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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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Honor and Shame are Objective (Not Merely Subjective)

Oct. 21, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

Many Christians think honor and shame are simply subjective categories. I believe the Bible disagrees. Scripture uses the concepts of honor-shame to convey objective realities. 

Unfortunately, this observation often gets overlooked. In recent weeks and months, I’ve seen this time and time again. I regularly receive pushback from people who think shame and honor are nothing more than psychological and anthropological terms.

Honor = Glory = Objective Reality

If you care about what the Bible says, I urge you to set aside that assumption for a moment and consider a few passages that challenge conventional thinking.

honor-and-shame-0011. Hebrews  

Hebrews 3:3 is unambiguous. 

 “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses––as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” 

Note two observations. First, the writer says that a house (not a person) has honor. Second, The verse treats glory (doxÄ“s) and honor (timÄ“n) as functionally synonymous terms. 

2.  John’s Gospel 

Jesus’ use of honor-glory is illustrative. In John 17:22, Jesus prays to the Father, 

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”

Likewise, in John 8:49–50, 

“Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor [atimazete] me. Yet I do not seek my own glory [doxan]; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.’” 

Again, glory is treated as an objective reality, not a subjective feeling. Also, via contrast, (dis)honor is correlated with glory. (I point this out because some people try to forge a sharp wedge between “honor” and “glory” despite biblical evidence to the contrary. 

3. Habakkuk 2:16

“You will have your fill of shame instead of glory…Drink yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory.

First, the passage treats shame and glory as objective realities that can be gained and taken away. Second, note that the writer contrasts shame and glory (and I doubt many people will say glory, which God possesses, is a mere psychological feeling in God’s mind).

Why are Honor and Shame Objective?

One’s honor or shame is objective in two respects.

1. A person or thing’s honor and shame describes his/her/its worth or some characteristic.

The basic idea is evident in Hebrews 11:24–26, which says, 

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” 

Moses’ disgrace or lack of honor is described in terms of “wealth” [plouton], something that has value in itself. It is more than a mere feeling.

To think of it another way, something is considered “shameful” if it is worthy of shame, censure, rebuke, etc. From this perspective, shame can be objectified in the same way Peter objectifies the emotion of fear in 1 Peter 3:6. He writes,

  “do not fear anything that is frightening” [m
Ä“ phoboumenai mÄ“demian ptoÄ“sin]. 

The latter phrase speaks of some thing (object, person, situation) that is regarded as being worthy of fear. 

2. A person’s reputation or social “worth” is assessed by others (or even another person).

Honor and shame like guilt as relative to some standard or measure existing outside an individual. For instance, relative to some law, I may be objectively guilty of an offense regardless of whether I have guilt feelings.

In the same way, God’s people would agree that those who have Spiritual fruit (i.e.  love, joy, peace, patience, self-control….) enjoy an honor/glory relative to Christ. Yet, relative to the world, otherwise godly attributes like humility are deemed humiliating, shameful, or dishonorable. 

In short, having honor or shame in one respect depends on an outside (objective) standard rather than an individual’s psychological (subjective) feeling.

Are We Ashamed of Honor?

What do we do with these observations?

1. Self-reflection

I suggest that people humbly do some self-reflection to consider whether they have overlooked the significance role of honor and shame within the Bible. Might cultural or denominational biases create this blindspot?

To assist you, check out my article “Why the Church Has Lost Face” (in the Jan 2015 issue of Mission Frontiers).

2. Reading

Do some further reading on the subject. A number of resources have come out recently that appeal to different audience; some are introductory, some go deeper into theological debates. On my blog, various posts and resources can help. 

Also, here are a few books to start with:

ï Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame

Don’t let the word “Chinese” deceive you. Only one chapter speaks exclusively to a Chinese context. Most of the book develops a theology of salvation for (any) honor-shame context. While not a light read, it is overtly theological and exegetical for those who want to see interaction with the broader theological community.

The next two books are written for a more general audience and so introduce a variety of concepts. They purposefully do not engage in rigorous exegesis and theological debate.

ï The Global Gospel

ï The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

3. Honor-Shame Language

Intentionally read Scripture with an eye for honor-shame related issues. Don’t forget that you may need to reframe how you have thought about certain topics, like God’s glory.

For instance, John Piper like Jonathan Edwards has rightly proclaimed that God is most passionate about His own glory. Amen. Yet, we could just as well borrow a Chinese expression and say that God is passionately seeks His own “face.”

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Don Whitney on the Need for Theological Training

Oct. 7, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

How-to-Practice-a-Gospel-Centered-SpiritualityDon Whitney:

In August of 1989 I have the privilege of participating in a mission trip to the bush country of East Africa….I was unprepared for some of my encounters with many of the professing Christians in this equatorial setting. Lying, stealing, and immorality were common and generally accepted, even among the leadership of the church.  Theological understanding was as scarce as water, the disease of doctrinal error as common as malaria. 

Soon I discovered one of the main reasons this church looked as though it had been started by Corinthian missionaries. No one had a Bible – not the pastor, not a deacon, no one. The pastor had only half-a-dozen sermons, all half-baked over the coals of a few Bible-story recollections. Every sixth week came the same sermon. The only real contact with Scripture happened with the occasional visit of a missionary or when an area denominational leader would preach.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

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Don’t Study the Bible with a Secular Spirit

Nov. 6, 2012By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

B.B. Warfield in Trials of Theology

There is certainly something wrong with the religious life of a theological student who does not study. But it does not quite follow that therefore everything is right with his religious life if he does study. It is possible to study – even to study theology – in an entirely secular spirit. I said a little while ago that what religion does is to send a man to his work with an added quality of devotion. In saying that, I meant the word ‘devotion’ to be taken in both its senses – in the sense of ‘zealous application,’ and in the sense of ‘a religious exercise.’ A truly religious man will study anything which becomes his duty to study with ‘devotion’ in both of the senses. That is what his religion does for him: it makes him do his duty, do it thoroughly, do it ‘in the Lord.’

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  theology, bible study, spiritual life
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