Each month we’ll feature one of our partners and their unique applications of the CLD courses and certificates. This month features an interview with Western Seminary alumnus Matt Voorhees, Senior Pastor of RiverLakes Community Church in Bakersfield CA.
CLD: What got you started with the CLD courses, and what was your aim?
Matt: We had a combination of groups and classes we encouraged people to be a part of to help them grow in their faith. While the classes were good, it felt to many of us that they had lost direction. Good teachers teaching fine things, but we just weren’t getting the outcomes we had hoped for. So, we started thinking through how to strengthen the pathway of Christian education that would help encourage leaders to get the kind of training they needed. I had always thought it would be great to have the leaders experience the kind of training I received in seminary. Obviously, though, that’s very expensive, time intensive, and not realistic. But the thought of having that level of training in a smaller format that was inexpensive, easily accessible and adaptable to our church’s needs was good news to us. That’s what brought us to CLD.
CLD: You created a 3-year training program which you called what?
Matt: RiverLakes Biblical Institute
CLD: So, through CLD, your team had the ability to use the courses and craft your own custom 3 – year curriculum?
Matt: Yes, I looked through them, thinking about my time in seminary and what our leaders would benefit most from based on what I’d experienced. Wanted to fully emphasize Bible and Theology which I think are pieces that don’t get fully fleshed out in sermons or in small groups . . . desired that these take us beyond what we already do. Also wanted a selection of leadership courses and focused topics to balance the program, build skills and add interest.
CLD: One group of your leaders are now finishing level three. Over the three years you’ve provided this institute, how many people have you trained?
Matt: We have two cohorts going right now with 25 – 30 people in each. Those students are on levels 2 and 3 of our program. We’re hoping to start a new Level 1 cohort soon . . . already have solid interest.
CLD: Who leads your cohorts?
Matt: We have two cohort leaders for each group. They’re a combination of elders, pastors and some other lay leaders as well. We believe that from the current trainees we’ll see additional cohort leaders develop who will then lead future groups.
CLD: You’ve trained a lot of people. Are the participants having a good experience?
Matt: Absolutely. Feedback I’m getting from our leaders reflects an incredible response from the people in the cohorts. Discussion is challenging and meaningful. Stimulating, engaging . . . all that stuff. Our year 3 folks have had about a 100% continuation rate. Same seems true with the level 2 cohort. Seems like when we get people connected in these smaller cohorts that they relationally bond around the challenging content and discussions . . . makes them collectively want to see the process through. We save some fun topics for years 2 and 3 just to stimulate interest, and they are hungry to get to some of those deeper things.
CLD: Your participants earn a certificate for each year they complete?
Matt: Yes, they earn a certificate for the completion of each year, and we have a recognition event . . . sort of a graduation . . . for those who finish. We’ll have to figure something special for those who finish all three levels.
CLD: What would you say to another leader or group considering a similar path?
Matt: I think in our church contexts, it can be difficult to provide a high level of biblical, theological and leadership training . . .to produce that kind of content at a high quality and facilitate it for our people . . . it’s a tall task. If that’s something you can’t do because of other demands, I’d say the Western CLD content is pre-packaged, very accessible, very high level and, from tests we’ve done with our people, very impactful. It’s a way to get a high-quality training avenue developed without gobbling up a lot of time from an existing pastor or other leader to do it all. This can be a small part of a pastor’s work . . . we have key elders and lay leaders handling these cohorts. Doing it very successfully. The lead pastor wouldn’t have to do it all himself . . . could make a limited but important investment of time to get it started and to periodically check on it. Otherwise, get some good key people in place to lead the groups and watch it flourish and take off. I’d say it presents minimal risk for implementing with high possibilities for impact.
CLD: Thanks, Matt, for taking this time to share your CLD experience. Thanks as well to the great leaders and participants that have made this so impactful at RiverLakes. Well done! It has been an honor to work with you, your team and the fine trainees in your groups. Like many of our partners, you have created an effective road to disciple and leader training that uniquely fits you. It represents just one of the many ways our partners have put together CLD’s courses in custom, high impact training packages.