Scaling Up Theological Training in Africa

The Association of Evangelicals in Africa convened a theological consultation to develop and implement strategies to tackle the problem of untrained and poorly trained pastors in the continent. . The goal was to equip and strengthen grassroots churches in Africa, with participants challenged to scale up training of another 20% of pastors over the next five years. From September 9th through 13th, 2019, approximately 300 people from 30 countries from Africa and beyond gathered at the Dimesse Sisters in Nairobi, Kenya. They included church leaders from the National Evangelical Alliances, theological educators, publishers and grassroots pastors.

AEA is now set to launch Theological consultation Compendium highlighting major papers and proposals put forward at the consultation. In this piece, we present an extract from the Compendium by Dr John Jusu, outlining the Purpose and Design of the consultation.

Purpose and Design of the Consultation

By Dr. John Jusu

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity (n.d.) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that 95% of pastoral or Christian leaders globally are insufficiently trained:

The CSGC estimates a total of 5 million pastors/priests in all Christian traditions worldwide (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and Independents, including bi-vocational). Of these, we estimate that 5% (250,000) are likely to have formal theological training (undergraduate Bible degrees or Master’s degrees). This is based on incomplete responses in survey results from colleges and seminaries in our Global Survey on Theological Education. Roughly 70% of these pastors are in Independent congregations. Independent pastors, in particular, have little theological training, even in the West.

When you look at those numbers, you wonder, what have we been doing all this time as theological institutions in training? What does it mean that we have such heavy masses of people who are insufficiently trained? How are we training people for the great Church in Africa?

We realised that formal theological training, which takes four years to complete, will not meet the leadership demand. But the non-formal sector has huge potential to train people to a critical level and give them the basic competencies that they need. Unfortunately, formal educators and non-formal educators have not been in constructive conversation. Advocates of formal education perceive non-formal education as unaccredited and poor quality. Advocates of non-formal education perceive formal education as irrelevant to the needs of the Church. Instead of being opponents, how can we harness the strength of formal education and the strength of non-formal education so that we harmonise the overall training of pastors? Scaling up non-formal education to meet demand seemed like one solution. This consultation was designed to bring these two segments together. We all have common goals to serve the same Church, so why not put our resources and expertise together to give the Church in Africa what it needs to meet the millions that are coming to Christ?

To facilitate that conversation, we needed to listen to both ends of the spectrum. So part of the conference was designed to showcase strategies for success in each sector: What are you doing in a non-formal setting that formal education is not aware of? How can the formal sector also help the non-formal sector with quality to scale it up to where it needs to be? One mode of education alone is insufficient, but the goal was designing a training model that could provide leaders that the Church in Africa needs for its expansion.

A lot of thinking went into the consultation design. Often, we see what the actors present but not what goes on behind the stage curtain. We designed the consultation with several objectives in mind:

  1. To have an appreciation of the needs for sound biblical and theological education in all of life.
  2. To understand how the need to bring biblical and theological training to untrained pastors and church leaders is currently being addressed using case studies of best practices and to see how the success stories can be scaled up to meet the training deficit for pastors and church leaders.
  3. To identify practical biblical and theological training methods and resources for effective use by untrained and undertrained pastors and church leaders, especially in preaching, evangelism and discipleship.
  4. To develop or identify strategies for sustaining non-formal and informal training for pastors and church leaders in sound biblical and theological education for effective ministry at the grassroots.
  5. To provide leadership development in National Evangelical Fellowships.

To achieve these goals and get the formal, informal, and nonformal sectors talking to each other, the consultation design and delivery intentionally incorporated a mix of presentations, interactions, and showcase sessions. The speaker presentations are captured in this compendium. In addition, partner organisations presented research results from the Africa Leadership Study, success stories from their ministries, and showcased helpful tools developed by publishers. To complement the more academic presentations, each day also included a panel discussion around a themed question. The panels comprised of two non-formal training representatives, two informal training representatives, and one National Evangelical Fellowship representative.

While many conferences involve only lectures, education research has shown that this is an ineffective teaching method. We had gathered leaders from around the continent with expertise who we wanted to weigh in on these important issues based on their contexts and experiences. So, we ensured that there was time for discussion in small groups each afternoon. The results of these discussions were reported back to the larger group each day. A listening team then summarised the day’s conclusions, helping participants to integrate insights from the conference and chart a clear path forward together.

Even in the presentations, we deliberately chose speakers who represented the two worlds or even bridged them both, people who had been in the Academy and also had done a lot of informal or non-formal training, so they could bring their expertise together. These people modelled that one can actually do both types of training consistently. For instance, I was trained for the formal sector, but when Ebola came into my country, I went non-formal with public health education and I was able to save over 15,000 people using that mode. Right now, we have millions and millions of Christians who want to who want to share their faith. It is not necessary to bring them to the formal sector. However, some people have done that too.

Our efforts at bringing synergy between the two modes of training were very successful. We shattered the barrier between these two modes of training. As we brought our leaders to talk about things that really mattered, you could see from the spirit in the room that this was on people’s hearts. The keynote speaker, Prof. Victor Cole, raised many pertinent issues that led the discussion further, as we had hoped. He is a distinguished individual who has written a lot of books on training in ministry. The papers presented addressed the issues we had hoped for.

Professor James Nkansah and I moderated the presentations. We had previously communicated with the presenters so that we could provide an appropriate bridge from one speaker to the next. This helps attendees to see the consultation as a whole and not as separate pieces. Prior knowledge of what will be said also helps one know how to sequence the presentations so that they build on each other rather than points of connection being lost with four other speakers between two highly connected presentations.

The attendees realised we all share the same purpose of serving the Church, so we can help one another. Formal institutions are now trying to see how to partner with non-formal entities. So, for example, this trainer on the field can mentor the person doing church planting in northern Kenya, and now also this missions student in the formal sector. The formal institutions now have a larger base for their practicums because we brought them together. Networks were created.

In hindsight, we realised some things that could be improved in the future. The logistics were a challenge. The space was tight. Breaking into small groups was difficult and the noise level was very high when people were discussing. We could have extended the invitation to a little bit larger group if we had a larger space. Unfortunately, our efforts at follow up were thwarted. Since I travel to almost all the regions where participants came from, I intended to meet them and talk about how they had implemented what they had learned. Due to COVID, I was not able to meet with people and I was hesitant to bore people with online calls. So I was unable to provide feedback from that follow up, although perhaps when we start to travel, we may have a chance.

The participation of our partners was commendable. Each of them contributed their own piece to the issues that we are doing. For instance, the Africa Study Bible is written for the non-formal sector. It does not focus on Greek and Hebrew exegesis which people in the formal sector spend years studying. They may feel proud of doing Greek 1-6, but not end up using it. We are taking the insights from Greek 1-6 and putting it into material that a person at a grassroots level can read. We cherish their partnership. Dr. Ted Barnett also did a very good job in organizing the consultation. He put lots of time into it, not to mention waiting for me for two hours in traffic, which was a huge sacrifice for an American. This consultation meant a lot to him. We cherish his time and his contributions, including insights from very African thinking.

Going forward, AEA has a strategic role to play in bringing partners together. Some of us are so preoccupied that we cannot normally sit down and think about these issues until AEA nudges us. It would be wonderful if AEA’s theological commission kept doing yearly consultations, that pertained not only to education but other subjects we struggle within Africa. For example, what is the evangelical Church saying about migration or affirmative action? AEA can bring friends and partners on board who are interested in the same things but lack a forum to discuss these issues with a bigger body. They do not need to run independent conferences in various locations. Instead, why not we come together and trust AEA’s theology commission to hold one yearly consultation so that we gather together? This is an especially efficient use of resources given where we are at with the high numbers of untrained church leaders in Africa.

We should bring in more partners who we know and see what they can showcase from what they are doing. In Sierra Leona, every year all the universities come together to showcase their programs to prospective people who may want to enrol. If AEA creates that platform ministries will come and showcase what they are doing. They will realise that within 30 minutes, they were able to reach 300 church leaders in Africa attending the slot just from an activity slot at the consultation. This is very strong marketing. Once they come alongside to partner, AEA can give them we give them a page in the Afroscope newsletter as well. We can also follow up with the attendees for a sentence or two about the impact the consultation had: How have you used this material since you left? We could collect those stories as content for the Afroscope. We have a lot of content within our communities and we need to actually showcase stories of people serving our communities.