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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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Is the Modern Missions Movement Anti-Local Church?

Apr. 29, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Visit most campus ministries in the US and you will find new believers being discipled by ministry staff, students growing in their faith, attending Bible studies and worship services through the week. Almost none of them will be part of a church - including staff.

Many of these Christians have then hit the mission field, getting support frimgresom friends or the churches that their uncle, cousin or friend from 2nd grade attends who want to designate some money in their budget for missionaries. Steve Shadrach, who does the primary support-raising seminars for support-based positions (campus ministries, missionaries, etc.), recommends not approaching churches when looking for support. They are too slow! These missionaries, having raised support head overseas with a team, an autonomous group that partners with local ministries. None of them will get involved in the ministry of a local church. Most will not attend a church at all!

When Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck wrote Why We Love the Church, it was not just about combating the emergent church movement and "progressive evangelicals." It spoke to a bigger problem. Not only were people at ease in frequently criticizing Christ's bride, there seemed to be a lot of people doing "ministry" without any connection to a local church. Do a little research of your own: Go to a local Christian school and see how many faculty members are plugged into a local church. Then head to the closest college campus ministry and see if their staff have a church to call home and whether they encourage any students to attend any church. Really - go to any type of para-church ministry. Most likely, what you will find is the majority of people see no need. They emphasize the global church and their personal relationship with Jesus.

This is why it does not shock me when I travel overseas and find that the majority of missionaries and their families do not have a church to call home. Pioneer church planters might get a pass here because there is no church, but everyone else - seminary professors, teachers, evangelists, linguists, social workers, you name it, have a hard time plugging in. This past year I spent time in three eastern european countries. The overwhelming majority of missionaries there did not have a church they called home or attended on a regular basis.

Some readers might see no problem with churchless Christianity. I’m not going to spend time critiquing that here. I’m just assuming there should be no such thing as a churchless Christian. Some might also criticize me for painting too broad a brush here. I will be the first to admit that some situations make it difficult for missionaries to find a church to be a part of where they are serving. Just to give an example - I have friends who served in west Africa who wanted to be part of a local church, but every time they went the pastor and church members inundated them with financial requests. It became so stressful for them it almost caused them to come home. So there - I admit it. Hard for sure. But is this the case for everyone? It can not be so!

With this in mind, I offer three suggestions for getting back to church-based missions. It seems bizarre that we even need a category for this, but it’s necessary based on where we are today.

1.I think it would be best to drop the “sending organization” paradigm. I’m not against missions organizations (TLI is one!). However, no organization should be sending out missionaries. The local church is who prepares, commissions and sends. I have had to think through this as it relates to TLI. Will TLI open our hiring up to anyone on staff, or should we require that each staff member have a sending church that claims them as their own and sends them in a manner worthy of the gospel? We chose the latter, believing that TLI coordinates the sending. We don’t send anyone. The church does. 

2. Missions organizations would be wise to put the heavy lifting of missionary care on the local church and make sure that it is communicated up front to the church. Should mission organizations, with certain expertise, step in and help missionaries? Absolutely! But the primary care, especially if there is a long-term need, must be accepted by the local church. Is there some co-laboring in care? Yes! Should a missionary find a home church where they serve? Ideally! But again, the local sending church should bear the responsibility. 

3. No church or individual should support a missionary unless they have a primary sending church that has trained, commissioned and committed to sending them out. I know for smaller churches it is harder to be the primary sender, but they could still withhold support unless there was a primary sending church standing with the missionaries. Similar to individuals not giving to a non-profit unless audits are done, so individuals should not give unless a local church in behind those requesting support.

More could be said, but maybe we can start here. Let's love the church while reaching the nations.

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  missions, missionary training, missions methodology
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