Four Reasons You Should Start a Residency

By Clint Clifton

Starting a residency will transform your ministry and your church. Here are four reasons to have an intentional plan for turning members into missional leaders.

Every pastor should start a residency and work in a focused way to develop members into missional leaders.

Allow me to share with you four reasons I believe that.

1. A Residency Will Bring You Incredible Joy

The apostle John described his spiritual “children” and said that watching them walk in the truth produced the greatest joy in his life (1 John 3). John’s words resonate with me because, now that I’m in my 40s, I can honestly say that my greatest joys in ministry are related to the success of those I had a hand in developing, not in my own ministry progress or fruitfulness.

Maybe you’re thinking, “What do I really have to offer?” You might think you don’t have much to offer because your church is small and you’re not well-known. That’s a lie. God wants to use you to develop missional leaders and expects you to dedicate yourself to it, regardless of the size of your congregation, the number of followers you have on Twitter or the degrees you have hanging on your office wall.

Pastorally and personally, preparing individuals for gospel ministry satisfies the soul. It’s the same type of satisfaction I get sitting in a lawn chair and watching my kids play in the yard. A special joy comes with being part of someone’s ministry journey and a residency will help you experience that joy many times over.

2. You Have Something Unique to Offer Residents

Many churches have a core value regarding excellence. The basic idea of this value is fine, “Everything we do should be done with excellence.” Paul seems to affirm a similar idea in Colossians 3:23, saying, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (ESV).

However, the way we interpret and measure this value can be harmful to the church, especially as it relates to developing missional leaders. If we have taken the excellence value to mean we must have expensive equipment, expansive facilities, exemplary orators and entertaining musicians, then we think anything less than that doesn’t honor God. I trust the fallacies of measuring excellence by worldly standards are apparent to you. John Calvin wrote, “The excellence of the church does not consist in multitude but in purity.”1 In other words, the church is excellent when the church is pure before God.

One unfortunate consequence of trying to be “the best” is that it leaves little room for aspiring, not-so-good, wannabe leaders to grow. Highly professional environments are not good learning environments. We learn better in amateur settings where there is an opportunity to try what we have been learning without being constantly reminded of how inexperienced we currently are.

The church should be a place where amateurs get lots of opportunities.

If we buy into the excellence propaganda, we may ship off aspiring leaders to “better qualified” people or programs. If a young man comes up to you following a service and says, “Pastor, I think God is calling me to preach,” you may be tempted to recommend a seminary or an online training program, rather than seizing the opportunity to equip a saint for ministry work.

I’m fond of G.K. Chesterton’s comment on this subject: “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”2 Chesterton was not advocating that we do things badly. Rather, he acknowledged that some things are worth doing poorly at first, simply because they are yours to do. You may feel someone else out there is better suited to prepare your people for ministry. I am here to tell you that you have something unique to offer up-and-coming ministers that they could never get from a celebrity pastor or a seminary class. You have four personal advantages for equipping your saints.

Advantage 1: A peek inside your home
For most churchgoers, the pastor’s life is pretty mysterious. Many assume there are no arguments in your home, you sing worship songs around the table before dinner every night and you never have problems. One of the most powerful things you can do for someone is to demystify ministry for those who only see it from a distance. A peek inside your home allows them to see both the normalcy and intentionality with which you live.

Advantage 2: A good look at the underbelly
When I entered vocational ministry, I discovered that, although ministry was wonderful in some respects, some aspects of becoming a “professional” Christian weren’t so wonderful. As I develop new missional leaders, I have found it is actually helpful to share these challenges with them before they enter ministry, so they are not blindsided by the inevitable challenges.

Advantage 3: Your personal tools
I like to work with tools and, when I was a young boy, I was given my grandfather’s handmade toolbox. I don’t know the story behind the toolbox, but it seems he made it out of scrap wood. My grandfather died when I was very young, so I don’t really remember anything about him. All I know about the toolbox is that it was made with his two hands and was passed down to me. It’s not very fancy and doesn’t hold any monetary value, but it is important to me. If I saw it in an antique store, I would pass right by without giving it a second thought.

Now, compare that to the coolest toolbox imaginable – an over-sized, deluxe rolling toolbox with multiple drawers and USB ports. Would I trade my grandfather’s toolbox for one of those? Never in a million years! My grandfather’s toolbox means something to me because it’s personal.

The same thing is true in ministry mentorship. As a leader, you have the opportunity not just to share just any tool but to share your tool. When you share something personal you learned about preaching, counseling or navigating difficult theological issues, you are passing along something very personal. When I show you my favorite study tools, I am showing you a part of myself. When I let you in on what is going on in my head and heart while in disagreement with a church member, I am revealing something personal you will learn from. That is an important gift to pass along to someone else.

Advantage 4: Unrestricted access
Brother Dannie, my ministry mentor, has for three decades now given me unrestricted access to every tool, resource and advantage he has gotten his hands on. I can call him about anything, personal or professional. If I need an endorsement, Brother Dannie is there for me. If I need advice, he is there for me. If I need to be humbled, he is there for me. Brother Dannie knows Jesus and loves Jesus, and he knows me and loves me. My experience tells me that the kind of relationship I share with Brother Dannie is exceptionally rare. And the truth is, if you are a young or aspiring minister who does not have someone like this in your life, there is probably nothing I can do about that. I can, however, challenge you to do this for someone else.

3. A Residency Is Effective

If you are a pastor, you probably went into ministry because you wanted to connect people with Jesus and contribute to the kingdom’s growth. But how does the average, run-of-the-mill, non-celebrity pastor make a kingdom impact? Through a bigger church? A large social media platform? A book? The answer is probably not what you would expect. For most pastors, the straightest path to the greatest impact is a residency. If you make an intentional plan to develop the members of your church into missional leaders, soon you will hear your ministry echoing all around you.

Let me illustrate this point with two examples from my life.

First, Brother Dannie began developing me when I was 16 years old. We had a group discipleship meeting on Mondays before school. I showed up every week at 6:30 a.m. with six other young men from our church. We laughed, prayed and ever so slowly walked through a now out-of-print book by Henry Blackaby entitled Called and Accountable. The book examined the qualifications of a pastor in 1 Timothy 3:1-6 and Titus 1:5-9.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but Brother Dannie was putting us through a ministry residency. He taught us about what God expects of a pastor and promised to help us achieve the type of character required for ministry. The crazy thing about those early morning meetings was that they worked! It did not seem like a big deal at the time, but those young men and I now serve in ministry all over the country and have an astonishing combined ministry bandwidth between us.

Second, I established a residency in the first year of planting our church. It was not expensive and complicated. In fact, it was free and simple. We studied the Bible and talked. It did not take much time, just two hours per week. I simply invited impressive young men from my church to spend time with me each week to study the Bible, much like Brother Dannie had done with me years before. The men who were hungry to grow took me up on my invitation. Those who were too busy didn’t show up.

I intentionally shaped our weekly time. I talked about pastoral qualifications, the impact of the local church, the need for the gospel and the many ways God has used ordinary Christians throughout history to do His work. I told them my job was to equip them (Eph. 4:12), but that it was God’s job to call them. When I saw evidence of a ministry gifting in one of their lives, I quickly acknowledged it. To my surprise, one by one, they began expressing an aspiration for gospel ministry, many of them for church planting.

Today, many of the men I spent time with in residency are gospel ministers. It is not because I am all that good at residency. It is because I am committed to doing it. As the saying goes, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and again.” Here is what I know for sure: It does not matter how good you are at it. If you never spend any time preparing members to be missional leaders, you will never develop any pastors, church planters or missionaries. The opposite also is true. If you dedicate time every week to equipping members for ministry, even if you are not very good at it, then you will prepare and send people out on mission.

4. Your Ministry Bandwidth Will Increase

Developing a residency will increase your ministry bandwidth. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but trust me that it is true. For now, understand the simple reality that if more people consider themselves gospel ministers in your church, then more gospel ministry will happen in your church. If you increase the amount of time and energy you put into helping those hungry to learn and develop fruitful ministries, then you will find more needs will be met, more gospel conversations will take place and more discipleship will happen. Overall, your church will be a healthier place.

When I spend time developing others and delegating tasks to them, I notice they experience the joy of ministering – and I accomplish a lot more. When residents take over tasks I would complete if they were not there, my capacity for ministry increases. For example, if I spend one hour preparing them to run an event and they execute the five-hour event themselves, I gain four hours to do other ministry work.

If you are maxed out and stressed over the items on your to-do list, you probably are wondering, “Do I have time for this? Can I even give energy and attention to a residency?” My answer is that if you don’t, then you will have less time for ministry. Developing others not only helps prepare and equip people for ministry (which you are commanded to do), it also alleviates the burden of ministry as it is shared by more members. The impact of your ministry will be measured not just through your own kingdom work but also in the ministry God does through those you develop.

Every church should have an intentional plan for turning members into missional leaders. This is just another way of saying that churches should make disciples who make disciples. You will discover incredible joy as your unique gifts are shared with developing missional leaders. You will find your ministry multiplying and your effectiveness increasing by starting a residency in your church.

For more on residencies, download the free ebook How to Start a Residency.

1 John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah (Ravenio Books, 2012), 102.
2 G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World? (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1912), 320.

Published April 12, 2023

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Clint Clifton

Clint Clifton is the founding pastor of Pillar, a multiplying church in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the senior director of resource and research strategy at the North American Mission Board. He is the author of several books and periodicals on the subject of church planting, including Church Planting Thresholds: A Gospel Centered Church Planting Guide and Church Planting Primer and is the host of the Church Planting podcast.