The Need for Training – By Alan Stanley
The book of Revelation tells us that on the cross Jesus “purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Christianity is not merely a Western phenomenon, though it is often mistaken to be so. Many years ago I met a lady from China who had come to Australia for six weeks on a university exchange program. One of her goals in coming down under was to “understand” the West. Our paths crossed and she asked me to take her through the entire Bible. Why? Because in her mind, understanding Christianity would help her understand the West⎯since so many people in the West are Christians, she thought. (I happily obliged and she became a Christian herself. She returned to China and we are still in contact today).
For those of us who live in the West and are Christian, we of course find this amusing. But what picture comes to your mind when you think of a typical Christian in this world? It’s quite normal to think of someone similar to ourselves or those in our churches. However, the reality is the majority of Christians (75%) live outside the West. That’s wonderful. But consider this: the majority of scholars, theologians and pastors live in the West. That means, “An estimated 85% of the 2.2 million evangelical churches worldwide are led by pastors with insufficient training.”
While I do wish to address this imbalance in this post, the first thing I want to point out is the power and sufficiency of the Holy Spirit. Before I began making trips into Asia I had this idea that Christians in the West were better off simply because we had more resources. But if there is one thing that I have been constantly challenged with since visiting Asia, it is that God seems to delight to show the world that he is not limited by lack of resources.
Often I am confronted with the unmistakable reality that God’s Spirit is at work in ways that I could only dream about back home. One Master of Divinity class I taught in Sri Lanka had eight students. One of those students travelled three hours to class in the morning and three hours home at night for the five days I was there. (And of course, he did that for all his classes when I wasn’t there).
Five years ago a friend and I were guest speakers at a pastor’s conference in North India. Every pastor that registered (150–160 of them) for the conference turned up. You would normally expect a small percentage of people to drop out at the last minute for various reasons, wouldn’t you? But not even a terrorist attack could keep one young pastor away. Terrorists ambushed the bus he was on and shot dead the driver. The passengers ran off into the night and this young pastor eventually found his way to our conference. Remarkable! Anyone else would have considered that a reasonable excuse to return home, and who would’ve blamed them?
This young pastor’s commitment does bring us to the subject mentioned above, that the majority of Christians worldwide are led by pastors with insufficient training. The reason why every single pastor turned up to this conference was to take advantage of the rare opportunity to come away and receive teaching from the Bible. Yes, they left their families for a week, but they also left isolation and persecution. Coming away for a week meant refreshment, fellowship with other likeminded Christian brothers, and teaching. For them, it was like an oasis in the midst of a desert. When put like that, no wonder every single person turned up for the conference. Staying home just wasn’t an option. A week’s training, along with such rich fellowship, is such a rarity that it must be taken while it’s on offer.
I remember another occasion in India asking a group of pastors that I was teaching about the books they had in their home libraries. One man said that all he had was a Bible; the others did not have much more. Imagine preparing a sermon with nothing but the Bible. One pastor in Nepal told me the greatest problem in the church was not persecution but illiteracy. I was stunned. The implications of this suddenly dawned on me. If many Christians can’t read, the only Bible they would hear would be from their pastor’s preaching. How vital it is then that pastors receive good training. In many cases they are the only interpreter of the Scriptures that many people have.
goEast began as a ministry to provide theological training to Christian leaders, or those preparing to be leaders, in Asia. I myself have been blessed with wonderful training and now I myself am helping to train others here in Australia. But to be perfectly honest, I want to share what I have to give with others outside Australia, specifically Asia. That’s what goEast is ultimately about: sharing what we have so abundantly in the West⎯theological education. Of course Asia has theological training institutions, and some very good ones at that. But many people cannot afford it. goEast has put one young man from India through Bible College. Bill Forgeard and I met him three years ago in India. He was helping organize a teaching module we were running for pastors and he demonstrated great potential. We got to know him, and as a result decided to invest in him and send him to Bible College for two years. He recently finished College and is now serving as a pastor back in his hometown.
Sending money though is not the goal; training and equipping is. Stuck in my memory is something my Indian host said to me just before dropping me off at Kolkata airport back in January 2011: “We’re so glad you came. So many people just send money.” There it was again⎯a challenge to my “we’ve-got the resources you need” mentality. My mind went to the incarnation. Is that not our response to God? “We’re so glad you came. So many people just send quick fixes.”