Is there a de-emphasis of the biblical role of pastor in some mission thinking today, even as church planting movements quickly add new churches and expand the need for pastors?
In an age of Church Planting Movements, has the emphasis been on number of churches at the expensive of the health of those churches?
The Western importance placed on theologically trained pastors with seminary education may even perpetuate the de-emphasis of the key pastor-teacher role, in some missional thinking. This may be due to the emphasis that such training places on academics rather than reproducible disciple-making, the most recent buzz phrase of modern CPM thinking.
A 2000 Mission Frontiers article entitled “Nine Obstacles to CPMs” makes the following point:
“Whenever well-intentioned missionaries, churches or denominational leaders impose requirements for church leaders that exceed those stipulated by the New Testament, a Church Planting Movement is impeded.
New Testament models are found in Christ's selection of the twelve disciples (Matt. 4:18-22) and Paul's criteria for bishops and deacons (1 Timothy 3). It is striking that moral character and willingness to follow Christ are given much greater weight than theological training or academic degrees.” (source: http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/nine-obstacles-to-cpms)
But is such a re-emphasis a legitimate concern? Do academics exceed the New Testament standard?
While “moral character and willingness to follow Christ” are primay qualities for all church leaders, education and theological training has been a defining standard for Christianity since God used a theologically trained man with the highest academic letters to write much of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul certainly went beyond his academics into practical expressions of effective ministry expansion (2 Timothy 2:2), while developing a profound Christology even his colleague Peter thought confusing (2 Peter 3:16).
The emphasis on theological thought is seen from the beginning of the Church as the Jerusalem Council wrestled with new faith issues (Acts 15). Three centuries later, theologians came together to give us creedal expressions for the faith in the first Council of Nicaea (325AD).
The point is that de-emphasizing the necessity for sound Biblical and Theological training is in itself unbiblical (1 Timothy 4:8-11) and can only lead to churches that suffer from error or worse heresy. As an example, a pastor in Africa taught his people that to see Jesus they needed to climb a tree, because that is what Zacchaeus did. But any emphasizing of the need for “academic degrees,” as a requirement of pastors, is also unrealistic – socially, economically, and in some cases culturally where any formal learning is unavailable or oral learning is predominant. As in any eco-system, there is a delicate balance to be maintained and valued.
We must recapture a missions emphasis on well-trained pastors who are able to think, live, preach and lead biblically, especially if our aim is to “finish the task” and complete the Great Commission.
Theodore Munger made this point over one hundred years ago when he said, "The weak spot in missions today…is not in the field…nor in the administration of the Board, nor in the pews, but it is in the pulpit." Munger was of course writing from a “West to the Rest” mindset and referring to Western pastors. Today, could Munger’s thought not equally apply to the vast number of untrained pastors globally who lack biblical preparation and therefore cannot adequately equip their people for the task of world evangelization?
When only five out of one-hundred pastors are trained for pastoral ministry, the mission of God is slowed and church health suffers, thereby impeding sustainable church growth. But what if the pastors were better trained to live out their vital Ephesians 4:11 role? How would that affect what we see in terms of Ephesians 4:12 expressions?
"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" Ephesians 4:11-12
With the urgent emphasis on local pastors that Munger was calling for over one-hundred years ago, how might this serve the Great Commission today? From a mission strategy perspective, local pastors are on-site, longer term, less expensive and more relevant to their context than a “foreign missionary” can hope to be. That being true, would it then not be most strategic to consider how we might better train pastors globally, especially given the prevailing lack of training worldwide?
According to a Gordon Conwell mid-2015 study*, there is a structural imbalance of congregations (4.3 million) to ordained clergy and pastors (1.4 million). This does not include the many bi-vocational and un-ordained pastors. How then can churches flourish, experience both growth and health if many churches are without a pastor, and only a small percentage of pastors are trained to lead their congregations effectively?
The urgent need today, and perhaps one of the most important missions strategy for the 21st Century, is for more trained pastors. Who better to mobilize the workers and pray-ers for the coming harvest? Who better to prepare and send workers to a nearby “unreached” regions? Who else is charged with the spiritual shepherding of the people of God? If as Theodore Munger told us the weak spot is still in the “pulpit,” now due to lack of training, then how might we collaboratively affect change for God’s global mission and the cause of Christ worldwide?
Answering those questions is why we are calling pastoral trainers to Bangkok, Thailand in June 2016, for the Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers. The GProCongress is being developed to connect, unite and strengthen trainers of pastors together to improve and deliver more pastoral training to where the church is growing.
If you train pastors (or aspire to traint them), or are a missions strategist, educational theorist, or resource provider for pastoral training, learn more about GProCongress at www.GProCongress.org.
As Congress General Convener, Dr. Ramesh Richard, says with respect to the purpose of this historic gathering, “The Congress is not about pastoral training for the sake of pastoral training but pastoral training for the sake of the Great Commission.”
* Source: http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/1IBMR2015.pdf
Brian Considine serves as the mobilization director for the GProCongress. Write him at Brian@rreach.org.