“Teach preachers?! Why in the world would we do that? What we need to be doing is real mission work!” This capped a discussion that I had with our church a few years ago about the much needed work of Catalyst Missions. Some church members who would never think about hiring a pastor who had not first gone to seminary can’t fathom training pastors as “missions” work.
A Needed Work
The long term church member who said the above words to me later added “What we really need to be doing is working with more people like Bill Smith [name changed]! That’s what we ought to be doing!” I chuckled internally because Bro. Smith’s primary ministry was training people, most of whom already had seminary degrees, to go into the mission field. It seems that many times people in American churches, pastors included, take for granted all of the resources with which God has blessed us. We can also take for granted the hard work and mentoring needed to prepare men for the work of the ministry. However, it is noted among many different sources across many different theological backgrounds that theological training for pastors world wide, and especially those in Third World countries is severely lacking. One survey done on theological training around the world summarizes some of their main findings like this1:
• There are not enough theological schools in the regions of the world where Christianity is growing rapidly (Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia).
• Theological education is financially unstable in many parts of the world.
• There is a general understanding of achieving best theological education through a combination of experiential education (in congregations or other places of service) and traditional academic work (in class-rooms or online)
• Issues of theological education are seen as having strategic significance and are "most important" for the future World Christianity.
One author has noted these statics about churches and church leaders in third world countries, or the “Global South”2;
• Eighty-five percent of churches in the world are led by men and women who have no formal training in theology or ministry.
• If every Christian training institute in the world operated at 120 percent capacity, less than 10 percent of the unequipped leaders would be trained.
• Eight out of ten nationals who come to the west to receive training never return home.
• Leaders from every non-Western region say their number one need is leadership training.
Such statistics are not surprising to those who have worked or lived in such contexts. The church where I pastor works closely with a Hispanic congregation. When the Lord allowed me to begin working training pastors around the world he expressed great joy. Pastor Jorge is from Peru and he told me of the poor situations in which many pastors and churches in his home country find themselves. When I told him that there were some in our congregation who did not see that this kind of work was of great need he told me the following. He said that in many places in the world, like Peru, the pastor of the church is the first person who became a christian. He said that in many villages people would hear the gospel for the first time on trips into the cities. By God’s grace, as people heard the gospel and were converted they would go back to their villages and give testimony to the gospel and what God had done in them. These people would then frequently become the pastor of the church that would be started in these villages. They would almost never have any kind of training and at times would not even have access to the whole Bible.
David Sills, missionary and professor of missions at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has long taught on missions and the need for theological training around the world. He also leads an organization, Reaching and Teaching International Ministries, that “exists to reach the peoples of the world through evangelism and by meeting the great need for deep discipleship, pastoral preparation, leadership training, and theological education around the world.”3 In his book Hearts, Heads, & Hands: A Manual for Teaching Others to Teach Others, he makes this observation,
“There is an overwhelming need for trained pastors to interpret and teach
God’s Word faithfully to His people around the world. In the USA there is one trained Christian worker for every 235 people. Once you leave the USA, that drops to one trained Christian worker for every 450,000 people. It is estimated that although many churches do not have pastors, and many pastors must of necessity serve more than one church in the regions where they live, an estimated 85 percent of the pastors around the world have no theological education or pastoral training.”4
A Biblical Work
Once we see that training pastors to know and teach the Word of God accurately and to love and lead the people of God biblically, we also need to understand that this a divinely given work. This is a biblical work! The Apostle Paul spends much time and energy into training leaders to train leaders (see 1, 2 Timothy and Titus)! He encourages and commands Timothy to take “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). We also see this emphasis in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus cared for and taught the masses but he also spent a large amount of time training the apostles to carry on His work after He was gone. He trained the future leaders of the church so that they could carry out the commission that He would give to them.
When Paul commands Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:2, he is also commanding us today. We know that the Great Commission is to make disciples. This making of disciples starts with evangelism but it does not stop there. We are to teach the nations to observe (know and obey) all that Jesus has taught and commanded us throughout His Word. What better place to start in discipling the nations than the head disciplers? What better place in caring for God’s flock than to care for caretakers of the flocks, the shepherds.
- http://www.globethics.net/web/gtl/research/global-survey, accessed April 24, 2018, while this survey includes those from a very different theological conviction than I would have, I believe the findings are very useful. The survey was conducting over a 21 month time frame and includes responses from over 1,650 theological educators and church leaders world wide.
David A. Livermore, Serving With Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-term Missions with Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 41.
M. David Sills, Hearts, Heads, & Hands: A Manual for Teaching Others to Teach Others (Nashille, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2016) 6.