When Karen and Mike Cardoza decided in early 2020 to participate in Jesus School, a new program at their church, they weren’t exactly sure what they were signing up for. Now, over a year later, Karen says she encourages everyone she can to attend Jesus School.
“It’s been transformational in our walk with Jesus, in our marriage, in how we do ministry,” Karen says.
Jesus School is a four-month “discipleship journey” created by Pastor Forrest Jenan of Neighborhood Church in Visalia, California, along with the help of Kate Houk, a Neighborhood Church congregant and spiritual director by profession.
“Jesus School is about becoming an apprentice of Jesus and learning how to do what he said,” Jenan says.
A few states to the east, in Denver, Colorado, Pastor Josh Shaw and other staff members at Lighthouse Church also recognized a need in their church body for more in-depth discipleship and training, specifically in the area of vocational ministry.
The staff has created a residency program focused on helping people, primarily college students, explore their calling to vocational ministry in a way that allows them to use their unique passions and skills.
“We had a lot of young people that wanted to serve and love the church, so we kind of started creating a more formal process,” Shaw says.
In both Visalia and Denver, these programs have the goal of leading people into a deeper understanding of their relationship to Christ and their call to follow him.
Jesus School continues to develop
This May, Neighborhood Church wrapped up its third cohort of Jesus School; each cohort has been limited to about 10 to 12 participants.
Jenan says the program is still in the “research and development” phase.
“We’ve changed it up all three times,” Jenan says. “We still see this as a massive experiment, so every time we do it, we’re getting feedback and making adjustments.”
The consistent idea behind Jesus School is to give people practical tools to deepen their relationship with Christ beyond their four months in the program.
In its current format, Jesus School is a combination of teaching and instruction, spiritual direction and group discussion. Participants read three books throughout the course and meet together for eight sessions, two per month.
Houk, who has a master’s degree in spiritual formation and soul care, defines spiritual direction as “the practice of together noticing the work and invitations of God in an individual or as a group.”
Houk says, “We talk about family, we talk about vocation, we talk about what’s coming up emotionally.”
During the Jesus School group spiritual direction sessions, Houk invites the participants to times of silence and reflection and times to share what is going on in their lives and how they’re noticing God at work.
“The beauty of what group spiritual direction offers is it both gives people an opportunity to share and to be known, and it also gives them an opportunity to know each other,” Houk says. “We’re in community, and God works in us through each other.”
Through the spiritual direction sessions and book discussions, participants are asked to consider their past life experiences and how those experiences formed their present view of their relationship to God and his work in their life.
“To look at how your emotional past can influence your future was eye-opening for me,” says Mike Cardoza. “It was really refreshing to learn about that and to basically turn that over to God.”
In the teaching sessions, Jenan and Houk emphasize learning intentional spiritual practices for engaging with Jesus during everyday life, such as different methods for prayer, Scripture reading and reflection. The participants are encouraged to try the practices throughout the month to see which ones are most helpful to them.
For the Cardozas, learning about these spiritual practices was exciting and freeing.
“I didn’t even know about all these other ways to connect with the Father,” Karen says. “It’s transformed my life. It has made walking with Jesus, living for Christ, an easy yoke.”
Lighthouse Residency grew out of summer internships
Ryelee Christensen, a native of Imperial, Nebraska, began to feel a call to work in ministry during the summer before her senior year of high school. She began attending Lighthouse Church as a freshman at Colorado Christian University and quickly knew she wanted to get more involved in the church, perhaps through an internship. Shortly after, she learned about the residency program and knew God was calling her to apply.
Pastor Shaw says that this desire from students like Christensen to receive ministry training at Lighthouse was the beginning of the residency program.
After a couple years of offering summer internships, church staff saw an opportunity to develop a more robust leadership development program, says Shaw, to “train young leaders for vocational ministry in every sphere, whether its accounting to entrepreneurial business leadership, web development to worship—the whole breadth of what can happen in a larger church.”
Lighthouse staff also talked with leaders at other churches, including Mountain View, a USMB church in Fresno, California, about their discipleship and leadership training programs.
Currently, the Lighthouse Residency consists of two summer programs and one full-year program.
Lighthouse provides residents in the three-month summer program with housing and a stipend. Full-year residents are provided housing and ministry expenses and required to fundraise; they are treated as full-time staff members during the residency.
In 2019, Christensen participated in the Summer 1 program, which gives residents a chance to test the waters in all different areas of vocational ministry.
“What we do for that first summer is they literally get thrown everything,” Shaw says. “They’re event planning, they’re learning how to be a part of our finance team, they get up on stage a couple of times and learn some public speaking, they have to learn spiritual formation and discipleship.”
Residents are provided two mentors as they go through the program: vocational mentor, who is usually a Lighthouse staff person, and a spiritual mentor, who is not on staff and provides a safe place for residents to process their thoughts and focus on their spiritual health.
Occasionally, a resident will want to pursue an area of interest that requires partnership with another church.
“Two years ago, we had a resident who really cared about missions,” Shaw says. “We don’t have a director of missions at our church right now, so we utilized Mountain View and connected their missions director with our resident. Twice that summer we flew her out, and she participated in one of their mission trips.”
The Summer 1 program helped Christensen narrow her focus to her areas of passion: assimilation and business.
“By the end of the summer, I understood why God was asking me to go into ministry,” she says. “I really found my passion for connecting people to the church and getting them not only in the church doors but getting them into different groups and connecting them with like-minded people so they can feel loved and supported.”
This year, Christensen is going through the Summer 2 program, which is designed to help residents go deeper in learning the ins and outs of working in their area of interest.
Christensen, who plans to graduate from Colorado Christian in spring of 2022 with degrees in business administration and biblical studies, will learn under the guidance of Megan Budd, director of operations at Lighthouse.
“This summer, now that I know my passions, now that I’ve narrowed it down, now I get to focus on a little bit of assimilation, quite a bit of communication and a lot of business,” says Christensen.
She hopes to continue on and apply for the full-year residency program after graduation.
Jessica Vix Allen is a freelance writer living in Blue Springs, Missouri. She and her husband, Joel, are both graduates of Tabor College. The couple has two children.