Brian Sutton Explains His Vision for Leadership Development
Brian Sutton, who assumed the role of executive director of Leadership Development and Discipleship in May 2016, explains his vision for the department and how it is positioned to impact the Church of God of Prophecy’s work in the harvest.
You stepped into this role straight from being a long time pastor. Do you feel that what you’ve done to this point has led you to what you’re doing now?
My experience as a pastor, and even going through the journey of attending two seminaries, has given me a heart for every pastor and every leader who sits and ministers in a congregation. Helping pastors and leaders become better equipped to serve God’s mission is where I want our focus to always be
I always want us to ask, “How can the programs Leadership Development and Discipleship offer minister to the pastor and help those pastors and leaders meet the needs in every community where they serve?” I think we have to be practical. We have to somehow find our way to equip those pastors because every pastor, every leader in every local church is crying out to God, saying, “Lord, equip me. Lord, make me better that I can discern Your voice so that I can minister more effectively.” The hunger to meet those needs that the pastors have, it’s very real because I’ve lived there day after day, week after week, crying out to God, “Please make me able to hear Your voice and to discern Your voice.”
You have promoted a vision of 10,000 Leaders by 2020. This is something that you feel like the Lord has really spoken into your ministry.
When I came into this role, I was following great people who’ve been in this position, so there were two specific areas I wanted to see us focus. First of all, for me, since we live in a very results-driven society, I wanted to look at that and say, “God, what is the result that You want from this? What is it that You desire for this department, Leadership Development and Discipleship at the International Offices? What is it that You want us to say we want to reach?” I don’t want our vision to be my vision, I want it to be God’s vision for us. The one thing I felt inspired from the Holy Spirit is was that we could have purpose through the ministries that we have here, and we’re going to touch and equip, 10,000 leaders by the year 2020.
Several years ago, we cast a vision through the International Offices about Vision 2020, and with that came the core values, and one of those core values was greater leadership development. We use 20/20 as our model for physical vision, so spiritually, that’s what I just felt in my heart God was saying. “I want these departments to equip 10,000 leaders by 2020.” We began to compile a database for youth and children’s ministry and Center for Biblical Leadership and Accredited Ministry Development, all those ministries that operate out of these offices. We want to touch 10,000 unique people by the year 2020. Bishop Clements and all of our General Presbyters have been so wonderful in launching this vision and I’m so thankful for them. They are praying into this vision of equipping our leaders. We are all working together to seek every open door that we can walk through to equip leaders so that they can step into all that God is doing.
As our team met in staff meetings, I really feel like we heard from the Holy Spirit, that there are three specific areas that all our equipping should focus on and those are in the areas of spiritual maturity, fruitful ministry, and participation in the mission of God. Spiritual maturity means we personally have a depth in God because we cannot give away what we don’t have ourselves. We want to encourage every leader through these trainings to be more spiritually mature ad know and encounter God in His fullness. We want to have fruitful ministry, not be measured by the success of the world, but look at what God has designed for our success where we are. Lastly, we want to equip the church for participation in the mission of God, to know that the mission of God is bigger than one church where we’re serving. It’s bigger than one denomination. It’s His mission, and as I recently heard, God’s church doesn’t have a mission, but God’s mission has a church. We’re surrendering to the mission of God.
This leadership initiative, the 10,000 leaders initiative, to see us go to the Assembly of 2020 and be able to celebrate that we’ve heard from God as a body and we’ve surrendered ourselves to that equipping, and now we’re 10,000 leaders that are ready to take the work of God wherever He tells us to go.
I think it’s a great day to be in this church because I think we are seeing where the Holy Spirit is moving around the globe right next to us in our neighborhoods and around the world, but the call of the Spirit is to respond; respond, not to live in front of the Spirit and ask Him to bless what we’re doing, but to turn into this responsive people who are so tuned into the Holy Spirit. We want to be a part of what God is doing, so we’re seeing great growth. It will only come through prayer. This will not be a human initiative. There is no conceivable way that we will ever see 10,000 people really touched without prayer. We have to prevail in prayer. Why prayer’s so critical to us is that prayer is not just speaking to God, but it’s hearing from God. It’s that communication with Him.
God is leading everyone somewhere, and you have a variety of places to affirm their leadership.
If God is leading every person to become more like Him, and to be more engaged with Him, then those avenues that leadership development and discipleship programs touch, they need to be more than just equipping pulpit ministry.
There are dynamic ways to serve in children’s ministry. For example, The Children’s Ministry Institutes, our “Train the Trainers” events, and many other opportunities to be equipped through Children’s ministry trainings are just some of the leadership equipping avenues which can propel stronger leaders for the work of the kingdom of God. The same thing with our brand new young leader certification that youth ministry is launching this year. Those are skills about mentoring. The word mentoring, that’s almost a fancy word for discipleship. The young leader’s equipping is more than just training people to stand behind a pulpit. It’s training people how to serve others and disciple them and mentor them.
One of our most exciting things that we do through the Center for Biblical Leadership is this class, “Become a Church with Impact.” In my experience, the longer I pastored, the more I felt this call from the Holy Spirit that our church must make an impact in our community, being more than just being a place where people come to church. It has to be the church. We have to touch the community. In this class, which is just one of our CBL offerings, we have already seen amazing results around the world and it’s just beginning. There’s this call that every person in the body steps into this role of serving the community, of living out the incarnational ministry of Jesus in the community. That particular class lays out the five biblical functions and five biblical commitments of a local church for example. A local church has to become more than a preaching point. It has to become more than just a pulpit. It becomes a force in the community that brings Jesus and gives witness to the kingdom of God in that community.
Our partnerships through Accredited Ministries Development, which is a brand new department that we’ve begun at the International Offices, have been going very well. We currently have almost 400 students involved in our Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Masters programs in four continents. We have launched a new partnership with the Pentecostal Theological Seminary to offer accredited equipping in every age and stage of need. We are offering undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs to our Church of God of Prophecy family. We are launching our first fully online Masters program through PTS that launches this summer and we’ve already had tremendous response to that.
I’m really excited about what God is doing in these programs. We can’t wait to share these in even more states, regions, and nations.
If someone is reading or listening to this interview and is thinking “Yes, I’m in,” what are the next steps for them on their journey?
I think it would be great to find out a little bit about these four areas—youth ministry, children’s ministry, Center for Biblical Leadership, Accredited Ministry Development. All of these four departments are doing great things. Of course, I would say to them first, “Go to COGOP.org/LDD.” That way, they could look around at those websites and find out what we do. After they’ve looked at the site, try to discern where God is leading them specifically in terms of serving, where that would be. For example, our youth ministry trainings, our children’s ministry and CBL trainings, those are open to leaders of local churches. They’re open to leaders of the kingdom of God. They don’t have to be a Church of God of Prophecy leader. There’s that, those leader equipping trainings, and all that information should be on our sites. Also, they can always contact us at the International Offices or they could contact their state and national overseer for the equippings that are coming to their area.
We’re all over the globe in every continent. We conduct these trainings. If they’re looking for an accredited education, through our partnerships, we offer a wide array of opportunities. I would say to take those next steps, you would want to go to our website and find out how you can be involved. Contact your state and national regional overseer to say or your pastor to say, “I want to be involved. I want to be one of these leaders who’s equipped through LDD Ministries,” and let your pastor, or your state or national overseer help you find out exactly where you can go.
Also, through social media, we have several social media outlets through the International Offices that I would encourage someone to go to. But I do feel like Leadership Development and Discipleship at the International Offices functions to walk beside our nations, states, and regions and our awesome overseers who lead those regions. We are here to serve them. We want to be a blessing to our presiding bishops and assist them whatever they’re doing to equip pastors and leaders in their state, region, or nation.
I am so blessed to serve with an amazing team of leaders here at the offices. Every director of every department in LDD and every staff member have all just been so wonderful. We are deeply seeking God together to see Him do with us what He desires. I am so thankful for this team and I’m so thankful for all of the departments who serve the International Offices. They are all pulling with one focus and that’s to please the Lord.
What kind of personal responses have you encountered since casting this vision and assuming this role?
Often I hear pastors or leaders say, “I was ready to quit.” or “I was burned out.” Or “I was finished! In some of our equipping classes or trainings we’ve heard them tell us, “I’m going to come to one more thing. If this doesn’t work, I’m finished.'” We find the research is unbelievable, about burnout in ministry and in leadership because people are often just empty. They’re just constantly poured out, and so they’re running on empty. When you have a person that comes to training and they say, “I was done before this, but the Holy Spirit spoke to me and the Holy Spirit equipped me. The Holy Spirit filled me with a new passion.” That’s what we want to do in all of this. We want to take the eyes off of the expectations of the world and put our eyes squarely upon the working of the Holy Spirit today, what He is doing today.
No matter what context you’re in, we have to surrender ourselves to a constant filling of the Holy Spirit and a constant equipping to do more. The message of Jesus Christ has not changed. The method of delivery may be some of the reasons we are so burned out and some of the reasons we’re so tired. To hear a person say, “I was ready to quit, but God touched me here,” that’s why we all need to surrender ourselves, to equipping through whatever ministry is available. I believe God is calling us to constantly recognize that iron sharpens iron and we need that. I’m praying that we all hear God’s voice to be better equipped for his work.
—DeWayne Hamby, Editor
This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of The White Wing Messenger, the official publication of the Church of God of Prophecy. To preview or download the issue, click here. For an annual print subscription, click here.