Of course, conservative theological training is useful in all cultures and in all seasons. And, making excellent quality baptistic seminary courses available without charge in North American prisons and among like-minded congregations is a great blessing. However, perhaps the most critical need for Ekklesia is in the third world. The following article explains why. It is our desire to send the training freely worldwide as the Lord enables.
There is 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 preaching 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. One pastor from Uganda, sitting next to me, told us that his denomination has 1,000 congregations, but only 8 trained pastors to shepherd them. 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 since 1973, 29,000 new Christian churches have been planted in the Philippines; and they expect another 16,000 to be planted in 2001. All the formal seminaries and training institutions in their whole country could never train even 5% of the needed pastors for these churches.
One Chinese pastor told us of the phenomenal growth of the house churches in their country, in spite of ongoing difficulties. 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 pastor. In some places teenage girls are appointed as "pastors" because they are the only literate people with Bibles. The pastor told us that he is currently running a program of training 20,000 Chinese pastors for these house churches, but mostly without materials, depending upon memory and word of mouth.
In some of these countries, the church is growing itself to death! The structural growth 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 basic Christian doctrine, amongst church members and even their untrained leaders.
In March 2000, an international conference was held in Manila, Philippines, on the training of Third World pastors. There were representatives from over 80 institutions in 50 countries. This report is abstracted from one given by Dr. Flip Buys, Principal of Mahlanga Bible College in Gauteng, South Africa, who attended, as shared with Pastor Erroll Hulse of Reformation Today magazine, Leeds, England.