Educational Missions in Eastern Europe
“An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to
Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high
official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to wor-
ship in Jerusalem and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud. The
Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.” When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet
Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides
me?” (Acts 8:26–31)
Our invitation to move to Eastern Europe came from one of the main Baptist Unions in the
area. Their desire is to redesign and restart a bible school that will teach sound biblical
principles in an uncompromising way. However, since arriving here over a year ago we have been surprised by some unexpected comments, both from nationals and foreigners. Here are
“Theological Education is not needed here.”
“Theological Education is above their heads.”
“There are no pastoral positions open in the existing churches, and the churches are not
growing, so why train people for a job that doesn’t exist?”
“All we need here is mentoring and discipleship, not something formal and drawn out.”
Comments like these are probably also heard in many other places where serious theological educa-
tion is needed. Though such an environment can be difficult to work in, we have never wavered in
the knowledge that the Lord has sent us here for a reason. We know that He desires people to know
Him and His word, and to be thoroughly equipped for ministry. We have never considered that the
ministry of solid theological education is a waste of time or resources. But how is this mission best
fulfilled in the context of challenges like these? By recognizing some of the objections to and atti-
tudes about missional theological education, we can move more strategically to develop a direction
to accomplish this valuable, God-honoring and remarkable ministry.
1. The Challenge of Local Apathy
Where we are, difficulties are often prompted by misconceptions about the necessity of theological
education. As examples, in Eastern Europe there is often no perceived payoff in going to seminary
since a pastor often cannot earn a living once he graduates except through western sponsors. Addi-
tionally, in our location a majority ethnic group does not believe in the office of pastors—only lay
leaders. This causes local churches to be hesitant about sending students for theological education
as they don’t believe there will be a “payoff”.
2. The Challenge of Existing Teaching
I’m frequently asked, “Are there no other places in your area teaching theology?” As in most parts
of the world, that answer is “Yes, there are.” Theological education is ubiquitous. There are multi-
tudes of places that self-identify as schools of theology. Like the Ethiopian, many people around the
world have a palpable desire for theological knowledge. The question is—what kind of theological
education is being offered? Is it biblically faithful or does it accommodate other groups who may
teach a different gospel? Does it thoroughly and comprehensively prepare people for ministry? Is
it taught by qualified teachers who are proven? Is it based on the gospel of Christ (we are sinners,
condemned before God, need to trust in Him alone and not our works, needful of propitiation and
Some schools teach from the bible and may be good for a select group of new believers, but they
are not comprehensive “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”
(2 Timothy 3:17). Other schools are really just secular schools teaching comparative religions and
taking no stand on biblical truth. Still others are hyper-focused on a certain denominational favor-
ite perspective and are not theologically comprehensive. There is a school here that only teaches
how to conduct “healing services”, yet it still calls itself a School of Theology. To the undiscerning
this can be very confusing.
3. The Challenge of Pragmatism
Another response to a ministry that centers on good theological education that we’ve often heard
is that we are to simply disciple people—one-on-one theological education as it were. The thought
behind this response is along the lines of, “Why teach people to build a restaurant when we can just
give them fast food? The hunger is pressing and urgent, the need is now, and we don’t have the time
it takes for formal theological education.”
For some reason, people who say this tend to think of theological education as over and against
discipleship and evangelism, making them seemingly mutually exclusive. Because of the great
needs of many countries, expediency has caused many to try and make quick fixes and address spiritual problems often in the fastest way possible. We can partially agree with this argument.
We rarely hear the true gospel being preached within evangelicalism here. We do hear a lot about
personal kingdom-building, faith healings and the prosperity gospel. We rarely hear about a sinner
who needs Christ. People are starving for the simple gospel. Many people here can be described
as self-centered, angry, lonely or depressed. It does seem urgent to fill these needs in the quickest
way possible, and formal training seems like the long route to the dinner line. So, is the disparity
between what people here (or any other place) need, and what we’re hoping to build just too great to be justified? It’s one thing to argue about the need for formal theological education in the west,
but especially in countries where churches are stagnant and the people are unreached for the gospel,
should we even be considering formal theological education?
However, if people are starving and all we do is provide them quick snacks, how will that ever
permanently help them? The reality is we’ve personally seen the shape of the churches here after
decades of various western visitors and random discipling. It’s not enough. That’s because they
have often only been given a few crumbs—barely enough to survive. Many times, the crumbs
are dropped off by well-meaning Christians who soon leave, and the people face spiritual starvation again.
The point is not the mode of delivery of training. Many modes are needed. The point is, feed
them in every way possible so that they are equipped to do every good work. After all, wouldn’t it
be better to give them what they are asking for—solid education, instruction in discernment and
sound doctrinal understanding? Couldn’t we feed them and raise up those who can produce good
food themselves? If we can take a small handful of people and teach them solid theology, then the
future brightens. Those “chefs” prepare hearty, nourishing food that will satisfy and fill up hungry
hearts. Then those who have tasted the truth can learn to prepare the same dishes for others. In that
way, 2 Timothy 2:2 is practiced. People in our region need to be spiritually fed, but they also need
their own “theological restaurants” (i.e., formal theological education). We cannot settle for giving
them just enough to survive.
4. The Challenge of YouTube Theology
Hungry for theological education, people will turn to wherever food source they can find. The most
predominant place of theological education in our context is not Bible School Z, but the School of
YouTube. Those who speak English have at their disposal a host of Christian offerings on the inter-
net, covering a vast array of theological flavors. They can pick and choose whatever seems to look
attractive and sweet. The problem is that here this has resulted in pet theologies, error due to lack
of guides and much theological confusion. What we have seen is that these searchers often end up
with a diet consisting of rotten doctrine and spoiled ideologies, which they in turn preach to people here as truth.
I meet with men who are smart and theologically adept, but because their education has been
limited to what they can glean from Internet searches, they have serious gaps in their understanding
of Scripture and theology. They have a multitude of questions and conflicting information. They
struggle with answers to theological questions that are presented to most pastors like, “How can I be
sure of my salvation?”, “What is the gift of the Holy Spirit?”, “How do I interpret biblical prophecy?”
They cannot answer someone with practical issues like, “What are the principles of church membership?”, “How do I get better at praying publically?” or even “How do I tell someone the gospel?”
They don’t know where to start with questions like, “Should I adopt if I can’t have a child?” or “My
husband has cancer—what do I do?” or “How do I tell my wife I’ve committed adultery?”
5. The Challenge of the Missionary Template
The challenges here also have a more practical bent, and come not from the local context but from
a sending country, church or even local western missionary. When people hear about the type of
mission work you do, it is often hard for some to embrace that “educational missions” (theological
training) is just as vital a mission work as planting churches or street evangelism. In truth, without
proper training of national Christian workers the state of the gospel disintegrates very quickly in
the country. Although educational missions does not usually involve physical labor and is not nec-
essarily conducive to short-term teams, it is nonetheless foundational mission work.
6. Moving Forward—Getting “The Right Guide”
So how does one transcend the hurdles of setting up theological education? How does he do this in
a way that truly impacts the local state of Christianity to the glory of God?
Trust Our mission agency, Training Leaders International, exists because good theological ed-
ucation doesn’t. My attitude to press on must be at the forefront of my mind. Do I believe that God
wants the truth to be known about Him? Yes. Do I believe He is desirous of this to happen every-
where in the world? Yes. I never have to doubt if what I’m doing is relevant or needed. Without edu-
cational missions, how will we fulfill the command of Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him, warning
and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” We
must trust that God has His remnant of people whom He wants to lead His people.
Pray “We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spir-
itual understanding” (Colossians 1:9). I must pray that the Lord would fill me and the people here
with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. I must pray that the shepherds He has put in place
to lead His sheep would be equipped to do so. I must pray that my heart would be centered on His
glory, and not a building or program. It’s never about the degree, it’s always about the truth of God.
Listen When I arrived, I traveled throughout the area speaking to other schools to determine
what worked and what didn’t. I have also met with countless people, within our Union and outside
of it. Whether the information is good or bad, I always learn something that helps me in the long
run. The more I listen, the more I learn, the better the school will be.
Develop We must develop students by developing relationships. It is paramount that we also
develop strategic plans of how the school should look, taking into account the needs of the area
as well as the abilities and resources of our mission agency. This includes catalogue and brochure
development, teacher recruitment, branding the school, staff development, physical building im-
provement and critical pathways necessary to accomplish the myriad of things necessary. Finally,
it’s necessary to develop a thick skin, as detractions frequently come both from within and without.
The stress of living on the mission field combined with all the problems involved with ministry can
make one feel defeated. Skin thickening, like school development, is slow work which only time
and trial can accomplish.
Change To be effective, there must be changes in attitudes. We must uproot the mindset that
theological education is just for pastors. People must change their bias that theological education
is not worth it because there’s no “guaranteed” paying job at the end. Most importantly, there must
be change in how the local churches interact with the school. Having an interdenominational re-
cruitment policy will help in this respect.
Intercede Consider the call to educational missions and see how the world may be changed.
Realize that “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” is an essential part of
Matthew 28. Understand that teaching and training others in the truth of who God is will always
be honoring to the Lord.
There is sometimes a tendency to default to a misleading attitude that whatever theological ed-
ucation an area already has is good enough for them. In missions this is rarely the case. There are
at least two possible sources of this thought. Firstly, it may originate from the reality of many other
pressing needs on the mission field. This perspective, however, belies a lower view of theological
education as compared to other ministries. Secondly, this “good enough” default may also come
from looking at the poverty of theological education an area may have and mentally setting the
bar lower for their theological needs. This becomes a desire to just give people enough theological
education for them to exist. Ironically, this perspective sometimes comes from those who have
advanced theological training themselves.
We must give people the tools necessary to accomplish the work of missions, and by doing so
fully equip men and women for the work of ministry. The path forward in educational mission work
involves teaching, planting, discipling, evangelism, and theological training.