2008 Summit: Let's Connect... Relevance

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Jim Billings 


“Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’  For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.”  (Proverbs 7:10 NKJV)  In order to avoid living in the past and falling into an irrelevant mode, we must remain on the cutting edge of what God is doing today.  Those who believe that our best days were in the past will not strive to keep up with changing trends and will soon find themselves sitting on the sidelines watching (criticizing?) those who believe that these are the greatest days of opportunity for the Church.

Our session on maintaining relevance in ministerial training included a written paper by Monnie Grams, along with written and personal expositions by Daniel Klaehn, Bill Smith and Mark Lemos.  Each presented a history of ministerial training in the country he represents.  This was followed with a presentation by Gary Wornica on restating our core values in a changing world.  Break out groups discussed several questions relating to the topic and reported their findings to the group.  The session ended with group participation discussing what we must do to remain relevant in ministerial training.

I.  Monnie Grams wrote about the challenges he and his family faced in the early days of the work in Bolivia.  It soon became apparent that a handful of missionaries could not accomplish the task of evangelizing an entire nation, and the emphasis moved to training nationals for the work of the ministry.  Most countries in Latin America started with a central Bible school located in a major city.  This too had its limitations and soon regional schools began to appear.  Daniel Klaehn spoke of the evolution of the work in Nicaragua which eventually led to the opening of a Christian University.  Unfortunately, the majority of the present student body is studying liberal arts and only a few are preparing for the ministry.  The goal of evangelizing the unsaved on campus has not materialized.  Bill Smith reported that the Bible school in Haiti is presently closed, but plans are underway to reopen it.  Mark Lemos told about the struggles they have faced in Brazil because of the anti-education sentiments that have prevailed there for decades. 

Discussion followed these presentations and different participants identified similarities to the training of ministers in their respective countries.  The general consensus was, that although cultures and core values have changed, the ongoing need for ministerial training is as great as ever.  We as missionaries may not be the central figures as were many missionaries in years past, but we still can have a great influence in Christian education in our respective roles.  All missionaries are encouraged to at least teach a class in the Bible school regardless of what main ministry one may have.

2.  Gary Wornica presented a paper on restating core values in light of a changing world.  Two great missionary pioneers, Ralph Williams and Melvin Hodges, made ministerial training a priority in LAC.  The Bible institute that Ralph Williams founded in Mexico City in 1928 has grown to 48 AG Bible Institutes in Mexico today.  Melvin Hodges developed the indigenous church principles that continue to guide us today and serve to reinforce the need for ministerial training.  Gary states, “I believe that our passion for training national ministers flows directly from the core values of conviction, innovation and empowerment that were forged from our past and present experience of Pentecostal revival in LAC.”  He believes that these core values will help us to remain relevant in a world characterized by globalization and rapid urbanization.

We broke into small groups according to similarities in ministry to discuss changes in our world today and how these changes impact our core values and those of the national church.   The general consensus was that we must maintain our belief in and practice of the indigenous church principles.  We must never lose sight of our Pentecostal heritage, but continue to keep it in the fore front of all of our ministerial training.  We will need to continue to adapt and improve our delivery systems based on these core values.

3.  In redefining the need for ministerial education, we discussed the different approaches that are now being used to respond to the special challenges of our changing world.  Besides the traditional boarding schools, there are now night schools, Saturday schools, extension schools, correspondence schools and local church schools.  Each of these reflects an effort to make ministerial training relevant and accessible.  Post Bible school training is gaining momentum in Latin America as the level of education rises for the general culture.  Many are asking for accredited studies.  This topic was discussed at length.

Our session ended with a discussion as to how to encourage more of our young missionaries towards ministerial training.  It was noted that all new missionaries aren’t necessarily young.  We who have been on the field for a period of time can look for opportunities to steer younger (newer) missionaries towards ministerial training.  We believe that this is still the best way to build a strong indigenous church and assure that we will remain relevant in this changing world.