From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, the biblical story-line significantly involves the topic of leadership. An important aspect of God’s plan of redemption, as seen in the Old Testament, are those He calls out as leaders. Whether prophets, priests, or kings, throughout redemptive history God is setting apart those He calls “shepherds” over His people. But there is also a major problem.
Many times, those God sets apart to “shepherd” prove themselves wicked and faithless. Of course, we know that all these leadership expectations are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the Prophet, Priest, and King. But after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, King Jesus, our Great Shepherd, has not left His flock untended. The New Testament is full of instructions regarding the significance of leadership within the life of God’s chosen people—the church.
The Greatest Need in the World
David Sills states, “The greatest need in the world today is to preach the gospel to the lost, deeply disciple believers, train leaders, and educate pastors.” It’s true that these gospel activities together comprise the task of biblical mission. Furthermore, they are equally important elements of mission, yet so few are involved in the training aspect of this task as compared to evangelism to unreached peoples. In fact, the number one need and request from missionaries, churches and pastors outside the U.S. is for theological training.
No doubt, we must reach the unreached, but we must also obey the Great Commission in its entirety, teaching them to observe all that King Jesus commanded. Those who focus on evangelism and reaching the unreached are playing a vital role in seeing millions of persons being called to faith in Jesus. Yet these new believers then need discipleship and training before the task of mission can be complete. Many times we see ministries focusing on reaching the unreached that they often leave evangelized areas too quickly, resulting in unintended syncretism and heresy in churches. Taking into account all that the Bible commands about discipleship and training, and how imbalanced the focus has become, David Sills goes on to say, “The great tragedy of the world is not that it is unreached but that it is undiscipled.”
Those who focus on evangelism and reaching the unreached are playing a vital role in seeing millions of persons being called to faith in Jesus. Yet these new believers then need discipleship and training before the task of mission can be complete.
An Insufficient Number of Theologically Trained Pastoral Leaders
Out of 7.3 billion people on planet earth, 6.3 billion live in the Majority World, which is the geographic area of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. Today, at least 75% of the world’s Christians are non-Western living in the Majority World. But 80% of Majority World pastors have little to no theological training. To put this in perspective, in the U.S. there is 1 trained pastor per 250 people. Around the world, there is 1 trained pastor per 450,000 people. As mentioned above, as result of the advancement of the gospel in these parts of the world, many churches are being established and are growing at an astounding rate. In fact, it is estimated that within the next 100 years, “The heart language of those who lead the global church in 2118 will almost certainly not be English.” However, there is an insufficient number of pastoral leaders who are theologically trained in God’s Word to shepherd the growing number of believers in these churches.
The teaching in the churches around the world, even in evangelical churches, is mixed with error and traces of former religions. In a recent interview, Mónica Ramírez of World Vision Guatemala, a Guatemalan evangelical who has done extensive work with the Guatemalan evangelical church throughout the country, was asked about access to theological training for pastoral leaders. She replied, saying, “[There is] not enough for the large number of evangelical churches in existence. Pastors are formed as they go, on the road; they have their Bible, and they interpret it on their own. Sometimes there is ambivalence in the interpretation of the scriptures, especially among small denominations that arise spontaneously.”
To put this in perspective, in the U.S. there is 1 trained pastor per 250 people. Around the world, there is 1 trained pastor per 450,000 people.
An Epidemic of False Teaching in the Global Church
Pastoral leaders are called to correct false teaching and maintain biblical fidelity, yet the growing gap in theological education leaves the global church susceptible to false teaching, decay, and collapse. At a recent conference for theological education in Latin America, IMB missionary and theological educator, Mark Johnson, shared of how Baptist churches on the Brazil-Peru border (middle of the Amazon) were on the verge of collapse, or worse have chased after diverse and strange teachings. When asked why these churches were decaying and collapsing, he quickly responded, saying, “They are not receiving any pastoral or theological training.”
The task of training pastoral leaders is an urgent one. The apostle Paul reminds us of what can happen when churches are led by pastoral leaders with little to no theological training. He writes,
“If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.” (1 Tim. 6:3-5, CSB)
Once again, it is estimated that there are approximately 5 million pastoral leaders outside the U.S. And an overwhelming majority of them have very little to no theological training. This situation has been described as a “theological famine.” And I am convinced that the challenge of theological education today around the globe is not distance, it’s access.