How do churches grow? How do they stay healthy?

“Churches live, grow and flourish by the Word of God, and they languish and die without it…whenever the Word of God is faithfully expounded and applied, congregations grow in both size and depth.” John Stott 

Stott reminds us that the wellbeing of God’s people is through clear explanation and relevant application of God’s Word. But how will God’s people be well fed without a well-trained preacher?

 

Paul gave a charge to young Timothy:

“…the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Tim 2:2. 

Implicit in Paul’s thinking is the need to train pastors so that they will be ‘qualified to teach’. After all, you can’t give what you haven’t got. If you don’t know how the Bible makes sense as a whole, it’s not likely the congregation will grasp its extraordinary unity from a Garden in Genesis to a City in Revelation. If a pastor doesn’t know that all the Scriptures centre on Christ, how likely will pastors preach Christ from all of Scripture?

It’s important for the nitty-gritty of life too. If men and women are to be counselled well in times of need, anxiety, loss, doubt and distress, they need a pastor qualified to teach them and apply God’s Word to their souls.

This is all very well in theory, but according to one estimate, 95% of Majority World pastors have no formal biblical training. And for the most part, they would love to get it but for various reasons, can’t. The church is growing worldwide, but it is not always growing mature disciples, solidly founded on the truths of God’s Word. Size is not the same as health.

In some countries, leaders can go to traditional seminaries. This is a luxury for some who can devote a solid three years or so of their life to studies. Often these seminaries are open to receiving the help of seasoned pastors from the West to teach short courses.

But this model cannot be replicated everywhere. In countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the rapidly growing church is young. Newly converted believers come into positions of leadership early. They feel compelled to teach but ill-equipped for the task. The Farsi-speaking church is a persecuted, underground church and so seminaries cannot freely operate. Training for these leaders has to take a form that goes under the radar of the Islamic government.

Often the demand for training is greater than the supply. One group of pastors received training in a restricted-access country in South-East Asia and were disappointed that the next such event was scheduled for several months ahead: “There are so many other places to go we can’t come back sooner,” was the reply they got. If only there were more pastor-trainers!

Different contexts invite a flexible approach. But that there needs to be training is not in doubt. One experienced pastor who teaches pastors had this to say:

I wholeheartedly believe that one of the most effective ways to reach and disciple a nation is by training national pastors and leaders – who already know the language, culture, and customs – so that they can reach and disciple their own people for Jesus Christ.

It seems to me a strategy for the health of churches and the growth of the kingdom is clear. We must train leaders who can faithfully expound and apply the Word of God to His people who will be equipped to reach their culture.

God is able. Are we willing to play our part?

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