Did you know that over half of the world's Christians are led by people who don't know the Bible? In the developing world, where the vast majority of Christians live, 85 percent of the pastors have less than one hour of Bible training. Let that stat sink in for a minute. What if your pastor only had one hour of ministry education? How would that impact your church? We came in contact with a ministry that is seeking to change that statistic, especially in developing countries.
Global Action trains and equips front-line pastors in developing countries to make disciples. The ministry reports that one of the greatest challenges to the body of Christ and the growth of Christianity in the world is the lack of spiritually mature leadership. To counteract that challenge, Global Action focuses their energies on equipping pastors in these areas, most of them front-line, bi-vocational, first generation Christians. Global Action equips these ministers with the Bible and ministry skills so they can be successful as church leaders. Phil Long, president of Global Action, explains:
Some experts estimate that 82 percent of church plants (especially those in the developing world) will fail within two years. There are conflicting statistics about the success of church plants, but regardless of the exact amount, we know that the percentage of failure among church plants is high. The leader of the church is often the major reason for failure. These leaders are highly susceptible to false teaching and frustration from the lack of knowledge and support. We equip them so they can be successful and we connect them with other leaders. We want them to become a reproducing church...a church who is making disciples.
We sat down with Phil Long to learn more about what God is doing in the developing world. Let's listen in as he shares how to help pastors in developing countries. One of Global Action's core values is to empower people.
How does Global Action empower pastors in developing countries?
First, we help them understand God's Word in a personal way and teach them how to study the Bible. Once they understand it personally, they can share it with their churches. We seek to empower them with the skills and training to serve. Our training is unique because we empower these church leaders to make disciples and become intimate followers of Christ. We help create a foundation where they can build their personal faith which does the same for members in their churches. We don't give them a salary, but we will sow into their ministries which allows them to do outreach from their churches into their own communities. We help them develop a strategy so they can reach their communities for Christ.
According to your website, 85 percent of churches in developing countries are led by people who have less than 1 hour of ministry education. How is that impacting the growth of the church in developing countries?
Because of the incredible growth of Christianity world-wide, many of these church leaders are first-generation Christians, which means they grew up in a religion other than Christian. They have become pastors by default because there is no one else. They need help and relationship support.
Many of these church leaders have a limited understanding of salvation when they come to Christ. They may have experienced a miracle or maybe God came to them in a vision, or they may have seen the life of their Christian neighbor and how different it was. Whatever it was, it made them realize that Jesus is the way. They believe the gospel and they would die for it. But they don't always fully understand it. Sometimes, that carries over from the culture they grew up in. Christianity may look a lot like their past life...just because they don't know any different.
For example, if you grew up in a Christian family in the USA, would you know how to be a Hindu? One day, you decide to become Hindu, but you don't know anything about Hinduism because you grew up in a Christian culture. As a result, your new found Hinduism is going to look a lot like your past life. You might go to the temple on Sunday morning and praise and worship the Hindu gods. Since you don't know how to be a Hindu, you base your new faith on what you know. It is the same way when someone converts to Christianity.
How do you leave the culture intact without changing the gospel to fit that culture?
It's important for us as western Christians to remember that the Bible is transcultural — it is for every culture. We try to ensure that Global Action is transcultural, too. We can train church leaders how to keep cultures intact while removing the cultural elements that are ungodly. For instance, if you are from Nepal and become a Christian, you are still Nepali. Buddhism is a major religion in Nepal so it is engrained into many of the customs of that country. By using the Word of God, we help them determine and apply its truths within the culture.
According to Pew Research, over the last 100 years, there has been a significant decline in Christianity among "developed" nations like the United States and many countries of Europe, with the total Christian population dropping from 87 percent to 69 percent. What about the developing world?
It's true that in the developed world, Christianity has declined 18 percent over the last 100 years. In the developing world, Christianity has grown significantly. One hundred years ago, only 17.8 percent of the world's Christians lived in developing countries, while today that number is 60.8 percent. However, a closer look will reveal that while population has more than quadrupled, the percentage of Christians has only slightly doubled. That's good, but it still hasn't kept pace with the population growth. Considering that a vast majority of the Christian leaders in those countries do not have a firm grasp on the Bible and in some cases, even their personal relationship with God, what we do is imperative to the growth of Christianity in the world.
With that in mind, what do we do about reversing the downward trend of Christianity?
Make disciples. Very simply, the church has to go out and make disciples, regardless of where in the world you are. We absolutely have to share the good news of Christ, but we must make disciples, not just converts. As we make disciples, they will help others grow in the Lord and do the same. We seek to help pastors have the necessary skills to reach their communities for Christ.