Early in my tenure as national representative, a friend gave me a book that proved to be influential in shaping my thoughts regarding my vision for the GARBC. At that time I had been searching for books and articles to help me understand and prepare for my new role.

My friend was assigned Hit the Bullseye: How Denominations Can Aim the Congregation at the Mission Field as required reading for an advanced continuing education seminary course. The book’s author, Paul D. Borden, was the course instructor. The author, a former district director for a Baptist denomination, noted that many churches in his region were in decline. He set out to implement a strategy that would reverse the decline and improve the trend. Much of his strategy was based on training and “resourcing” pastors and churches.

Unlike our association, his denomination had a greater level of centralized infrastructure. Pastors had to fulfill an annual requirement of continuing education units to stay current in their professional skills. I admit that I envied his ability to make continuing education a requirement. Since there is no “R” for “requirement” in the distinctive acronym of independent B-A-P-T-I-S-T-S, I looked for alternative approaches to achieve the same end.

In my tenure, I have used the venues of articles, workshops, training seminars, recommended books, and conferences to foster a culture of continuing education by encouraging all of us in the fellowship to constantly improve in our professional competencies. I have modeled the value of learning by pursuing further formal education. On Jan. 29, I participated in the defense of my dissertation for a continuing education degree program at Baptist Bible Seminary. It seemed like I had been pursuing the degree forever. C’est fini!

It is encouraging that the vast majority of the pastors in our fellowship are self-disciplined and make the effort to keep learning. They read, attend conferences, and take classes to upgrade their ministry competencies. They refuse to be satisfied with “same old same old.” The old dogs still desire to learn a trick or two.

A frustration I have had in fostering a culture of improvement in our association is the ability to provide a forum for ongoing training that extends beyond a single session or day. I have found that to work on long-term, serious solutions to professional ministry challenges requires ongoing instruction rather than one-shot injections. How would it be possible to create relationships that are more long-term mentoring than itinerant encounters? I knew we had a brain trust of expertise in the fellowship and beyond that could be tapped. However, how could that brain trust be accessed in a cost-effective way that could produce credible results of professional development?

Enter the Regular Baptist Web Community, an online network that brings together skilled veterans of ministry specialties with motivated learners to work on solutions to the challenges of day-to-day local church ministry. In our Learning Labs a small group of learners meet online with a capable facilitator to examine a particular ministry challenge. The objective of the four-week Learning Lab is for each learner to achieve a personalized approach to solving the challenge. Often the times of interaction develop into an ongoing relationship with the mentor to continue the process of improvement.

As a future step in the development of the Regular Baptist Web Community, we are working with an accredited school so that Learning Lab participants can obtain credit for their work through a process of portfolio assessment. The requirements will include mandatory reading and completion of a critical review paper. The goal is to have the final arrangements implemented later this year.

This season we will be offering a great lineup of enriching Learning Labs and a cohort for learners who desire to enhance their ministry skills. Regular Baptist Web Community events are open to pastors, church members, and ministry students. I invite you to take advantage of these valuable events.

John Greening is national representative for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.