The First Evangelical Free Church of Wichita, Kansas, has been partnering with TEDS to offer residency to seminary graduates. First Free’s two-year program offers full-time, paid positions with placement support after residency. It has blessed a number of pastors in training already and offers them multi-ethnic preaching opportunities, ministry opportunities, and mentoring from experienced pastors.
“You have the chance to work closely with the other pastors on staff, as well as an intentional, close-mentoring relationship with your direct supervisors,” said pastoral resident Dominick Wong (MDiv ‘19). “The staff at First Free care about your wellbeing and spiritual walk, and they go out of their way to pour into you.”
“The staff at First Free care about your wellbeing and spiritual walk, and they go out of their way to pour into you.”
Pastoral residency at First Free builds on the foundation of expository preaching, thoughtful congregational care, and healthy church operations that MDiv students first develop at TEDS. The church is expansive enough to allow for a wide range of ministry opportunities while also intentionally providing intimate, close-knit pathways for mentorship and collaboration; it has regular and intentional engagement with various local Evangelical Free churches from a diverse range of cultures.
First Free is a single-site church but has a multiethnic preaching team with pastors from four local congregations—African American, Chinese, Hispanic, and white. All four usually preach from the same text each week; they hold weekly meetings to study the scriptures and plan their series collaboratively (residents are also present and fully participate). Residents have frequent interactions with these pastors and get a host of opportunities to experience what ministry is like in these different contexts. Sometimes they fill preaching spots for the other congregations, which means that they gain exposure to what preaching looks like in various cultural contexts.
Lead Pastor Josh Black (MDiv ‘11) highly values this aspect of First Free’s residency program. “This multiethnic gathering brings different perspectives and experiences to the table that sharpens all of our preaching,” he said. “I don’t know of any other residency programs that are doing something like this.”
“I don’t know of any other residency programs that are doing something like this.”
The purpose of the program is to provide seminarians who already have high quality theological training with practical training of a comparable caliber. Black, who is a second-career pastor, says that he owes his successful transition to ministry to pastors and leaders in the church who invested in him, mentored him, and allowed him to fail so he could learn. As a result of this formation, he now has a heart for equipping others to do the same and especially enjoys training pastors to do faithful expository preaching. “I’m simply doing for others what was done for me,” he said.
Black meets with the residents every week to debrief with them on the ministry they’re doing, answer questions they have about life and ministry, help them as they’re looking for long-term pastorates, and pray for them. They read a book together about once a month. All of the pastors are involved in mentoring the residents, who also each have a lay mentor in the church. The residents are assigned specific responsibilities and mainly learn through hands-on ministry training. They sit in on all elder board meetings and participate when appropriate. Other responsibilities include putting together pastoral care plans and helping with community groups.
“You can learn about preaching in seminary, but you can only learn how to preach through preaching.”
The importance of putting the finishing touches on seminary education is not only recognized at First Free but also prioritized. Residents find themselves in a nurturing learning environment where they are expressing their knowledge through service to God’s church and figuring out for themselves exactly what that looks like in the real world. Black says his time at TEDS was one of the highlights of his life, yet adds, “Seminary gives you tools to study the Bible in great detail and think theologically, which is critical for pastoral ministry but not entirely sufficient. You can learn about preaching in seminary, but you can only learn how to preach through preaching.” The program is likened to a medical residency: just as a doctor learns in the hospital under the supervision of experienced doctors, so First Free’s pastoral residency program offers hands-on experience with careful oversight from experienced leaders.