by Gary Corwin
Juan is a farmer and the lead elder of a small village church in the high Andes. Kofi teaches theology at an African seminary and is writing several articles for a new contextualized Bible Encyclopedia.
Juan is a farmer and the lead elder of a small village church in the high Andes. Kofi teaches theology at an African seminary and is writing several articles for a new contextualized Bible Encyclopedia. Gupta pastors a fast-growing urban megachurch made up of university students, diplomats, wealthy business people and the urban poor. Each is part of church leadership for the mushrooming “new Christendom” of the southern hemisphere of which Philip Jenkins (2002, 2006) has written so eloquently. Each also has very different educational needs.
How their educational needs will be met is one of the great challenges facing the global Church today. The answers will not be the same for each of them—although there will be common threads. The diverse needs of various church contexts require very different kinds of leaders, and different kinds of preparation for those leaders.
I was reminded recently that Martin Luther made this case early in Protestant history. On one of the less frequented bookshelves in my office there rests a 1977 issue of the Trinity Journal. In it is “Martin Luther on the Training of Pastors and Theologians,” the first article I ever had published. Looking at it again brought to mind just how prescient Luther was on this subject.
As both a doctor of theology and a professor, Luther had great respect for the simple country pastor who faithfully shepherded his flock by keeping them engaged with the Word of God and applying it to their daily lives. Both for the lay person and for the highly trained theologian, the Bible had to be at the center of the training curriculum and of their ministry to the church. Although everyone did not have to master the Greek or Hebrew language or the history of theological insight and debate, some individuals were called into these areas. These people did this to facilitate the transformation of culture by the gospel, and for the protection of God’s people from the philosophical and psychological wolves of the day. Still, although it was their job to communicate the fruit of hard-won insight and argument for the spiritual benefit of their flocks, it was not the task of all pastors to sort out the arguments.
In actuality, Luther wrote much more on the subject of training children than he did on training pastors and theologians. It is interesting to note that he thought the children of Christian families should have memorized at least the four Gospels by the time they reached their tenth year. If he thought this appropriate for children, one can only surmise how much more he thought adults, and especially pastors, should know the scripture. The intricacies of theology, however, he was happy to leave to the rigorously trained and appropriated gifted persons. And these persons (he showed by example and theory) should be mentored in spiritual things through dialogue and shared life1 as much as through lecture and reading. This was highly advanced for his day and, unfortunately, still highly exceptional in seminaries and schools of divinity around the world today.
Years ago I was tasked for about ten years in SIM to assist and help coordinate the efforts of over five hundred leadership training institutions and programs around the world. Some were full-blown seminaries offering accredited degrees; some were simple village Bible schools. Still others were dry-season training institutes or TEE programs with circuit-riding instructors. Each type of ministry played a key role in training pastoral and theological leadership for the burgeoning churches of the southern hemisphere. Unfortunately, more often than not I found that those involved in one kind of program had less appreciation for the others than you would hope. Rather than cheering one another on and working symbiotically to help make each other successful, there was far too much criticism and segregation of approaches.
It is an interesting but sad footnote that some who advocate most strongly for seeing church planting movements established today among least-reached peoples often fail to see the value of higher levels of training for some church leaders. Their fear, and rightly so, is that creating a knowledge and status distance between highly trained and less-trained but natural leaders among a people will short-circuit the church planting movement that is so needed. But they are also being short-sighted in that it is the gifted insiders among a people who are far better positioned than the catalytic outside missionary to sort through the philosophical and psychological challenges to bringing about gospel change in that culture—and helping to make the training at every level more relevant. It is worth praying in the days ahead for great wisdom. Big-picture thinking and cooperation need to increasingly become more the rule than the exception in the multi-tasking challenge of training for church leadership.
1. The outworking of this was the source of Luther’s famous work Table Talks, published in 1566.
Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press.
_______. 2006. The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and missiologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM-USA.
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