We drove to a remote village in South Asia where we were about to meet a new church leader. He’d recently come to Christ as a result of a church planting movement spreading across the area. Then, as is common with CPM/DMM methodologies, he shared the gospel with those in his oikos – that is, his network of relationships – and a house church resulted. Since he was first to come to Christ, he became the defacto pastor. We arrived just before his house church meeting to encourage him. Taking off our shoes and stepping into the sparsely furnished living area, we all knelt on our knees to pray. Perhaps 30 or so minutes later, we had to move to the next house church when I noticed this new house church leader had a track from the Jehovah’s Witnesses on his front porch. There was no way in knowing how influenced this leader had become by the Christological heresy of the JWs, but it certainly raised concerns over the preparedness of a new Christian for leading a new group of believers.
Similar stories like this are repeated all over South Asia. The rapid spread of the gospel and the multiplication of movements of house churches are at the same time to be celebrated and also cautioned. Roland Allen – the missionary statesman who gave us one of the most important mission books ever penned: Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours – commented that the Holy Spirit is the same in the theologically trained individual as in the new house church leader. However, he also knew that church leaders and members must be instructed. He wrote,
“For instance, people have baptized uninstructed converts and the converts have fallen away; but St Paul did not baptize uninstructed converts apart from a system of mutual responsibility which ensured their instruction. Again, they have gathered congregations and have left them to fend for themselves, with the result that the congregations have fallen back into heathenism. But St Paul did not gather congregations, he planted churches, and he did not leave a church until it was fully equipped with orders of ministry, sacraments and tradition.” -Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, (1959 :6)
In some places around the world, the lack of instructing new believers and leaders emerging from the efforts of CPM/DMM methodologies have created a famine. It’s not the kind of famine we usually associate with the needs in the majority world. It’s a theological famine depriving church leaders and pastors from theological instruction that can help them mature biblically sound disciples, develop New Testament leaders, and multiple theologically orthodox churches.
The Global Call for Theological Education
In 2010, leaders from around the world gathered for the centennial celebration of the famed 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. Through the evangelism, discipleship, and church planting efforts of many Western agencies, the gospel had spread to every part of the world during that 100-year gap. While there are still 3.2 billion people outside of the reach of the gospel, the challenge today has shifted. Today, the greatest need is to train non-Western pastors in how to mature disciples, develop New Testament leaders, and plant theologically sound, multiplying churches.
In 2010, majority world leaders called upon the West to focus on pastoral education instead of evangelism and discipleship. These leaders know how to evangelize their people. Where they’re lacking is in biblically and missiologically grounded, theological education. For instance, did you know that there is only 1 seminary trained pastor for every 450,000 people in the majority world? In the US, it is 1 seminary trained pastor for every 230 people. This is rightly called a theological famine.
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that there are:
“a total of 5 million pastors/priests in all Christian traditions worldwide (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and Independents, including bi-vocational). Of these, we estimate that 5% (250,000) are likely to have formal theological training (undergraduate Bible degrees or Master’s degrees).”
Additionally, by some estimations, there are as many as 50,000 new baptized believers each day. As Dallas Theological Seminary professor Ramesh Richards notes,
“…if a pastoral leader is able initially to provide pastoral care for a group of 50 believers, 1,000 new pastors are daily needed to serve the 50,000 new believers baptized every day. We are rather behind. How may we quicken the pace of pastoral training … while increasing the quality … everywhere?”
There is a clear need for theological education around the world. Many missiologists agree that we must not compromise on theological education in our missionary efforts. If we do compromise, we run the risk of heretical leaders and churches. If we focus on a solid biblical foundation by providing Bible equipping and training for pastors, then it will ensure the ongoing healthy growth of movements and help prevent heresy. As the Apostle Paul writes to the nearly 30-year-old Timothy, properly instructing leaders of the church is vital to her health:
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.… Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:11–16)
In partnership with Mission India Theological Seminary, and other mission agencies and churches, we want to provide relief for this famine. To that end, we’ve collaborated with academics and practitioners from around the world to developed a uniquely on-demand learning experience especially designed to train and equip pastors in theological and biblical education.
Our motivation is summarized in Paul’s letter to Timothy:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant (i.e. deacon) of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Timothy 4:6)
To that end, our Pastoral Studies Certificate, especially designed for majority world leaders, is accessible from anywhere on the planet, even on the Great Himalayan Trail. Its focus is to help pastors and leaders study the Word of God, teach and model it in their discipleship of others, and grow more deeply in love for Jesus themselves. Through the study of theology and church history, the certificate gives leaders and pastors the necessary confidence and tools to ensure their churches don’t fall into heresy.
We want to invite you to join us in eliminating this theological famine. When you join us, your partnership directly benefits majority world leaders. Our focus is exclusively on the spiritually darkest places. So, when you partner with us, together we provide much need relief for the famine in places like Pakistan, India, and Nepal; places where there are few churches with seminary trained pastors.
When you join us to end a theological famine, not only will you help provide biblical and theological training for pastors and leaders working in the spiritually darkest places in the world, you will personally benefit from access to some of the world’s leading experts on evangelism and discipleship, church planting and missions, church history and theology. You’ll have world class resources to help you develop Sunday school classes, home Bible studies, as well as help you equip others to engage their community with the gospel and disciple new believers. You’ll even see new levels of growth in your personal spiritual development and love for Jesus.
One of the markers of a healthy church is leadership who can accurately teach the Bible. With so many people coming to Christ around the world each day, there is a tremendous need for pastors who can properly teach sound doctrine. Would you consider joining us? During this month of thankfulness, we want to ask you to help us bring relief for much needed biblical training for pastors around the world. Our goal is to partner with individuals and churches who will help end this famine. Will you be one of them?