Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision
Meeting the Needs for Church Leadership Training
(A reflection the book Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision by Paul (Bobby) Gupta and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter.)
The Church is growing very quickly in Africa. Some report 23,000 people are becoming Christians each day[i] and that the church is growing at an estimated pace of 1,200 churches a month, many of them from indigenous African denominations.[ii]
While this growth is exciting it is sobering as well. With this kind of growth the church will never be able to provide traditionally trained pastors for all of these churches. (If, in fact we could, it seems unlikely that all of these churches would be able to support their pastor.) Therefore, most churches will most likely be served by a pastor who is responsible for more than one church.
These facts are challenging to me as I look to the future of meeting the leadership needs for the growing African Church. I spent ten years training church leaders in a Bible College and feel it is a vital need, but the traditional institutional training model will never keep up with the need for trained leadership.
The key for leadership in the African church (especially in the multi-church pastor context) rests in training teams of elders to do the work of the ministry in the pastor’s absence. By default they are already providing pastoral care and leadership. But if they are not trained we must ask “how well are they doing it?” And if they are not doing it well what does this mean in practical terms for the future of the African church? Weak leaders will not produce strong churches. Therefore, if we do not train the lay leaders in ministry skills and the spiritual disciplines we are condemning the African church to weakness.
What is the answer? We at MCPI believe the level of training must be pushed down from the pastor to the elders and church leaders. We must equip trained pastors to train their elders and in so doing we will empower them to care for the members of their flock.
Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision chronicles the church planting movement in India of the past 20-30 years. Their goal is 1,000,000 churches for India or one church for every 1,000 persons. How they could accomplish this goal and develop leadership for the many new churches that were being planted is the burden of the book. To do this they had to think outside of the box and turn to non-traditional and non-formal methods of training.
In the next number of blogs I want to highlight some of the lessons they learned in India and apply them to the multi-church pastor context here in Africa. Although the situations are similar they are not identical. However, we can learn a great deal from their experience.
Let me leave you with a quote that in many ways captures the thrust and the lessons of the book (and which affirms many of the core values and emphases of The Multi-Church Pastor Institute):
Every pastor and church must take the responsibility to equip members to lead by making disciples of others. The professionally-led church is a distortion of God’s plan and purpose. We return to the pattern of the church in Acts, where apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors, and teachers made disciples and empowered people in local churches to shepherd and disciple others. God gave gifts of leadership in the people He calls to the church; pastors must learn to identify, equip, and release them to serve the body interdependently in fulfilling the needs of the church.
Leaders with advanced theological training provide a very important resource to the church, but such training is not essential to a rapidly growing church. These leaders fit most readily in an urban context and in roles of ecclesiastical leadership where they lead and train other leaders. Theological training institutions may better serve the larger body by adopting different methods to equip pastors to train others in their congregations to lead. Schools must not expect all leaders to come to them. Rather, they must go to the people, understand their need, and develop training that will serve the development of leadership in the region and in the context of the church and local culture.
The strength of the church—and its ability to serve its people and fulfill its mission—is directly proportionate to its success at developing leaders for ministry to its people. Every seminary must train its pastors to equip leaders at the local church level. Without this multiplication of leaders, the church will remain a superficial community of people who lack understanding and obedience to the teachings of Jesus, and who have no understanding of how to engage their communities with the transforming power of the gospel.[iii]
[i] Darrow Miller and Scott Allen, Against All Hope: Hope for Africa, (Nairobi, Kenya: Samaritan Strategy Africa Working Group, 2005). p. 23.
[ii] Mary Welch, Africa’s Hope, http://archives.tconline.org/stories/July01/africa1.html
[iii] Paul R. Gupta and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision, (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 2006). p. 209-210.