Senior Pastor Nate Poetzl was struck one day by the differences between how the medical community trains future doctors and nurses, and how the church trains future pastors and ministry leaders.

Senior Pastor Nate Poetzl

“We provide a residency program for anyone called to ministry,” says Nate, who with his wife, Jennie, is focused on actively building a dynamic, catalytic leadership culture within Faith Chapel (Billings Foursquare Church) in Billings, Mont.

Their goal is to plant 71 churches in neighboring communities, and they are constantly looking for innovative ways to raise up church planters.

“You know, one of my closest friends in the world is a surgeon,” Nate explains, “and one day he was telling me about the first day of his residency. He’s in the ER. It’s a trauma situation—this man’s suffered severe injuries. My friend’s standing to the side, ready to observe his first patient. Then the doctor yells at him: ‘Get over here and hold this guy’s heart! Massage it while I treat this wound!’ Hearing about my friend’s experience made me think about the difference between how theological training often is, and how the medical community trains.”

Looking for the best way to equip new leaders, Nate and his team have created a program where ministry “residents” have hands-on experience leading small groups that are populated by at least 50 percent non-churchgoers. Theology instruction runs alongside practical experience.

Nate explains: “The major emphasis is put on learning skills to work with people. In 23 years of being a pastor, I’ve occasionally seen someone stumble in ministry because of bad theology; but the vast majority of people stumble because of not managing their finances well, not knowing how to lead clearly, or conflict management issues.”

Above and beyond the initial training, the team at Faith Chapel is focusing on ways to make new church plants sustainable for leaders. Many communities they are hoping to plant in are too small to support a full-time pastor and church staff. Nate helps missional leaders look at ways to be creatively bi-vocational.

One of Faith Chapel’s residents is preparing to move to Miles City next month. He runs cattle for a living, and he and Nate are looking at funding models for livestock investment that would give him enough income to support himself and plant a church.

Another resident is making plans to start a CrossFit gym. He’s going to help people get healthy—that’s how he’ll make his living—but he’ll also walk with the gym’s members spiritually, and twice a week he’ll offer discipleship-oriented services at the gym.

One of the most vital perspectives that Nate impresses on the leadership teams is expressed in Faith Chapel’s core values: Found people find people.

“The first thing leaders should do is have relationships with people who are far from God,” asserts Nate. “Otherwise you forget. You forget where people are at, what it’s like to struggle with faith, the pain and emptiness that people are experiencing in life.

“My wife and I lead a small group, and at the beginning it was made up of two devout Mormons: a doctor who was pretty hostile toward God, and his wife who was religious but in an Oprah Winfrey-looking-for-God-in-everything kind of way; and two believers. It’s great! Every week I sit down with them, and they’re asking questions that I forget are important.”

This view resonates closely with Luke 15, the passage about God passionately seeking lost things—lost sheep, the lost coin, a lost son—and is reflected in Nate’s regular closing benediction at the end of church services: “As you go out this week, be the hands and feet of Jesus. Speak His words and do His work.”