West Virginia Couple Embrace Role to Resource and Train Pastors, Laity

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Leadership Development, Northeast

By Jaymie Dieterle

Pastoring a church through a pandemic is a full workload all by itself. But when pastors Melissa and Thom Pratt had the opportunity to also shepherd a strategic, forward-thinking ministry that meant a lot to both of them, they couldn’t say no.

LifeGivers is a continuing education ministry of the Church of God for both pastors and lay leaders of the Church. It answers the question “What’s next?” for those who have completed the ordination process and the question “How can I keep growing?” for lay leaders. It is presently under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Melissa Pratt and Rev. Thom Pratt. Melissa is the lead pastor of Teays Valley Church of God in Scott Depot, West Virginia. Thom is the connections pastor for the congregation.

The Pratts have been involved with LifeGivers since its launch in 2019. LifeGivers started as an online training opportunity with six-week courses on a handful of topics. The goal was to provide ongoing education for pastors and church leaders while also building and maintaining relational connections. This became even more important when the pandemic began, and in-person conventions had to be canceled. While the material was terrific and feedback was positive, it was difficult for participants to commit to a six-week session. The Pratts were charged with expanding the program, recruiting additional instructors, and promotion. And part of that development included a format change.

Melissa & Thom Pratt

Now LifeGivers offers “Super Saturdays.” Courses take place in a single two-hour block, and participants can sign up for several over the course of six weeks, seasonally. The spring 2021 session recently closed; the summer 2021 session will begin in July. Each course or “conference” costs $25, making this continuing education opportunity affordable for churches and individuals. The new format has really taken off—over 130 people signed up for the first round of Super Saturdays.

Why would two busy pastors with a congregation to lead and children to raise take on yet another ministry? It’s because they believe in the need for LifeGivers and the benefits it can bring not only to the individuals who complete a conference, but also to the movement as a whole. “It’s easy as a pastor to get into ‘maintenance mode,’” Pastor Melissa Pratt says. “But these courses are so energizing. For me, personally, they remind me that I don’t want to just be reactionary. I want to be proactive and strategic and future-focused.”

Rev. Dr. Pratt says the LifeGivers offerings for pastors are designed help them continue to grow once they’ve been ordained. The courses target common areas for growth and work in a forum that staff and volunteer teams could even attend together. The online meetings allow pastors to build relationships with other leaders from across the Church of God movement. Courses include both work-related content—biblical leadership, developing children’s ministry, developing coaching skills—as well as personal growth content, like emotional health, fitness, parenting while pastoring, and building a Christ-centered marriage.

Courses are available for the laity, too. There are sessions on developing spiritual disciplines, developing hospitality skills, and tools and techniques for studying the Bible. Small groups and ministry teams could take courses together, but individuals in any congregation could sign up for a course, as well.

LifeGivers also offers their courses on-demand. In those situations, a congregation would bring in a coach to work with the staff on a particular topic at a flat rate and on a schedule that works for the team. The on-demand courses are more intensive than the two-hour conferences available on Super Saturdays. (Only certain conferences are available in the on-demand format. Pastors can find out more on the LifeGivers website, https://www.jesusisthesubject.org/lifegivers/.)

Rev. Dr. Pratt is excited for the new round of Super Saturdays scheduled for July and August 2021. “We have terrific, theologically sound coaches for our courses. And we are adding five new topics for the summer session.” Interested individuals should follow the LifeGivers Facebook page (ChoGLifeGivers) to see announcements of the new sessions and to see when registration will open for the summer.

Jaymie Dieterle is a freelance writer with a passion for books, reading, and life-long learning. Jaymie has written adult Sunday School curriculum and a Bible study for Warner Press/Warner Christian Resources. Jaymie and her family live in Anderson, Indiana, and they are actively involved at Madison Park Church of God.

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