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Home School of Missions Theological Training for Untrained Pastors

Theological Training for Untrained Pastors

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Theological Training for Untrained Pastors

Flip Buys

A vast world-wide need

Frcm22-25 March 2000 I was privileged to attend an international consultation

T.O.P.I.C. (Training of Pastors in Churches) in Manila, Philippines' on the

training of pastors for churches in the economically weaker countries of the

world. There were representatives of at least 80 training institutions from 50

countries around the world.

Reports were given of astonishing growth in numbers of Christian churches in

Africa. Asia. South America and countries that were formerly behind the so called

iron curtain. This growth has occurred so rapidly that formal training

institutions like universities and seminaries will never be able to train enough

pastors to shepherd these churches. Studies have shown that there are at least

two million preachers in pulpits in these countries every Sunday who have

never had any theological training whatsoever.

In many African countries churches have an average of only one trained pastor

for every 20 churches. A pastor from Uganda sitting next to me told us that his

denomination has 1000 congregations but only 8 trained pastors. Another one

from the Evangelical Christian Church in Zambia told us that his denomination

has 675 churches with only 31 trained pastors. We were told that thousands of

churches have been planted in the Philippines over three decades and similar

growth is expected to continue. All the formal seminaries and training institutions

in their whole country could never train even 5% of the pastors needed

for these churches.

One Chinese pastor from the People's Republic of China told us of the

phenomenal growth of house churches in his country in spite of ongoing

persecution. (In many of these churches the pastor will just throw his Bible to

his congregation when he is arrested and the person who catches it automatically

becomes the next pastor. In some places teenage girls are appointed as

Pastors because they are the only literate people with Bibles.) The pastor who

gave the report is presently running a programme of training 20,000 Chinese

pastors for these house churches.

It is said that in some of these countries the Church is growing itself to deathl

The structures simply cannot cope. The provision of adequate leadership is not

keeping pace with the influx of people into the Church. There is a vast lack of

the most basic Bible knowledge as well as foundational Christian doctrine

amongst church members and their untrained leaders.

Millions of African 'Christians' still have the idea that Christ needs the

assistance of ancestral spirits to bring real reconciliation with God. The

outcome of the lack of basically trained pastors is nominality, heresies and

syncretism. The difference between the Church and the world just fades away.

Instead of helping communities to flnd solutions for problems of poverty,

AIDS, unemployment, political and ethnic strife, and violence through

'relevant teaching and preaching of the Word of God, the Church and the

Christians just become part of the problem. More and more effort is required to

backtrack and seek to correct wrong ideas of what it means to be a Christian.

Theological education is now the highest priority in all mission work in

fulfillment of the second part of the great commission of Matthew 28 :.19:.'... go

and make disciples of all nations, ... teaching them to obey everything I have

commanded you.'

The whole consultation wrestled with one question: How can training institutions

worldwide co-operate to accelerate both the number of pastoral leaders

being trained as well as the rate of training so that not only church growth but

also church health may be accomplished?

The greatest need in economically weaker countries

The greatest need for the training of more pastors exists in the countries with

weaker economies like those in Africa, Asia and South America where people

on average earn 14 times less in salaries than in Europe and North America.

The same holds true for the former deprived communities in South Africa.

At the moment formal theological educational institutions like universities and

seminaries provide less than 10% of the need for trained pastors. The other 80

- 90% wlll only be reached through innovative systems of distance education.

The most important reason why formal theological education is not feasible for

people from the weaker economies of the world is that they have neither the

finance nor the necessary entrance qualifications. Another reason is that many

formal theological institutions do not have a real vision for missions and

produce pastors bereft of world vision who likewise produce self-centred,

ingrown churches.

On the other hand, many examples were given of how a totally new and

different approach to theological education in some parts of the world has

eventually changed churches and denominations from dying bodies into

dynamic evangelizing churches that are growing numerically as well as in

spiritual depth.

Solutions that are providing good results in several places in the world

The overriding insight which came through in many of the discussions at this

consultation is that non-formal decentralized theological education is the most

important answer to the problem of the vast world-wide need for the training

of more pastors in our time.

Non-formal theological education involves a basic core curriculum being put

together and taught as an in-service training programme by existing pastors to

small groups of students in church buildings or homes. Some fast growing

churches in Asia even say that every local church should be a training

institution where new pastors are trained. The benefits of this kind of non-formal

training of pastors are the following:

1.  It costs about 20 times less than formal theological training. There are no

costs on expensive buildings, high salaries of highly academically trained

professors, boarding and lodging of students (and their families) and

travelling costs of theological students.

2.  Students can do much needed ministry in local churches while they are busy

with training. In this way they also learn a lot from the practical example of

their lecturer/mentor, while they are involved in the work of ministry and

evangelism with him.

3. The problem of pastors, who have completed high academic qualifications

and are now just too expensive for churches, is also solved.

4. Non-formal training reaches those leaders who are already accepted and

acknowledged as leaders in a community and have a real sense of calling to

minister the gospel to their own communities. Pastors who have had a fullt1

time formal theological education at a far-away university or seminary often

encounter the problem that they enter a community in which they are not

accepted (at least initially but sometimes permanently) as real leaders. High

Academic qualifications that have been obtained through full time

theological education as such are no guarantees that the leadership 'status',

which a leader needs to function well, is a given in a less developed

community. Precisely because of this factor, world-wide research of the

functioning of leaders in economically weaker communities has highlighted

the tragic fact that academically highly trained pastors quite often become

failures in practical ministry and backslide into immoral and corrupt

practices. The majority of highly trained pastors often do not really want to

serve their own churches or communities but do even thing in their power

to find better jobs with higher salaries. This seldom happens with leaders

who have been trained through non-formal in-service training programmes.

They are generally more committed to practical ministry and church growth

and have a deeper sense of calling.

Because of the educational fact that the best learning takes place when a

person is teaching as well, existing pastors who are involved in non-formal

theological training of other pastors are actually involved in a programme of

continuous training themselves, which keeps their o$ n ministry fresh and


Non-formal in-service training of pastors provides unique opportunities tor

the personal guidance (mentoring) of students by their 'lecturer'. In this

way the spirituality and the character formation of the .student receives

much more attention than it usually does at formal theological institutions.

Non-formal in-service theological training greatly increases the number of

lecturers' and training opportunities.

Students are not torn away from their cultural context as so often happens in

formal theological training. In formal theological training students - after

several years of adapting to a completely different cultural context - often

become so detached from their own people that they cannot communicate

on a really deep level with their own people any more'

This model of training comes much closer to the churches. because the

student usually in his ministry applies the things he has learnt. Several of the

training courses which have already been designed for this kind of training

of pastors have been designed in such a way that the student should

immediately (sometimes as part of his exams) go and teach it to the people

to whom he is ministering.

With this training model, churches are much more directly involved in the

training of pastors than with formal theological trained at a seminary.

This model of training resembles much more closely the model which Jesus

himself used in the training of the disciples and is also more in line with

2 Timothy 2:2 , And the things you have heard me say inthe presence of many

witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

Both formal and non-formal training are needed and should strengthen

and enhance each other

In the discussions a clear consensus grew that formal and non-formal

theological training of pastors should never be seen as opposing each other.

Both models are still needed and should rather be seen as two sides of a coin.

They are designed to mutually assist, strengthen, extend and amplify in the

followings wavs:

Non-formal training can make the results of formal academic training and

research available to people and communities who would otherwise never

have had access to these.

Formal theological education can provide more training to lecturers of non formal

training programmes.

Non-formal theological training comes closer to the needs at grassroots

level and in such a way makes a much needed contribution to the contextualization

of formal theological education to ensure that formal theological

training programmes do not become sterile and irrelevant.

Non-formal training programmes can be of great value to broaden the

perspectives of formal theological training programmes.

Non-formal training programmes may provide a good 'sifting' mechanism

to identify students with gifts and talents who can be assisted to enrol for

graduate and postgraduate studies. Formal theological training programmes

usually have more time and facilities available and are in a better position to

do in-depth research on issues which are relevant for the church and the

kingdom of God at large.

Formal theological training programmes may fulfil a much-needed

monitoring need in the continuous evaluation of the academic standards and

theological foundations of non-formal training programmes

How should all this be implemented in order that the two million pastors are

eventually trained?

When can a pastor be considered trained?

In order to establish good programmes of formal and non-formal training

programmes in such a way that various programmes and models complement

and enhance each other a burning question must first be answered: When is a

pastoral leader sufficiently trained?

At the consultation consensus was reached that a pastoral leader is basically

trained when he has competence in the following four areas:

1. Concerning the Bible he should:

Know, understand and apply it in a valid way

Know basic biblical doctrines

Be able to communicate it (teach, preach and counsel)

Have a biblical world-view.

2. Concerning conformity to Jesus Christ he should have:

Christian character and conduct

A servant attitude

A deep sense of continuing dependence on the triune God.

3. Concerning competence in basic ministry skills he should be:

Able to prepare and deliver sermons effectively

Able to evangelize and plant new churches

Able to pastor believers with a view to disciple them towards spiritual


Able to teach

Able to lead believers in such a way that their own vision for the growth of

God's kingdom is stirred up.

4. Concerning leadership, he must have a vision and be able to reproduce:

Himself as pastoral leader

His church.

A core curriculum?

One possible way of assisting non-formal training institutions and paving ways

for co-operation is to design a core curriculum which could establish broad

parameters of a programme that may achieve the outcomes of a basically welltrained

pastoral leader. This core curriculum should be flerible enough to

allow for additions and issues of local application according to the needs of a

specific area.

Such a curriculum should meet the following criteria. It should be:

Comprehensive - complete at basic level

Culturally adaptable - generic and transferable (principles, concepts should be

presented as transferable truths)

Compact - teachable within a reasonable time frame (2-4 years)

Conformable - adjustable to different educational levels, perhaps grades


Compatible theologically - it should be biblical, evangelical, trans-denominational

to the extent that the specific teachings of denominations (e.g. mode

of baptism) should not be a hindrance for students who are evangelical

Christians but have different views on peripheral issues

Competent and measurable educationally - evaluation of progress, feedback

and assessment loops should be given with the core curriculum

Consistent with biblical perspective - the Bible should be the main textbook

Conducive to practical ministry and personal spiritual growth and multiplication

students must be able to use and apply the content in their ministry


Available in key languages - English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, French,

Swahili, Ztlt, etc

Commonly available at low cost.

Unfortunately there was not enough time available to prepare and evaluate

proposals for such a core curriculum. There were several training institutions

present that had copies of their curricula of a wide variety of T.E.E.

(Theological Training by Extension) and other models of curricula available

for insight. The consultation has now appointed a committee to work on such

a core curriculum and send it to interested institutions for evaluation and

possible field testing.

The whole idea with such a core curriculum is to offer it to training institutions

involved in the non-formal training of pastors. Those institutions wanting to

use it may then strengthen their own credibility by advertising that their

training courses are in line with internationally recognized standards and are

using the T.O.P.l.C. core curriculum.



This consultation has enriched my life and ministry and also convinced me that

the Lord has led us on the right track with our own work at Mukhanyo

Theological College, Gauteng, South Africa, although we still have many

problems to solve and stumbling-blocks to overcome. I am also convinced

more than ever that the harvest is so ripe in Africa that a lack of vision and

commitment to do everything in our power to accelerate the training of more

harvesters will be a grave sin and grossly grieve the Holy Spirit.



This article first appeared in Reformation Today Issue 178 Nov-Dec 2000



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