Pastoral health affects church health; church health affects societal health. This statement can be upheld as biblically true and theologically valid. Can it also be strategically critical for global ministry today?
In this article, I consider the strategic priority of the training of pastors for intentional global ministry and missions partnerships. I also propose practical considerations for both strategists and practitioners in pastoral training—whether individuals or churches, but especially for formal and institutional programs as well as non-formal organizational initiatives.
Examples around the world
Recently, the National Fellowship of Born Again Pentecostals informally contacted the Kampala (Uganda) Evangelical School of Theology to help with basic training for their pastors—30,000 of them. Can an opportunity like this be effectively seized by a fledgling institution such as the local seminary, or indeed by more mature campus-based, residential models in Africa and beyond?
São Gonçalo, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, the host city of the 2016 Summer Olympics, averages a new church plant every weekday. Who will shepherd these congregations in Latin America beyond the initial exuberance? After church planting, what follows?
Earthquakes devastated Nepal in April-May 2015. This writer met nearly 200 Nepali pastors and wives for one day of refreshment and restoration. They had hardly slept or eaten well. However, they had labored well. Having comforted their congregations during the horrific loss of lives and property, they continue to mobilize believers to serve communities outside the faith, while being publicly suspected of the ultimately bad motive of ‘Christian conversion’. Instead and regardless, they are concerned for the wellbeing, rebuilding, and eventual flourishing of their communities.
Readers could supply a number of such stories where the health of the pastor is critical to the health of the church (and vice versa too); with the health of the church, positively or negatively, in turn affecting the health of the community.
Four global realities
Four global realities shape thoughtful decisions and decisive action in relation to this global ministry strategy:
1. The world
My population ‘app’ shows that the world comprises 7.25 billion individuals as of mid-2015. A comparison to highlight this immensity: just over one billion minutes have passed since the time of the Lord Jesus, and not too much over two billion minutes from Moses until now. Large numbers of people mean large-scale opportunities and massive losses in tragedies. We need a scalable strategy of global scope to promote the Lord Jesus to large numbers of people worldwide.
2. The faith
Some 2.3 billion self-identified Christians comprise the faith. They are called ‘census’ Christians, ie choosing ‘Christianity’ as their religion over and against other options. The WEA Theological Commission estimates 50,000 new baptized believers daily.1 How may we influence nominal Christians toward personal salvation and Christian discipleship? How can church health keep pace with church growth? How could we nurture the embryonic faith of so many?
3. The church
The Global Alliance of Church Multiplication raised a most serious concern in October 2013. While they envision the planting of five million churches by 2020, they surmise an astounding fail-rate of up to 70% within the first year. How could we go about preserving the fruit of incredible church planting efforts? How do we address sustainability issues to justify the enormous human and financial costs of these amazing labors and responses?
4. Pastoral leaders
More than 2.2 million pastoral leaders (and as many as 3.4 million by some estimates) presently minister, while ‘only 5% are trained for pastoral ministry’ according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.2 Thus more than 2 million pastoral leaders need immediate strengthening for their pastoral ministries. Further, if a pastoral leader is able initially to provide pastoral care for a group of 50 believers, 1,000 new pastors are daily needed to serve the 50,000 new believers baptized every day. We are rather behind. How may we quicken the pace of pastoral training (a challenge to formal pastoral training models) while increasing the quality (a challenge to ad-hoc, non-formal pastoral training initiatives) everywhere?
Collaborative and multiplicative training
May I suggest that collaborative and multiplicative pastoral training of large numbers of pastoral leaders can effectively and efficiently address the opportunities and dangers embedded in the above four realities?
Precisely such a burden was informally brought up at Cape Town 2010.3 All involved in pastoral training, whether through formal institutional or non-formal organizational channels, were invited by word-of-mouth to a lunch hour meeting. Hundreds of leaders showed up to share the vision for pastoral training and support the calling. The doors had to be closed and a second lunch meeting scheduled. Again, dozens showed up for introductions and conversations.
A one-page Cape Town Pastoral Trainers Declaration was framed with special reference to the commitment of formal and non-formal pastoral trainers to work together in the spirit of the Lausanne Movement. It declares:
Since the formal and non-formal sectors of pastoral training have knowingly and unknowingly allowed ourselves to be divided in heart and efforts, we declare together that we shall endeavor to build trust, involve each other, and leverage the strengths of each sector to prepare maturing shepherds for the proclamation of God’s Word and the building up of Christ’s Church in all the nations of the world.4
2016 Bangkok Congress
This niche-specific and task-focused event envisions up to 5,000 trainers of pastors coming together from both the formal and non-formal pastoral training sectors. The objectives of the GProCongress are to: build community, explore opportunity, discover resources, and exchange encouragement. A four-year follow-up plan to the eight-day event (in addition to a four-year build-up), creates a global pipeline for pastoral training that is sustainable, measurable, and even renewable for local church leadership anywhere.
Conclusion: Global ministry priority
The strengthening of pastoral leaders—forming, training, and uniting them—needs a higher priority and a higher proportion of ministry interest and attention among the many methodologies, strategies, and initiatives in missions today. Indeed, social ministries, evangelistic presence, and church planting need to be undergirded with pastoral training initiatives which should really be seen as their apex. Why is this?
Initially, entrance into cultures and peoples may come through compassion initiatives—whether in medicine, education, relief and development, justice or human trafficking issues.
Then, building on these long and short, big and small goodwill platforms, evangelization does take place (or else we resemble secular non-governmental organizations).
After that, beyond evangelism, comes church planting. However, after church planting, what follows?
Strengthening pastors should stand at the pinnacle of missions strategy because strategists and practitioners often go through local pastoral leaders for endorsement and counsel about where to dig wells, show movies about Jesus, and plant new churches.
In summary, I commend pastoral training as a necessary complement to, and the highest priority for, implementing all ministry initiatives globally and locally:
- It justifies the cost and preserves the fruit of the other sacrificial and successful ministry efforts.
- It protects churches from the spiritual health disaster that otherwise awaits them.
- It depopulates hell from the highest numbers of people in an earthly situation and facing an eternal destiny without Christ.
- It helps correct creedal and cultural misperceptions of Christianity when local believers permeate their social spheres.
- It prevents church growth from being a mere sociological phenomenon.
- It multiplies and sustains the future leadership of the faith.
Often under-served and isolated, pastors are on-site for the long term; they are the least expensive and most relevant to their contexts. They are thus the key co-laborers who urgently need training, skills, and relationships. Therefore, building a global pipeline to deliver such pastoral training as the focus and framework of all ministry efforts significantly accomplishes the final mandates of our Lord Jesus. Enhancing pastoral health everywhere accelerates church health anywhere and delivers spiritual health worldwide.
1 In his plenary at the Lausanne Consultation on Theological Education, June 2014, Thomas Schirrmacher presented the view of WEA and its Theological Commission that about 50,000 people (that do not come from a Christian background and do not have any basic Bible knowledge) are baptized each day in evangelical churches worldwide. See https://www.thomasschirrmacher.net/category/theology/.
2 From the author’s personal correspondence and confirmation with Todd Johnson, Director, Center for the Study of Global Christianity, 8 July 2015.
3 Editor’s Note: Cape Town 2010 is another name for the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. See https://lausanne.org/gatherings/congress/cape-town-2010-3.