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Emmaus Church equips young pastors

KANSAS CITY – On the front of the marquee at Screenland Armour Theatre, you’ll find a list of what movies are showing that week. But on Sundays, you’ll quickly discover that the main attraction isn’t about popcorn and entertainment. For Emmaus Church in Kansas City, that meets at the theater, the focus is on worship, the Gospel and impacting the world by training and equipping future pastors and ministry leaders.

At the start of this year, a group of 17 men entered the church’s pastoral residency program. On Pastor Josh Hedger’s Facebook page, you’ll find the group smiling around a table looking ready for another year of training.

“I’m incredibly thankful to pastor a church where we get to intentionally call, train, affirm, & send pastors to the nations,” Hedger, pastor of teaching and vision at Emmaus Church, wrote in the Jan. 31 post. “If you are considering pastoral ministry, consider spending 2.5 years with Emmaus Church preparing!”

In America, Hedger noted, there are a lot of churches, but there are not a lot of healthy churches led by healthy pastors. “What a great joy and privilege we, as the church, have to help call, equip, affirm, and send healthy pastors to healthy churches,” he said.

Hedger and Ronni Kurtz launched Emmaus Church and its vision to train and equip pastors in 2014. Today, it attracts about 350 in attendance each Sunday. Kurtz, who leads the program and describes his “deepest passion” as training pastors, said it isn’t about “trying to recreate the wheel.”

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Kurtz, pastor of teaching, equipping and training, acknowledges that completing the program is not easy. And he and Hedger have had to make peace with the fact that not everyone who begins the training will finish.

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But it’s that way by design, Hedger said. Anyone can push through a 6-month internship, he noted.

“But when you press on a guy’s theology, family, emotions, and calling for 2.5 years, you begin to see true strengths, weaknesses and callings,” he said. “Whether a guy finishes equipped and affirmed by the church or he leaves the residency either to pursue another vocation or to work on areas of his life that need to be addressed, we consider this a success.” 

Most of the program’s residents are Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students, said Kurtz, who also is Midwestern’s assistant director, marketing and managing editor with For the Church and a PhD student. Each year the program accepts 5 to 7 residents. And after completing the program, some of the residents have gone on to serve ministries in places like Seattle, Rhode Island, St. Louis and Waco, Texas. Kurtz noted the program has seen many join IMB’s pipeline to pastor overseas in some capacity.

Kurtz pointed out the program is about complementing, not overlapping what the residents are learning in seminary.

The program pushes those residents to consider a variety of “theological realities” and “walking through the nuts and bolts of ecclesiology,” Kurtz said.

• How would you operate a counseling session?

• How do you perform marriages?

• What’s your understanding of divorce and remarriage?

• What’s your understanding of theological triage and how to operate within the context of a local church?

It’s about keeping them focused on what pastoral ministry truly is and isn’t about, he said. Young pastors, he noted, will often be tempted to base the worthiness of their ministry on the wrong things.

“As these young guys come in, they really want to compare themselves with one another,” he said. “And what we’re trying to help equip them to do is not to fall into those kinds of pits, not fall into the numbers game or the comparison game, but to be deeply rooted in the Gospel and minister out of the nourishment the Gospel gives.”

Corey Chaplin is one of the many success stories of the residency program.

Chaplin went through the program and was sent out to help lead a church plant in Rhode Island, where he said there are reportedly less than 1 percent evangelical.

“This is not just some theoretical, theological training that we’re driving toward,” Chaplain said in a promotional video on the church’s website. “But this is actually, we’re being equipped to shepherd a people.”

One of the toughest parts of the program, said Hedger, is saying “Gospel goodbyes” to those like Chaplain who moves on to a new church to serve.

“We get used to saying these goodbyes,” Hedger said. “They come often for us. They are times of tears and celebration. It’s a challenge, because our church is constantly losing residents and their wives who are friends of ours, volunteer staff, community group leaders, deacons, etc.”

“It’s a blessing because we get to constantly see God use our church in his plans of gospel advancement.” 



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