by Edward C. Pentecost
Have you ever wondered how missionaries can train a professional person in the Word of God? In Buenos Aires, Argentina, twenty years ago a Bible institute came into being for the purpose of preparing professional people for the ministry of the gospel. This school has been continuing with an expanding ministry.
Have you ever wondered how missionaries can train a professional person in the Word of God? In Buenos Aires, Argentina, twenty years ago a Bible institute came into being for the purpose of preparing professional people for the ministry of the gospel. This school has been continuing with an expanding ministry. Medical doctors, dentists, business men, and accountants are among those who have been called into service and trained through this program.
In 1950 some Argentinian believers studied the plans of the typical Bible institute as established by missionaries from the United States. They felt that such a plan was not suitable for the Latin situation. First of all, the Latin plan of study was not geared to a dormitory or internado. Also, the nature of the classroom structure did not seem to satisfy the demands of preparation for the better-educated person. These Christians then visited various U.S. seminaries to examine their structure. Then they went to Switzerland and examined the seminary pattern of study. After comparison ands analysis they developed a pattern that would be most applicable to the Latin situation. In 1952, the school was opened informally for a trial year.
On April 18, 1953, the Instituto Biblico ALERTA was inaugurated officially with fourteen students. The initials ALERTA stand for "Action Libre Evangelical Reafirmacion Testimonio Avivamiento" translated as "Awakening of Free Evangelical Action to the Reaffirmation of the Testimony." The group behind the school is best known as "The World Testimony of Evangelical Christian Churches." The group would probably be categorized as being very much after the pattern of the Brethren assemblies, with some of the elements of faith missions having entered into their thinking. There has been some contact with personnel from the New Testament Missionary Union. It does stand, however, as a completely independent movement within Argentina, unrelated to any, other denominational group. In Argentina the group is known as the "Philadelphia Testimony."
What are the distinctive elements of this Bible training program? First, it is based on a seminar approach. The program is centralized with capable teachers and a definite program of studies, but it is flexible according to the abilities of the individuals enrolled. There is no set program for any given year. The basic program includes required course material that must be mastered by every student. The student is allowed to work out his own schedule to carry the studies within the limits of his own job and family structure. Class participation is planned when the average professional person is free, which in Argentina is Saturday. The whole structure revolves around Saturday seminar sessions, which continue from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Second, all studies are carried out on a program-study basis. No textbooks are given to the students. All class material is prepared in separate lesson structure rather than text style. Students enroll in the number of courses that they feel they can carry. No student may complete the program in less than a four-year period. Some students take as long as ten years. The diploma is held in high regard because it demonstrates the accomplishment of a very solid program of studies. Courses are offered in Bible, doctrine, theology, homiletics, hermeneutics, Greek.
Third, there is an individual relationship between the professor and the student. When a student enrolls, he is assigned his professor. He meets on Saturday with the professor and is given the first lesson. After the session with the professor, he may make use of the library facilities through the day. He goes to his dome with the lesson in hand and spends the entire week studying the material outlined in that given lesson. The following Saturday he returns to the institute. There he meets with his professor and is examined on the material of the first lesson. If he shows satisfactory progress, he is given the second lesson. If the professor is not satisfied with the student’s grasp of the material, he gives him further help. The plan requires a thorough grasp of each lesson before the student may proceed further.
Where there are several students in one group, they meet together with the professor. There is interchange between students and the professor in small group situations. Questions that may arise are discussed together and doctrinal issues are thoroughly debated. By the time a student has finished his particular course of studies, he has not only the course material that was given to him lesson by lesson, but a full notebook of his own study material, which is then bound into a book and becomes his textbook for future reference.
Fourth, the program is geared to training professional people. It is designed for men who have a desire to minister the gospel, but whose daily activities are taken up with their professional and business activities. Through this plan of preparation they find a two-fold ministry: (1) They are daily in the Word, and as a result, are daily witnessing in a unique way. (2) Since they are of high professional caliber, they are taking their places as pastors in the churches around Buenos Aires. They are socially respected by the people to whom they minister. Their word is listened to and their ministry is effective. They have their own income and are not dependent upon the church for their support.
Fifth, it is a missionary-oriented program. Since the churches do not have to support their own pastors, they send out their own missionaries. Both men and women have circled the area with the outreach of the gospel in many towns where there has been no evangelical church. These missionaries are graduates of the school, burdened for the outreach from their own area to unreached towns and people.
The essential elements in this plan include: (1) a structure to meet professional people’s needs, and a plan of studies that the professional person can undertake, geared to his intellectual level; (2) a schedule that the professional person can physically undertake; (3) a proper recognition of his attainment; (4) an effective place for his ministry; (5) an appropriate sense of satisfaction in seeing that his efforts are bearing fruit in other places, because his ministry is multiplied in an outreach pattern which is more rewarding than any monetary income would ever be.
Is this program effective? In recent years, fourteen new churches have been established. Every graduate is serving as pastor of a congregation. At present some forty students are involved in this plan of study. The school is supported entirely by the fees that are charged to the students and by free-will offerings of the churches that have received the blessing and benefit of the pastors who have become graduates of the school. The five full-time teachers are Argentinians who have grown deeply in the knowledge of the Word of God and have given themselves to the study and teaching of the Word.
Missionaries could be of assistance in starting such a plan elsewhere. It has the advantage of becoming self-supporting in a short time, so the mission does not assume an added institutional burden.
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