One recent trend is that the leadership in many of our foreign churches have gone from agreeing that there is a need for further training of the paid staff in the Bible to concrete action. The staff in the Manila church has embarked on a systematic ministry training program for the men and women leaders across most of Southeast Asia. The program is called APLA (Asia Pacific Leadership Academy). Gordon Ferguson and Rolan Monje are chiefly responsible for the training program, which involves about forty ministers from across the region coming to Manila for week-long training sessions, with study of the scriptures being the chief component of the program. I have had the privilege to teach Christian Apologetics for the program in January 2010 and will return to do a class on Hebrews in January, 2012.
A similar effort is being made by Gordon Ferguson, working with Shawn Wooten to provide in-depth Bible teaching for the churches in Ukraine and Russia. This is an ongoing commitment, with Gordon, Douglas Jacoby and others traveling to teach for the program.
A very encouraging development is the establishment of a credentialed undergraduate and graduate degree program designed for our family of churches. This program is headed by Glenn Giles, the lead teacher in the Denver church. A number of PhD trained teachers from our family of churches are now accepted as faculty through Lincoln University, which is an accredited University associated with the Christian Church. Glenn has already offered classes through the program in Denver. I was able to teach for the program in Mumbai and Chennai last January. Teachers include Bill Moulden, Steve Kinnard and others. This is a great opportunity for us to establish a level of excellence in biblical training for those who are leading our churches. I just heard from a good friend in Cali, Colombia that he is now earning his Masters degree through this program. What a great opportunity!
Another huge effort is Proyecto Esdras, headed by Arturo Elizarraras, an evangelist and teacher in Mexico City. This program is designed for ministry staff and for any members interested. Students in the program are from dozens of countries throughout Central and South America. Arturo is setting the pace in offering comprehensive Bible training for disciples in all aspects of our ministries. I am honored to be able to travel and teach for Proyecto Esdras this July in Mexico City. Most classes in the program are taught on-line. Instructors in this program are like a Who’s Who of teachers in our churches.
It is not just the big, multi-church efforts that I see as evidence of increasing interest in deeper biblical teaching. I will mention just a couple of things I have seen in churches in the immediate area where I live. Just a few weeks ago a friend of mine, Brian Colon, shared with me that he took a proposal to the leadership in his church in Orange County for a class on the basic doctrines of Christianity. This is a rather comprehensive class, including theological, biblical and historical discussion of most of the important biblical doctrines. Brian is finishing up his bachelors degree and in now going on for his Masters degree in religious studies. This is coming from a fairly young brother who has poured tremendous time and effort into studying out these ideas. He has been given the green light to teach the class for the men in his region. I believe that this idea would have been shot down just a few years ago.
We have been offering in-depth classes where I worship here in San Diego for the past three years. Robert Carrillo, our lead evangelist, has taken time from what is an extremely busy schedule to teach classes with me on Saturday mornings. We have had classes on Church History, Hebrews, Christian Theology, Daniel, the Kingdom of God and more. What is encouraging is that every time we offer a class, the number of students is increasing. We also have two or three yearly ten-hour in depth classes on Christian Apologetics. The support and participation of our evangelists, combined by the increasing support of the members is something which is giving me a lot of vision for the future strength of our churches in our depth of knowledge of God. My wife Jan and I work with the singles here. Mark and Cindy Wilkinson are the staff members who lead the singles. Mark is completing a Masters in the Bible. Our weekly devotionals have included practical classes on Christian spirituality in about an equal balance with good old-fashioned Bible study. We have had classes on James, on Ephesians and on Christian Theology already this year. I see this as a positive trend.
This little set of anecdotes does not even come close to describing the breadth of growth in the commitment of our local churches to deepen our knowledge of God as a fellowship of churches. There are so many other stories I have come across personally that I could have shared and I am sure there are many more which I have not heard about. To be honest, the growth in commitment to biblical literacy of every member is not even across our fellowship, but the trend, even if uneven, is in the right direction almost everywhere. I am encouraged by this.
Let me provide a couple of practical suggestions for those of us who see the need for greater Bible literacy in our fellowship. First of all, I always like to remember the words of one of my favorite elders, George Havens. He always said, “Gentle pressure, relentlessly applied.” This is not the only issue for our churches. It is probably not the most important issue we face. However, it is a need which, if not met, will cause our churches and our individual members to not grow as they could. Individual members need to respectfully bring up this need on a regular basis. Let some of us take the example of Brian Colon, who, on his own initiative, is seeking an advanced degree so that he can prepare himself to be used in the teaching ministry. He is not waiting to be asked, but is offering his services. We cannot wait for the full-time staff to make all the effort. This will take a commitment from all of us, working in cooperation. Probably, in the long run, most of our trained teachers will not come from the full time ministers. We need brothers and sisters for whom teaching is a gift to step forward, seek out the training necessary, pray, study, read, set the personal example and raise up our local teaching ministries.
And here are some additional sites / resources
Douglas Jacoby/AIM www.douglasjacoby.com
Apologetics Certificate Program ARS/John Oakes www.evidenceforchristianity.org
Disciples Today -