Theological Education Can’t Catch Up to Global Church Growth
Theological education is struggling to keep up, and unless something changes, the gap will only increase in the future.
Unless seminaries leave the ivory tower for local leaders in the public square. Like these ones have.
I recently received a handwritten letter from a pastor in India.
His name is Roy, but I didn’t know this gentleman, and we had never corresponded. Somehow he contacted me and told me about the two congregations he leads in Andhra Pradesh and of his great desire to study the Bible.
His ending struck me: “I have no money.”
Roy is not alone. Countless pastoral leaders worldwide are eager to faithfully lead their churches, but they lack access to training. This is especially the case in majority world contexts in Latin America, Africa, and Asia where the gospel continues to rapidly grow—with hundreds of new congregations birthed daily.
Founded in 1846, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) now represents churches in over 130 countries and estimates there are 50,000 new baptized believers each day. These believers need pastoral leaders who are trained to effectively lead their congregations.
The challenge is highlighted when we draw a contrast with the United States, where there is one trained pastor for every 230 people. By comparison, majority world churches have one trained pastor for every 450,000 people.
This colossal leadership imbalance will only expand as the majority world church continues to surge and spread. Already, theological education is struggling to keep up, and unless something changes, the gap will only increase in the future.
If we are to meet the training needs of thousands of pastors like Roy, the worldwide trajectory must be reset. Theological education, no matter the form, has a long history of being fragmented, with most programs operating in silos, lacking a sense of collegiality. Regrettably, this inward posture makes training even less accessible to local ministries, weakening the collective capacity to prepare leaders for the Lord’s church.
A new theological education posture is needed.
Last November in Izmir, Turkey, it was evident. The 18th consultation of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education (ICETE), first launched by the WEA in 1980, gathered roughly 500 leaders from 80 countries—representing over 290 worldwide training ministries—to envision an integrated global approach for the leadership demands of the church today and in the years to come.
Uniting a network of nearly 1,000 seminaries from every region of the world, ICETE has historically been viewed as a service umbrella for the formal sectors of theological education. American examples include Lancaster Bible College, Wesley Biblical Seminary, and Moody Bible Institute, alongside international counterparts such as the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, Asian Theological Seminary, and Bethlehem Bible College.
Article by Michael Ortiz
Originally appeared on Christianity Today