The Global Problem: Spiritual, Societal, and Cultural Decay
After spending 35 years in ordained gospel ministry as a church planter, pastor, para-church trainer, and seminary professor, teaching church planters, pastors, and missionaries, I’m convinced there is a very serious global problem today that most Christians do not seem to be fully aware of:
Never has there been a time in history when there have been more churches and more professing Christians. Yet, despite the remarkable spread of Christianity, spiritual darkness, and societal and cultural decay are reaching unprecedented levels globally. Spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and rampant illiteracy are still ravaging the lives of billions today. And far worse, there are still billions who have not even heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Even where the church is growing most rapidly (especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America), the results are often forms of Christianity with little or no true, lasting transformation of individuals, families and societies. Is there any wonder why most people today are not looking to the church, but to governments, educational institutions, and a host of other philanthropic and religious organizations for solutions to these global crises? And despite all the well-intentioned attempts and sporadic successes of governments, schools, and other organizations over many years, the harsh reality is that this spiritual darkness, societal, and cultural decay are worsening globally.
The Global Solution: Jesus Christ, His Church, and His Gospel
At times like this we need to be reminded that governments will come and go. Educational institutions will come and go. As will a host of other good institutions, organizations, and ministries. But the church will remain forever. That’s because Jesus is not the head of any other institution or organization except the church. And Jesus did not promise to build any other institution or organization except the church. His gospel is still the ultimate solution to all of life’s problems–spiritually, socially, and culturally. This then begs this difficult question.
The Difficult Question: Why is the Global Church Having Such Little Impact on the World Today?
There are a host of very complex, good answers to this question. But here is one very simple answer I would like to propose for your thoughtful and prayerful consideration:
Most pastoral leaders (church planters, pastors, and missionaries) globally are not being effectively equipped to start, grow, and multiply churches that are equipping Christians to be effective witnesses, disciple-makers, and agents of social transformation.
There is a worldwide pastoral educational famine being experienced by millions of pastoral leaders today. Where the church is growing most rapidly, pastoral education is usually not accessible or affordable for most pastoral leaders. But even when pastors have access to pastoral education (formal or non-formal), it normally focuses on listening to lectures (live, video, or audio), reading books, taking tests, and writing papers on bible and theology.
Normally absent is a robust practical theology that includes such critically important church ministries as evangelism, discipleship, missions, church planting, etc. You cannot train a pastoral leader primarily in a classroom any more than you can train a pilot to fly by primarily taking classroom instruction in flight theory without flying a plane, or train a surgeon by mastering the theories of medicine, but never really operating.
Most traditionally educated pastoral leaders today are like ill-equipped pilots, who only understand flight theory, being licensed to fly and handed the keys to a plane filled with passengers. They are like surgeons who only understand medical theory being licensed to practice medicine and operate in hospitals filled with the desperately ill.
The Critical Need: A New (Old) Model for Accessible, High Quality, Practical Pastoral Education
The world’s pastoral leaders today must have a very different educational model to be effectively equipped for ministry in this generation. This model must not downplay the great value of biblical and theological studies. But it must be much more holistic and integrated with real life and pastoral ministry. In order to educate pastoral leaders well, they must be led by mentors into a life-changing process of ongoing reflection and action as they learn how to apply God’s truth (biblical, theological & practical) to their personal lives and ministries in the context of doing ministry in and through a church.
A Look Ahead:
- In part 2 of this series, The Hope of the World, The Hope of the Church, & The Hope of Pastoral Leaders, we will explore three foundational pillars that underly a new (old) paradigm for more effective, global pastoral education.
- In part 3 of this series, The Failure of Formal Education, we will explore reasons most traditional education of pastoral leaders is failing.
- In part 4 of this series, The Failure of Non-Formal Education, we will explore reasons most non-formal education of pastoral leaders is failing.
- In part 5 of this series, The Promise of a New (Old) Pastoral Education, we will explore a new (old) paradigm for more effective, global pastoral education.