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Posts By: Paul Smith

Training Pastors in Ghana

Nov. 6, 2015By: Paul Smith

For the next few months, TLI will be highlighting one of our teaching sites around the world. This first installment highlights our work in the west African country of Ghana.

When companies, the government, and even churches in southern Ghana want to punish someone, they send them to the north.  In general, the south is more populous, richer, and at least nominally Christian.   

sasto_under_domamaIn the Upper East Region (the equivalent of a state) where our training is held: 72% of the population is non-Christian (46% Traditional Religion; 23% Muslim; 3% Other), 16% Catholic, 6% Pentecostal, and 4% Protestant.  Both Christianity and Islam are experiencing rapid growth, and we see new churches and mosques every time we are in Ghana.  There are areas within the Upper East region that are primarily Traditional Religion and there are areas primarily Muslim, but there are no areas that contain a Christian majority.  Traditional religion still exerts a strong influence in the area.  To give one example, one of our students' grandfather built a community altar and his father continued to take care of it.  Now, as head of the family, our student is facing social pressure to continue to maintain and practice the religious rites.  Whenever something bad happens, such as a drought, it is seen as evidence that the community is being punished for our student's failure to appease the spirits, having abandoned them for a "foreign god."

We began teaching in this area in January 2015 in partnership with Community Life Church in Forney, Texas.  Community  Life Church had been interested and involved in northern Ghana since 2006.  When Community Life Church first began supporting ministry in northern Ghana, they found Christianity rapidly expanding both in numbers of conversions and number of churches being planted. 

However, the rapid expansion of the gospel was beginning to cause difficulties for the churches in Northern Ghana.  While a good problem to have, so many churches were being planted that there were not enough biblically literate people to pastor them.  Newer Christians were being called upon to be leaders.  The nearest place where Christians could receive biblical and theological training was Accra, a twelve hour journey by car.  In addition to the distance, because Accra was comparatively richer than the north, many who went south for education never returned.

In the vacuum of theological and biblical training, false teaching and errors began to creep into the church.  In the absence of biblical knowledge, many were filling in the gaps with their previous religions' beliefs about God(s).  Works oriented views of salvation and relating to God are especially prevalent.  Each of the four times we have been to northern Ghana, we have been asked questions about earning your salvation based on Philippians 2:12 (it is quite impressive how students managed to work in a question about Philippians 2:12 in a class on Genesis 1-11). 

Community Life Church wanted to help meet the need they saw for theological education in northern Ghana.  They had the desire, resources, and determination.  They saw themselves as lacking an effective curriculum and knowledge and experience of how to be effective at training leaders in an international setting.  So they asked to partner with Training Leaders International in order to help train pastors in northern Ghana.  Training Leaders International has benefited from Community Life Church's knowledge and experience in northern Ghana, as well as their pastors and staff who have made wonderful teachers.

Our students are hard at work strengthening the church in northern Ghana.  In a little over a year and a half, our students have planted 18 churches.  Most of our students are either recent church planters or are being prepared to be church planters.  So many church leaders have requested to take our training that in January 2016 we are adding two additional classes, which we project will bring our total number of students to over 100. 

One last, quick story illustrating the importance of our training.  One Sunday I was preaching at the church of one of our students.  Like many preachers, I began by saying something along the lines of "if you have your Bibles please turn to..."  I would estimate of the two hundred or so people there fewer than twenty had a Bible.  After the service, I asked the pastor about it to see if my observation was correct.  It was.  For various reasons, including illiteracy, poverty, and the difficulties in getting a Bible in their own language, fewer than 20% of the families in his church had access to a Bible.  That means, for the vast majority of his congregation the only thing they knew about Christianity comes from the pastor's sermons.  That puts a huge responsibility on the pastor to be able to preach the Bible well.  As a result of our work in northern Ghana, are students are becoming better at reading, understanding, and preaching the Bible.  The churches in northern Ghana are strengthened because of it.

Paul Smith is an International Trainer with TLI and Site Director for Ghana. TLI has teaching trips to Ghana scheduled in January and June of 2016. If you are interested in teaching in northern Ghana, click here. For a list of other TLI trips and needs, click here .

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