FORT WORTH—Baptists can cooperate in helping train and equip church leaders around the globe without agreeing at all points, speakers told a pastors’ missions consortium.
The group—mostly ministers from churches uniquely aligned with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, including officers of the BGCT Executive Board and BGCT Executive Director David Hardage—met on the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary campus.
About three dozen individuals participated in the gathering to learn about ways churches can work with the seminary’s Global Theological Innovation initiative to support overseas seminaries.
“Only 5 percent of the world’s Christian leaders have access to formal theological education, but 86 percent of the leaders have indicated theological education is the most important issue for the future of world Christianity and the mission of the church,” said convener David Mahfouz, quoting findings from a global survey on theological education conducted in 2011-13.
IMB policy contributed to lack of training
Mahfouz, pastor of First Baptist Church in Warren, pointed to the New Directions policy the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board adopted in 1997 as contributing to the inability of church leaders in many countries to receive theological education.
Under the New Directions reorganization, the IMB shifted its focus toward church-planting movements among unreached people groups and moved away from support for seminaries and Bible colleges.
“The net result of that moratorium was a steady decline in theological education,” Mahfouz said, noting about 2 million pastors in Asia, Africa and Latin America lack access to theological training.
Jimmy Draper, former president of LifeWay Christian Resources and current presidential ambassador for the SBC Executive Committee, also acknowledged the problem.
“One of the biggest mistakes the IMB made was when they withdrew support from seminaries overseas,” he said.
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Presenting a devotional based on 1 Corinthians 3, Draper emphasized the importance of the “unique unity” Christians possess based on their identity in Christ, not on agreement at all times.
“We work together not because we agree on everything. … We work together because we all belong to God,” he said.
Mahfouz told how he became involved with the Global Theological Innovation center when its director, Brent Ray, invited him to Portugal to explore a possible partnership with Seminario Teologico Baptista in Queluz.
On the trip, Mahfouz became ill and was admitted to a hospital with an extremely high glucose level, bordering on diabetic ketoacidosis. Although his hospitalization interfered with his visit to the seminary, its leaders came to his hospital room to pray with him and talk to him.
Learning about the needs in Portugal, Mahfouz led his congregation to become a Global Theological Innovation Champion Church.
A Champion Church makes a five-year commitment with a Baptist seminary overseas to help the school’s most strategic needs. The collaborative arrangement involves ongoing leadership development and a project-based plan to involve church members in the seminary’s ministries.
About 40 congregations either have entered covenants to become Champion Churches or have agreed to participate in the partnership in some way, said Daniel Sanchez, distinguished professor of missions at Southwestern Seminary.
At this point, the seminary’s Global Theological Innovation center relates to 94 schools in 140 locations internationally, he reported. For example, the Baptist seminary in Mexico City has 20 extensions, and the seminary in Torreon, Mexico, has eight extension branches.
In the case of First Baptist Church in Warren, becoming a Champion Church has included sending Mahfouz to Portugal to teach evangelistic preaching classes, working with the seminary on various training events and providing scholarships for students.
‘Learned from the mistakes of the past’
At the Fort Worth meeting, Southwestern Seminary students from Madagascar described a plan to establish two accredited Baptist theological seminaries in their island nation—one in the centrally located capital city of Antananarivo and the other in the southern city of Fort-Dauphin.
Adam Hailes, IMB missionary to Madagascar, emphasized the need to develop “biblically grounded” indigenous leaders who can nurture and develop healthy churches.
“I’m happy to say I think we’ve learned from the mistakes of the past,” he said.
Randy Von Kanel, pastor of Cayman Islands Baptist Church, also told the group in Fort Worth about how his congregation launched Northwestern Caribbean Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Our vision is to train pastors and church leaders to reach the 8.5 million English-speaking people in the Caribbean Basin,” he explained.
Peter Vavrosky, an information technology expert who grew up in a missionary family, described how his company, Trinity Academic, is working with the Global Theological Innovation center to create a unifying platform to serve a central hub for Champion Churches and schools around the globe.
In addition to developing digital classrooms and other services, Trinity Academic’s Alexandria Project also is creating a master library for global theological education, he reported. So far, the digital library houses more than 200,000 volumes, and Vavrosky anticipates being able to add an additional 1,000 books per month in the near feature.