of their preachers?
Lane: Ministers are expected to not only serve as preacher, teacher, trainer, but also as an administrator, setting in order things that are wanting. His skill set must include all four areas if he is to be successful.
One’s approach to ministry depends largely on how he and his mentor interpret Paul’s statement to Titus to “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders,” on Crete (Titus 1:5, King James Version).
Many interpret “setting the church in order” as ordaining elders only. But if that were true, ordaining elders would have set the church in order.
Instead, Paul says “and,” suggesting that they are two different responsibilities.