How to Build a Residency

By Ryan Johnston

You can build a lasting residency program that you deeply believe in by working through a process that helps you define three things: your terms, your why and your content.

One of the greatest legacies a pastor could leave behind is to raise up laborers for the harvest in the form of a cascading flow of missionaries, pastors, planters and church staff. Over the past year, I have worked with hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders wanting to develop a residency. Some of the residencies are similar, but each one also is uniquely different.

You can build a lasting residency program that you deeply believe in by working through a process that helps you define what you want in your residency.

You must define three things: your terms, your why and your content.

Define your terms: The spectrum of definitions is vast. For the sake of simplicity, consider this definition: “A residency is a period of specialized discipleship for those who are committed to live out their calling in the ministry of the gospel.” Churches use various terms to describe residents, such as interns, associates and apprentices. Some think about church residents and interns in hospital terms: Residents do the work of a doctor and interns hand doctors’ tools to do work. What terms will you use in your residency and how will you define them?

Define your why: Every pastor needs a minimum of three biblical and three practical reasons to do a residency. These become the passionate plea, calling and underpinning reasons for why we are raising up laborers. If we do not define why we are doing it, then we will not have the strength to keep it up long term. For me, the simplest “why” to doing a residency is that Jesus told us to pray for more laborers and He displayed to us how to raise them up. We do not have enough ready laborers to do the work needed in every region across North America. Might we pray and work to see more raised up within our churches! Define your why.

Define your content: When you launch your residency, what are you going to give to a resident?  This is where the substance of your residency will be developed. Consider the following three questions to help you unearth specifically what you want to do in your residency.

1. What did Jesus do?
Jesus dedicated three years of His ministry to this task, and He had a unique approach. Brainstorm through His ministry: What stands out about the way He approached the disciples? What were His training methods? What environments did He create? Examine the Gospels and you’ll see how Jesus developed people. Might our residencies reflect Christ and how He developed others! Build your residency to reflect His methods.

2. How were you developed?
Reflect on four core development environments that have shaped you: people, responsibilities, books and experiences. The best thing we give away to residents is what we have been given. Paul told his disciple Timothy to “guard the good deposit that has been entrusted to you.” In the same way, consider the “good deposit” given to you. Who were the top three men who invested in you and how did they do it? What were the responsibilities that stretched you to become who you are? What books shaped how you approach ministry? What experiences shaped your worldview and ministry practice? Our development is bigger than classrooms but nonetheless has specific learning environments. A resident learns in these practical ways; time shoulder-to-shoulder with you, giving responsibility that will stretch them, reading transformative books and providing practical experiences. Build your residency to give away what you have been given.

3. What does your church uniquely offer?
Every church has a unique role in seeing the gospel impact the culture of its region. What are the core values, convictions and practices that you deeply believe in and want reproduced in another ministry? Be intentional about how your church’s own uniqueness ought to be reflected in your residency. Your church has something to offer, let your theological, Christological, missiological and ecclesiological approaches impact your residents.

You have everything you need in you and in your church to build a residency. Reverse engineer it. Build a simple one-page syllabus that will define what a resident is. Why do you want to do a residency? How will it reflect Christ’s methods? How and what will you give away out of what you’ve been given? How will your church give away who it is?

Make sure your residency syllabus creates a common learning pathway, environments for learning, a shared life experience and a commitment to loving candor. I love how Clint Clifton breaks it down: “A residency is very simple. It is one man giving away what God has given him, in its most basic form.”

Pastors across North America are taking up the mantle of developing the next generation of leaders and sending out laborers into the harvest. Join the movement, build a residency and watch God bear lasting fruit from your life that cascades upon the landscape of our world for the glory of God!

Published April 6, 2022

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Ryan Johnston

Ryan Johnston serves as the Send Network's church planting leader in Kansas and Nebraska. During 20 years of ministry, he has served in multiple roles within the local church. As a pastor, he has spent the greater part of his ministry investing in and raising up pastors, church planters and leaders. Recently he has focused on using residency builder events to help pastors develop church planting residencies that are unique to them. Ryan is passionate about personal discipleship, kingdom expansion and pastoral health. He has been married to his wife, Debby, for 19 years and they have five children.