Baptistička Teološka Škola (BTŠ), TLI's partner school in Novi Sad, Serbia, recently hosted a dinner for seven students, both current and future pastors. Their conversation centered on one question: What's the biggest challenge facing the Serbian church? The upshot of which was a two-hour conversation revealing much about these men and their challenging context.
Serbia, as they shared, is a country of seven million people. Estimates have Evangelical Christians at 7,000 (0.1%). There are several denominations, perhaps the largest being the Baptist Union with some 70 churches. But among those churches there is intractable conflict theologically, politically, and personally. Age-old ethnic tensions create splits, hostility, and a refusal to work together.
There is also little appetite for learning or growth. Theology is poor, and churches seem to control, attack, and eventually destroy their leaders. Obviously, little witness is taking place. Spirituality is stagnant. What's more, prospective pastors cannot expect a penny from their ministry. Who knows why churches refuse to give? Maybe it's the communist influence, biblical illiteracy, suspicion of authority, or the nearly 50% unemployment.
But these seven men seemed undaunted. What we learned at dinner was just how brave, noble, and hopeful they are. They are convinced that if the gospel is proclaimed in a clear and compelling way, there will be hope for the church in Serbia. That's why they want a solid theological education enabling them to understand and communicate scripture well. And they're committed to model humble, biblical leadership for their people.
“They are convinced that if the gospel is proclaimed in a clear and compelling way, there will be hope for the church in Serbia.”
The task is incredible. In one room seven guys representing 70 churches seems next to nothing. Their number is, honestly, small and insignificant. For TLI trainers, the value of traveling halfway around the world to teach such a small group might even be questionable.
But there's another way of looking at it. Those seven men around the table represent 10% of the future pastors of Serbia's largest denomination. There is incredible potential at BTŠ. We could become discouraged and lose hope like Elijah. Or we could remember that there is a remnant of faithful pastors here, and there are yet 7,000 in Serbia who have not bowed the knee to Baal.