This blog, written by Tony Merida, posted in its original form here on The Gospel Coalition site.
Last September I spent a week in Uganda and Kenya, where I was helping to train pastors and church planters. I was in Africa with 127 Worldwide in partnership with Acts 29’s Emerging Regions Network, a team that works in various parts of the world where there is a need for more healthy churches.
I had the privilege of serving with some other pastors, and the trip left quite an impression on us. Here are six personal reflections about theological and pastoral training in underdeveloped regions of the world.
1. Join the fight against theological poverty.
There are many good, global causes that one can be part of today. I’m part of many, from orphan care to fighting gendercide. But I would love to see an increased excitement and commitment to fighting theological poverty.
As I’ve traveled the world the past 15 years, teaching church planters and other church leaders, it has become clear to me why many false gospels abound. People simply haven’t been taught the true gospel. What I found in Uganda and Kenya is a real hunger and openness to historical Christian orthodoxy. The only problem is, certain truths have never been well articulated and distinguished from false teaching. Consequently, people tend to believe what they hear.
It has been said that humanity is incurably religious, that we are religious beings who will believe something. And if we don’t saturate the nations with sound doctrine, then people will believe something else.
Whatever means of influence you have in this world, would you consider leveraging some of it to help make robust theological training available to such hungry students?
2. Realize that online training is insufficient for much of the world.
During the course of our teaching, the subject of online learning came up periodically. While a few students said they have decent internet access, most don’t. So online learning simply isn’t an option. These students need life-on-life teaching, and they need printed materials. (By the way, even if online training is an option, it’s no replacement for embodied, communal learning.)
As I’ve traveled, I’ve become increasingly grateful for resources like the little 9Marks books. These are so important and beneficial. A big thank you to Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman, and others who contribute to that series.
On this particular trip, I gave out a copy of my commentary on Acts, and the response was remarkable. You’d have thought I’d handed the students gold. They thanked me endlessly. We need to get more good resources into the hands of people who are eager to learn.
3. We need context-sensitive theological training.
I gave one talk called “Church Planting 101.” Along the way, I encouraged the students to “plant the church that fits you and your community.” I encouraged them not to do an American church model, but to plant a church that fits their context. That is, to consider their city when they think about music, discipleship programs, outreach events, and so on.
So much training from the West has failed to make the distinction between timeless, biblical principles for the church and the flexibility for doing church in our context. There was an audible affirmation from the students (some even clapped) when I said, “Do church for Uganda or Kenya, not America.”
When we train people, we must give them biblical ecclesiology. Now, these students, as in every other country, must start with Scripture when it comes to ecclesiology, preaching, eldership, and so on. When we train people, we must give them biblical ecclesiology. But as we provide training for pastors in other countries, let’s not mistake our Western practices for biblical principles.
4. The majority of the world needs basic-level training; they’re not ready for an MDiv.
Thanks to our friends at Church in Hard Places, our East Africa team was able to use the two-year program for mentoring our students. Church in Hard Places has broken down learning models in a simple, but thorough way which includes reading, writing, and meetings.
We’ve found over the years that most of the guys we train in are not ready for an MDiv degree or a thorough theological/pastoral assessment. They can get there if we will walk with them, which we plan on doing. But most haven’t had the basic training many assessments often assume.
Most seminaries cater to educated people with undergraduate degrees. I’m not throwing stones, just pointing out the fact that we’re overlooking millions of people when we don’t have a plan for bringing basic training to theologically hungry students.
5. To increase theological depth for generations, we need churches planted and pastored by trained leaders.
Part of the problem of rapid multiplication efforts in missions is that they are not taking the long-view of ministry. We need to be thinking in terms of 50-plus years, not five weeks (or even five years).
To see the theological landscape change in a country for the long haul, we must identify, train, and resource faithful pastors who will serve their churches for years to come. And we need them to plant churches that will plant churches for generations to come. So let’s give ourselves to this task.
6. Let’s challenge people who have access to resources and training to recognize this privilege, and take advantage of it.
There really is no excuse for people in various parts of the world not to engage in serious study of the Bible, theology, missiology, church history, and spiritual disciplines. From books to blogs, seminars to seminaries, conferences to computer software, the resources in the Western world are vast. Yet many don’t take advantage of this precious privilege.
Our worldliness is evident when we prefer endless entertainment, and the pursuit of more possessions and comforts, over soul-nourishing education. If many would substitute learning God’s Word for even half the time they spend on Netflix, maybe we’d see a spiritual awakening.
The goal of training leaders —who will lead and plant churches in the neediest places in the world —is the glory of Christ. That’s what’s at stake. Robust theological training is for his glory in his church throughout his world. And there are brothers and sisters who are hungry—and I mean really hungry—to be trained for this task.
So for those of us in privileged positions with resources galore: will we spend ourselves for the glory of Christ and the good of his people in the neediest parts of the world? How I pray that we will.