Re-thinking Training of Pastoral Leaders?

Historical Context
Christianity in India is nearly two thousand years old with the claim that Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, reached the shores of India in the first century. The Protestant mission history begins in 1706 when Bartholomew Zigenbalg reached Tranquebar in India and translated the Bible into Tamil, one of the languages in India. The real missions thrust came with the arrival of William Carey, considered the father of modern mission, coming in 1793 under the banner of the Baptist Missionary Society. When India received independence from the British, the new governmental policy was not in favour of issuing missionary visas and thus the number of Western missionaries coming gradually dwindled and then almost stopped. Indian Christian leadership emerged to fill the vacuum left suddenly by Western missionaries. The theological training institutions focused on developing leaders to continue the ministries of the church, so they produced pastors and leaders for the existing churches and institutions.

Dedicated Christians in locations such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and North East India, had a thirst for reaching the unreached. Out of this emerged several lay mission movements, with the vision to reach North India where Christianity was less prevalent. This missionary zeal (which was indigenous in nature and passionate to reach fellow Indians) attracted youngsters to go boldly as missionaries.

Three Eras of Post-independence Missions
This post-independence mission era began in the early 1970s and has evolved into a formidable movement. This evolution has gone through three major phases.

1. First era: Cross-cultural missions. In the early 1970s and until the late 1980s, the focus of mission was to send cross-cultural missionaries from South and North East India to North India. Many young people reached North India; however, most were not trained for this kind of missionary endeavour and struggled to learn the language and culture. In spite of human weaknesses, churches were planted in several pockets of the North, West and East parts of India.

2. Second era: Mono-cultural missions. Some of the cross-cultural missionaries understood the dynamics of mono-cultural evangelism. Cross-cultural missionaries need to take time to learn the language and culture, adapt to the new climate and do ministry. After a period of time, due to family circumstances, sickness or for the education of their children, the cross-cultural missionaries preferred to go back to their native places. These visionary leaders took local leaders (mono-cultural missionaries) from their respective regional or cultural zones, trained them as church planters and sent them out. This strategy proved very successful in several areas. In some places where previous missionaries failed, these leaders were able to penetrate and plant churches.

3. Third era: Local church missions. Beginning in the late 1990s, a new trend began to emerge. Many of the mono-cultural missionaries discovered their own gift of pastoral leadership, apostolic leadership and missional leadership. They started planting and pastoring mature congregations that became self-supporting and in turn began sending out missionaries from their local congregations. This is now happening as a sporadic “mushroom movement.”

Evolution of Training in Three Eras
These three missions eras have in turn also redefined the training of Christian leaders into three dynamic educational waves.

1. First wave: Structured theological education. India has two major accrediting agencies for theological education, the first being the Serampore Senate. The origin of the Serampore Senate goes back to the time of William Carey. Today, most of the theological associations affiliated with the Senate are from the historical mainline churches like Church of South India, Church of North India, Lutheran Church or Mar Thoma Church. Some evangelical colleges are also affiliated with this system.

The Asian Theological Association (ATA) was started when many of the evangelicals perceived that the Serampore system placed more emphasis on academics and leaned toward liberal theology. Many of the prestigious evangelical seminaries joined the ATA.

The colleges affiliated with these institutions produced pastors and leaders of institutions. The courses offered were academically sound and mainly residential. It typically took three or more years for students to earn degrees. Students trained in these institutions generally became pastors of churches in various denominations. A few opted to become missionaries with mission agencies.

2. Second wave: Missionary training institutions. Mission agencies felt that sending missionaries for training in the traditional theological education centres did not always prepare them for cross-cultural missions. They felt a need for training that focused on missiology with an emphasis on church planting. Some agencies started such training as orientation programmes for their own missionaries; others started training centres to quickly train church planters for mono-cultural missions.

For all practical purposes, India is like Europe with nearly twenty-five country-sized provinces. With a population of over one billion people, representing various cultural and linguistic blocks, missionary training centres emerged in about fifteen to twenty major language regions in India. Large numbers of grassroots level leaders were trained in these missionary training institutions in many regions or provinces. These trained mono-cultural missionaries made inroads in some of the districts and regions where cross-cultural missionaries could not break through.

In this context, the Indian Institute of Missiology (IIM) emerged, trying to bring about standardization of missionary training. IIM began with the encouragement of India Missions Association (a federal body of nearly two hundred mission agencies). The training given by various agencies had varied emphases, duration and topics. IIM tried to bring about standard curriculum for various levels and also conducted a common exam for affiliated institutions on the core subjects. The institutions conducted the exam for optional or elective subjects. Many institutions became part of this affiliating agency.

3. Third wave: Pastoral training movements. The third wave of training coincides with the growth of local church missions. A dynamic growth of the Church is evident in several parts of India. The congregations are not large like those of the historical mainline denominations, but are smaller with an average of less than fifty members. Many of these churches have been planted in the last decade.

The pastors of these little flocks have had basic church planting training of only six to nine months, if any. Training these leaders has become a real challenge and dilemma for three reasons. First, they have a lot of zeal but little or no knowledge. Many think more zeal compensates for a lack of knowledge. Second, a majority do not have many academic qualifications. They find it difficult to learn through the traditional method of education, and do well when it is a more narrative (or oral) style. Third, a majority are first-generation Christians and struggle with understanding the big picture of the Bible, global church history and global missions.

Emerging New Challenges
In 2006, I had the privilege of being in more than forty cities in India, training local pastors and leaders. Most of these pastors are between twenty and thirty years old and in many cases are responsible for one or multiple congregations. These congregations vary in size from twenty to over 150 members. Additionally, a majority of the church members are first-generation Christians.

These pastors do not have resources (in terms of time and money) to go to a seminary or Bible college and study for three years. In fact, many do not even have the academic credentials for entry into many of these institutions. Very few are bi-vocational while a majority are full-time workers. Adding to these challenges is the fact that there are few institutions that could train them in their vernacular language.

Models of Hope
In the modern world of customization and delivery at our doorstep, pastoral training could also be done in a similar way. The following are good models that have proved to be successful and effective in helping train pastors in various parts of India.

  • Trainers of Pastors International Coalition (TOPIC) is a network of nearly 185 pastoral training institutions around the world. In 2002, TOPIC held a national consultation along with Evangelical Fellowship of India and Hindustan Bible Institute. In 2003, TOPIC-India began to facilitate various pastoral training in India.
  • Global Modular Studies (GLOMOS) is an arm of Action Ministries. Their course runs for thirty days and covers ten subjects (Interpretation of the Bible, Old Testament Survey, New Testament Survey, Church, Missions, Leadership, etc.). The course is taught three days each month over a period of ten months. This is offered to pastors who are unable to leave their ministry and go for residential courses. Presently, this course is offered at Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Kalimpong and Bhuvaneswar. There are more than fifty students in each course and many have discovered this training as being life-transforming and effective.
  • Bible Training Centre for Pastors (BTCP) is used in over 1,500 centres in India. This course includes 520 hours of study and has ten subjects (Bible study methods, Church Management, Doctrines, Leadership, Church History, etc.). The training is done locally and each centre has classes that last between five and ten hours a week. Ideally, the course is completed in two years time. The material is available in ten Indian languages.
  • Training Network (T-Net) follows a similar model to BTCP, but has a five-day module every three months for a period of two years.
  • Hindustan Bible College, Chennai offers an evening course which runs for two years. They also offer similar courses in their regional centres in several regions of India.
  • CCARE Institute in Hyderabad brings pastors together either in the morning or evenings for two years with the end goal of earning a masters degree in counseling. Many city pastors, assistant pastors and bi-vocational ministers enroll in these courses. They are able to upgrade their knowledge and skills by doing ministry and study side by side. This helps them to reflect while they study and experiment with new ideas in their ministry.
  • Some theological seminaries like Mission India Theological Seminary, Nagpur offer summer courses in the months of May and June. These are “crash courses” for thirty days on various subjects.
  • Short-term courses are offered by various agencies in areas such as counseling, communication, youth ministry, apologetics, expository preaching and member care. The duration varies from one week to thirty days.
  • Seminars for three to five days are offered. Leaders like Ramesh Richard, Rick Warren and John Maxwell have offered the seminars to Indian pastors in various cities.

Is This Enough?
There is a need for working out innovative models of delivery of training to pastors. The non-residential and non-formal models of training have helped a good number of pastoral leaders. But this training also needs to percolate further down to smaller cities like district headquarters (India has six hundred districts) and even further down to block levels across the country.

There is also a need for more specific training for leaders who would like to work among targeted groups of people like the urban middle class, modern youth, urban poor or street kids. Training is also needed for Christians who desire to be ministry tentmakers.

Harnessing the potential of modern technology like the Internet and DVDs is another area trainers should explore. Delivering lessons via email or doing exams over the Internet is possible. Video conferencing is another possibility. Recording lectures of leaders on various subjects and distributing to potential candidates using various technology is another option. Group emails could become discussion groups to reflect on important current topics. Blogs could be explored for training, brain-storming and reflection among pastors and Christian leaders.

The need for specialized training for this new wave of pastoral leaders in India is great. The scope to reach them is unlimited and the current training models are symbols of hope pointing to a bright future for reaching leaders in India.

Rev. Dr. J. N. Manokaran is managing director of Trainers of Pastors International Coalition (TOPIC) India. He is trained as a civil engineer in South India and served as a cross-cultural missionary in North India for eleven years.