One of the chief roles of the church is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph 4:12). One of the ministries for which the saints are to be equipped is the planting of churches with pastoral leadership that has been called by God and confirmed by godly men (Eph 4:11; Acts 6:3; 1 Tim 5:22). While this call and confirmation are essential and biblically non-negotiable, that is not all that there is in the preparation for ministry; there remains the issue of equipping.
This equipping may take any number of forms, but it must not be neglected. The Bible is clear that a pastor – as an undershepherd of Christ’s church – is to be “able to teach” and “able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9). To do this, he must be properly educated in that doctrine.
The nature of biblical theological education is holistic; that is, encompassing the life, as well as the ministry, of the pastor. Both the life and the ministry must be God-honoring, Christ-exalting, and biblically-faithful. In short, the whole counsel of God must be impressed upon the whole man of God. This holistic training of pastors is consistent with the biblical models of replication and multiplication in ministry, such as is evident in Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). Thus, for Paul, it was given that the theological foundation and framework of ministry be transferred to each new generation of pastors and elders in the church.
This theological instruction must be presented, not as a series of disconnected or independent ideas, but rather as integral parts of the grand biblical narrative, demonstrating the cohesion of God’s plan and dealings with humanity, thus serving to establish a biblical worldview among those who become increasingly aware of the sovereignty of God over the whole of his creation. Among the issues I have found particularly relevant in Southeast Asia, which must be addressed in holistic theological education include: unity in the body; contextualization (we must advance the biblical message within valid expressions of culture); ethics and social justice (incorporating both orthodoxy and orthopraxy); a curative for Prosperity Theology (which is rampant throughout Asia); reconciliation; as well as developing biblical leadership. In sum, the message of holistic theological education will encompass every aspect of the lives of pastors and, ultimately their churches, equipping them to be effective instruments of the gospel in the world around them. They will begin to better understand their calling in Christ, both in how they are to conduct their own lives and how they are to interact with others – both believers and non-believers. Holistic theological education transforms the lives of pastors so that they can transform their communities and their cultures to reflect the Kingdom of God.
Finally, we must consider how to communicate holistic theological education in our contexts: in Southeast Asia or wherever the Lord may lead us to serve. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the pressing needs for sound theological education. Wide social and economic diversity allows some potential pastors to attend university, while depriving others of even a Bible in his native language. The solutions must be equally diverse, and there is, indeed, an array of options. Among these are traditional institutions and programmed instruction; theological training centres, such as TEE; and church-based options, such as apprenticeship, “Christian communities,” or educational short-term missions. Whichever method is employed to “develop pastors through doctrine,” it must include more than mere instruction. It must cultivate discipleship. Theological education merely for education’s sake will seldom inspire indigenous pastors to passionate and vibrant ministry; education for the sake of making disciples, however, will.
It is not my contention that uneducated men cannot be called of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do great things. That is not, however, the ordinary means by which God calls and equips pastors. Sadly, there are countless men standing in pulpits—in Southeast Asia and in the West, as well—who lack fundamental training in Bible and theology, and whose ministries reflect the kind of passion that is warned against in the Bible as “zeal without knowledge” (Prov 19:12). In order to minimize the potential far-reaching implications of doctrinal error, pastors must be thoroughly equipped.
As pastors and teachers of pastors, we must be rooted in, and committed to, a holistic theology that incorporates orthodoxy, piety, ministry, and worship. To this end, this session will explore: 1) the biblical mandate for holistic theological education; 2) the definition of holistic theological education; and 3) some ways it can be applied in Southeast Asia.
The above blog post is by Dr. Steve Curtis, PHD, one of our Plenary speakers for the 2017 Annual Conference.