Learning new ministry roles is like learning to swim: there are various skills we need to learn and then we need to coordinate them together. First we watch someone swim. Then we start working on individual skills:  we learn to blow bubbles, put our head underwater, kick with our feet, add in the arm movements, and space out our breathing.

As we go, we get feedback on how we’re doing and how we can improve. We start in the shallow end and slowly move toward deeper waters. Through practice, slowly adding in new skills, and getting feedback, we eventually learn to swim. As we practice more, our skills will continue to improve.

And how do churches teach people new ministry roles? That depends on the church. Some churches function based on need. If there is a need for a new Sunday school teacher, they assign someone to the class and see how they do. In swimming terms, this is the “throw them in on the deep end and see if they float” approach.

Other churches are more concerned about quality control. If they want to develop a new Sunday school teacher, they will require that person to take extensive theology classes. The prospective new teacher isn’t given hands-on teaching practice for quite a long time out of fear that he or she might say something wrong. In swimming terms, this is like teaching swimming in a classroom setting—without water. Students watch films about swimming and study the principles of buoyancy, but they don’t get wet.

Neither of those options is effective. Instead, we need to teach ministry skills in the same way we teach swimming:  some observation, some practice in a safe environment, some coaching, some principles—but not more than they need to know at the time. Then, when the student has demonstrated some proficiency, it’s into the deeper waters. But there’s still a lifeguard there—just in case.

What does that look like in your setting? What can it look like?