By Lonnie Wilkey
CLEVELAND — A ministry initiated by First Baptist Church, Cleveland, prior to the beginning of a worldwide pandemic, not only continued but has met a tremendous need, agree organizers of Shepherds to Shepherds.
Shepherds to Shepherds is the brainchild of Allen Lockerman, pastor emeritus of First Baptist and is an integral part of the church’s Lockerman Leadership Institute.
“To Allen’s chagrin, we put his name on it,” said Ernest Easley, who coordinates the program.
“It has been his dream to mentor bivocational and small church pastors,” added Easley, the father of current FBC pastor Jordan Easley and a former professor of evangelism at Union University in Jackson.
Lockerman, who retired two years ago as pastor at First Baptist, agreed. “Over the years I have had an interest and desire to mentor bivocational and younger pastors,” he said.
Lockerman recalled that he never had “an older pastor to mentor me. I think about what could have been if I could have had a mentor,” he added.
He said the goal of the ministry “is to put together a band of brothers who we could pour our lives into and who could pour their lives into us as Shepherds to Shepherds.”
Twelve bivocational pastors, who were vetted by CrossNet Baptist Association, were chosen as the first participants in the year-long program which was divided into four sections, Easley said. All participants were required to sign off on the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
Easley said the church intentionally reached out to the local association and director of missions Phil Taylor.
“It highlights the importance of the association,” Easley said. “We are partnering with the association to locate men who will benefit from a year-long mentoring ministry,” he added.
Taylor expressed his appreciation for the ministry. “The Lockerman Learning Institute is a huge addition to one of our association’s core values of equipping another generation of pastors.”
He noted that as he talks to pastors who want to talk “about the nuts and bolts of ministry and he wants to go to another level in his leadership, it has been a blessing to be able to recommend him to the Shepherds to Shepherds.”
Taylor affirmed that Shepherds to Shepherds was “a dream of Dr. Lockerman several years before he retired,” the DOM said.
“It is a joy to see the dream become a reality,” he said.
How it works
Each of the sessions focused on a various aspect of ministry: pastoral care, Christian leadership, evangelism and preaching.
The team met once a week in person (at least until the pandemic) for two hours for each of the six-week sessions. After the COVID-19 outbreak in March, classes were held via Zoom meetings.
It was not just an academic exercise, Lockerman and Easley stressed. “It really has become a group of men working together,” observed Lockerman who taught the session on pastoral care. “We tried to not make it academic. We wanted it to be relational learning,” he added.
The current group of students has completed three of the four six-week courses. The last one, which focuses on expository preaching, began Oct. 5.
The 12 pastors have an extra incentive to continue to complete the program. Thanks to First Baptist, Cleveland, the participants who finish the courses, are provided a trip to the Holy Land at no cost.
Due to the pandemic, it could be delayed, Lockerman acknowledged.
As of now, the Israel government is not allowing groups to enter the country, he noted.
“Hopefully, they will open up before it’s time to take the trip so we can take these men on a life-changing journey,” Lockerman said.
He believes strongly that the trip to Israel is a vital element of the men’s education and development. “After a trip to Israel, a person is never the same,” he noted. “There is something about being in the land that helps you better grasp and understand the Bible.”
Easley agreed that the Israel trip “has been a good motivator” for the pastors. He noted that one pastor had to drop out. “We knew we might lose some. Life happens, crises happen. If we can end with 11, that’s pretty good,” he observed.
Relationships wit other pastors
Easley added that it has been great to see the pastors develop relationships. “These guys have grown to love each other and to be transparent with each other.”
Another benefit is that the men “now have a relationship with Lockerman that none of them had before. They can call him.”
Easley, who taught the sessions on evangelism, also said that the pastors have gained mentors in himself, Jeff Lovingood, executive pastor of FBC, who taught the Christian leadership course and helped guide the pastors through the COVID crisis, and Hays Wicker of North Carolina who currently is teaching the expository preaching course.
“Shepherds to Shepherds is meeting a need in their lives. Before this, some of them did not even know each other even though they were in the same association,” Easley said.
Roger “Sing” Oldham, who is helping to develop the 317 Ministry Training Institute for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (see story above), applauded the initiative First Baptist is taking with the pastors.
“Allen Lockerman’s ministry has been built around building up others. Ernest Easley, who has also poured his life into others throughout his ministry, has done a great job of taking Allen’s vision and fleshing it out,” Oldham observed.
“The Institute provides bivocational pastors with valuable hands-on ministry training, facilitated by four seasoned pastors whose primary aim is to do life together with the participants. The program is built around four key areas of pastoral calling, but it is also designed to forge bonds of friendship and accountability that will last a lifetime. So many pastors feel isolated and alone. It may be that this aspect of the Institute will be its most enduring,” Oldham said, while expressing his hope to see “these kinds of training opportunities expand across the state.”
The first participants of Shepherds to Shepherds also affirmed the ministry.
“Shepherds to Shepherds has become a real highlight in my week,” said Mike Wallin, pastor of Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, Cleveland.
“It is a real blessing to be able to share in each other’s burdens and celebrate the successes,” he said.
Johnathan Powell of Oak Grove Baptist Church, Cleveland, agreed. “In this time of increased isolation, Shepherds to Shepherds has allowed me to stay connected with fellow pastors. It has helped me to realize that not only is my church not alone, but we have an important role to play in a much larger effort,” he said.
Easley said First Baptist has no plans to discontinue what the Institute is doing. “We are beginning conversations for next year,” he observed. While it is a budget and scheduling issue, “at this point I don’t know how we can’t do it,” he added.
“We are asking God to raise up 12 more men. If we can impact 12 men a year, that will impact a lot of churches over a short period of time,” Easley observed.
Lockerman also expressed his desire to continue the initiative. “For us, this is an experiment. We’re trying to see what works and what doesn’t.
“We want to shepherd alongside these men who are working in their own churches,” he stressed. B&R