What We Need to Teach MENASA Urban Church Planters

Learning objectives for theological education

Our focus where I teach is on training men to plant and pastor churches in the cities of the MENASA region (=Middle East, North Africa, South Asia). We’ve had to ponder specifically what we want the results of our program to be – what are we laboring to instill in students before they graduate?

Well, we’ve got a few ideas. Indeed, here’s fourteen targets we’re using as we plan curriculum and mentor students. By graduation, we want to see students demonstrate:

1. Skill to faithfully exegete texts from any biblical genre and apply exegetical logic in all ministry contexts

Students need understanding of how different texts/genres function, knowledge of history and background, awareness of how to handle problems and use external sources correctly, and proficiency in grammatical, lexical, and contextual analysis of the text itself. With this exegetical acumen comes the ability to use exegetical logic to carry out all kinds of ministry in all kinds of contexts in a way directly tied to the accurate meaning of the biblical text.

2. Gospel clarity in his target context

If pastors are being sent to the nations to preach salvation they need to know how to preach salvation. So we need students to understand the basic, unchanging, message of the gospel, and communicate that message in a way that the particular people they are going to be speaking can understand.

3. Ability to teach and preach the Bible with accuracy, clarity, passion, and fruitfulness

All good preaching is faithful preaching, but not all faithful preaching is good. Effective urban pastors will need to be both, and getting there involves training in best practices for preparation and communication, but more than that practice and coaching that develops students from beginning preachers to able servants of the body of Christ.

4. Foundational knowledge of and convictional competence in the Bible, biblical theology, and systematic theology

Christian pastors must know what they believe because the week-in-week-out practice of exegetical skill and exegetical logic in specific situations is either helped by a deep well of existing study and knowledge, or hampered by a lack of understanding of how the particular thing they are studying today fits with the rest of God’s revelation. Christian pastors need to know what they believe because they are entrusted to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, and the saints in MENASA are trying to forage a Christian identity and witness amongst cultures entrenched in other religions; the one who would lead them and teach them must not just have a few memorized speeches but be ready to bring the breadth and depth of God’s revelation to bear.

5. Critical discernment informed by exegetical logic and biblical/theological/historical knowledge

Our graduates will minister in contexts influenced by dozens or hundreds of religious teachers, Christian and non-Christian, orthodox or heterodox, in-person or online. So their training needs to include both understanding what is true, and developing abilities in critical thinking and analysis to be able to biblically critique what is untrue.

6. Ability and readiness to apply biblical ecclesiology and missiology in urban MENASA contexts

If you’re going to lead the church, you need to know what the church is and what it’s for. So students need to be equipped not with a few proof-texts, but a full-color, whole-Bible picture of all God says about the church and its mission, and then need to understand how to apply that theology in the particular contexts where they will serve.

7. Capacity to analyze a ministry context and design appropriate and fruitful programs and content

Those whose capacity is limited to reproducing someone else’s ministry program are not likely to thrive in a church planting context. Our graduates need to be prepared to conduct an analysis of their ministry culture, and connect Scripture to that context with the right kinds of teaching and ministry. They need to be ministry designers, who use exegetical logic to continually shape the right kind of work for a particular place.

8. A specific vision and plan for his church/church planting ministry, including identification of a target context and understanding the history, religious/church context, and apologetic challenges of that context

We don’t want students to finish the program and only then begin considering their future ministry. Instead, part of the program is helping them develop their vision and plan for future work, and growing in their understanding of the dynamics that must be accounted for in order to minister successfully in that place.

9. Biblical wisdom in response to issues of ethics, counseling, leadership, and apologetics

As a student studies the Bible and doctrine, we want to see an increased ability to put God’s truth together in a way that results in Biblical thinking about the variety of issues encountered in life and ministry. Leaders should respond to problems and opportunities not by raw instinct, but by wisdom shaped in a deep knowledge of biblical principles and exegetical logic connecting them to this situation.

10. The instinct of an overseer to lead in his planning, teaching, and relationships

We are not just training men to teach, but also to lead. Pastors and planters need to be leaders. So we are seeking to spark this instinct and see it develop through relationships and ministry in the church.

11. Commitment to and affinity for lifelong learning

We can’t teach students all they need to know for a lifetime of ministry, can’t anticipate every issue they will face and choice they need to make. What we can do is seek to instill the hunger for a life of continual learning and continual application of that learning in the ministry of the church.

12. Qualification for biblical office of elder; continually maturing character

The New Testament, particularly in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, describes what kind of person a church elder must be. While these qualifications relate primarily to character qualities best developed outside the classroom, training leaders for the church involves working with the church to make sure the character of a leader is developing.

13. Exemplary work ethic, financial integrity, and self-sacrifice

The church doesn’t need lazy ministers, and it certainly doesn’t need those who want to use the church for personal gain. In contexts where financial mismanagement and corruption are rampant, leaders need to practice personal discipline in work and financial management, know best practices for handling ministry finances, and be seen as wise stewards in all.

14. Love for, commitment to, and the affirmation of the local church

If our graduates don’t love the church, we’ve failed. God will advance his mission through the church, so we need to graduates who rejoice in being sent by churches for ministry in churches.

This is a lot to cover, and that’s why training isn’t finished in two weeks. The ministry God has entrusted to the church requires capable and well-prepared servants to lead the church, and we pray God would use our efforts to raise up such leaders.

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  1. Pingback: Questioning Theological Education (Part 1) | Dr. Z.

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