Encouragement and Accountability through Continuing Pastoral Training
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses,
entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others, also.”
2 Timothy 2:2
The Need for a Viable Strategy
For many years now the pace of church growth in Africa has far outstripped the growth of available training institutions dedicated to the development and enrichment of church leaders. In fact, pastoral education has not kept pace with general education, thus producing a serious intellectual and educational gap between pastors and their congregations. The church in Africa has been described as “a mile wide, but one inch deep.” This is a fair characterization, and pastors have not been sufficiently trained for the challenges of pastoral ministry. But there are reasons for this deficit. African pastors have not had access to the educational opportunities which we take for granted in the West. Ninety percent of the theological colleges and seminaries in the world are located in Western countries; and not surprisingly, ninety percent of the world’s theologians and educated pastors also live and work in the West. So then, what strategy of educating African pastors should we pursue?
One strategy has been the sponsorship of African pastors to train in Western universities and seminaries. The African church has been truly blessed with graduates returning from the West, but there are serious flaws with this model:
- Many African pastors (some estimates as high as eight out of ten) choose not to return to Africa.
- Several years of education abroad poses the possibility of psychological, cultural, and economic isolation between the returning graduates and their home cultures. Western education often does not prepare pastors for the challenges of their native cultures.
- Prolonged separation from wives and children is spiritually unhealthy.
- Education in the West is disproportionately expensive compared to what can be achieved indigenously for the same investment. The price of one round-trip plane ticket is equivalent to at least two years in many bible colleges in Africa.
Another strategy is indigenous training institutions. Bible colleges and seminaries on the African continent have been founded with Western support. This solution has been far superior to the first one. For the price of training one African pastor in the West, ten or more can be trained in their own countries. Moreover, indigenous institutions are more readily adapted to the cultural context, allowing African students to explore the application of Scripture to their unique situations. Such institutions have been instrumental in bridging the educational gap which exists between the West and Africa, and we should continue to pray for the proliferation of such institutions wherever and whenever this is possible. We have been privileged to serve in two of these institutions in our first eight years in Africa. Yet, this approach also has many limitations.
- Institutional education is expensive. Land and buildings cost a lot of money initially, and the cost of continuing maintenance is challenging.
- The institutional model of education requires ongoing western support for infrastructure and scholarships—thus, continuing dependence on the West.
- Many capable Africans have no connection with western donors and will never have the opportunity to attend indigenous African institutions. To make matters worse, African pastors desiring informal, continuing education cannot afford the wealth of evangelical theological literature that has been abundantly available to Western pastors for hundreds of years.
- Prolonged absence from family and ministry for three to four years. Although not as prolonged as education in a western seminary, students at institutional schools must still leave family and ministry for the better part of three or four years.
While we should not abandon the western, institutional model altogether, we need an Additional Strategy which complements it. Our ministry in Sub-Saharan Africa is designed to reach a broader segment of African pastors.
Our Ministry in Africa Today
- Teaching and Preaching
Three months of every year are spent teaching in the various study centers in Africa—one month in Uganda, one in Kenya, and one in Rwanda and DR Congo. By spending one month in each country, or two countries, travel time will be kept to a minimum, allowing 25 hours each week for teaching and perhaps Sunday for preaching. Students are then given assignments to complete the requirements of each course. The study center model most effectively conditions pastors to the concept of life-long education. There is no hurry to “get through” the course work and go home to one’s family and ministry. He can fulfill his multiple roles as husband, father, and pastor while furthering his education.
- Resourcing Pastors
We will continue supplying pastors with printed books and Kindles for ongoing self-education. For the price of one Kindle, contributors can resource an African pastor with a virtual library of theological literature. Retiring pastors can resource study centers with donated libraries. These books will be necessary for the research required for completing courses for bachelors and masters degrees from MINTS. More importantly, they will awaken the African pastor to a new world of continuing self-education previously impossible. While the internet can also be a source of information, we have learned that the cost of internet service is prohibitive for most pastors. Ownership of resources is essential for consistent use.
- Translating Courses into Indigenous Languages
We have commissioned some of our students to translate and print Don’s courses into their native languages. To date, some courses have been translated into Kinyarwanda and Swahili. This is important since many African pastors do not have the opportunity to learn English, and most English speakers will preach and teach in their native languages. Translating also has other benefits. Pastors who translate courses also learn those courses very well, and they make extra income for supporting themselves and their families—a good way to “help without hurting” them with dependence. Very few pastors are adequately supported by their congregations, and additional jobs are scarce. They need creative means of earning income. Our generous supporters have made it possible to pay for translation work (“the laborer is worthy of his wages” Lk. 10: 7; 1 Tim. 5: 18), providing both income and theological education simultaneously.
- Curriculum Development
For many years we have had the privilege of developing courses for our African students. Our courses include Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Biblical Interpretation, Church History, Christian Worldview, and commentaries on Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs, Galatians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, Revelation, the Synoptic Gospels, and the Major and Minor Prophets. When he is not teaching in Africa, Don is doing research and writing new courses that also may be translated into indigenous African languages.
- Virtual African Classroom
Recently we have been able to fund Virtual Classrooms (big-screen TV’s, internet routers, computers, etc.) in several locations for Zoom classes. These online classes will provide educational continuity between teaching trips. The classrooms will also be available to other expatriate teachers who are willing and able to give their time and expertise for training developing- world pastors.