First, I should probably go ahead and get out on the table that as far as our Zim visa status goes, there are still no updates. Our LC emailed this morning that he visited the Immigration office and the status is still “in process.” However, we are hoping that later in the week there will be someone who can help speed things along. Also, because of the fact that the immigration officials have been so open and helpful thus far, we are optimistic that this will only be a delay in processing, not an outright rejection. Lord willing, we will hear an affirmative later this week that will allow us to go ahead and book plane tickets and head out soon!
In the meantime, several people have asked what I have been doing to stay busy during the delay. Among other things, including “last minute” shopping and Amazon orders, re-packing airline luggage, and scheduling enough time with friends and family to last the next 3-4 years, I have had the privilege to be somewhat productive. World Hope Bible Institute (WHBI), the institute for which I have served on faculty the past 3 years, has recently begun to explode in expansion throughout the world, but particularly in some very exciting “East Asian” contexts. One of the immediate demands that has surfaced here is the need for a training module on the topic of “Christian Leadership.” WHBI president Stuart Sheehan graciously enlisted my aid in helping put together a module on this topic and, by God’s grace, the rough draft is finished and in the editing phases as we speak.
As I worked on this material, I was simply struck by the wealth of material the Bible contains on the subject of leadership. I will not reproduce the entire training module here, but suffice it to say that from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, the biblical storyline revolves around this topic! In Genesis, God appoints Adam as His image-bearer to represent Him and rule over the cosmos– to “subdue” and “have dominion.” In the Fall (Gen 3), we learn that Adam surrenders this mantle of leadership and the result is a creation that becomes unruly, insubordinate, chaotic, and which groans for the “revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19). In the fullness of time, we know that this longing for leadership will finally be put to rest when the Chief Shepherd appears and “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). But in the meantime, what of godly leaders and leadership?
A brief survey of the Old Testament shows that God’s plan of redemption seems to hinge upon those He calls out as leaders. Prophets, priests, and kings- throughout history God is setting apart those He calls “shepherds” over His people. But there is a problem, a major problem. Time and again, those God sets apart to “shepherd” prove themselves wicked and faithless. The prophet Ezekiel is called upon to prophesy harshly against these leaders “because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:8). The Lord goes on to vow that a day will come in which, “I will seek out my sheep,” “I will rescue them,” “I will bring them out of the peoples,” “and I will feed them” (Ezekiel 34:12-13). Of course, we know (as mentioned above) that this promise is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the True Son of David. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who fulfills all of God’s promises by laying “down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11) and being raised up and seated at the right hand of God where He waits to come again and separate His “sheep” from the “goats” (Matt 25:31-46).
But we dare not think that in this “time between the times” He has left His flock untended. Immediately after His resurrection and before His ascension as He sat by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, what was Jesus careful to entrust to Peter (as representative of the 12)? “Feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Jesus repeats the commission three times to emphasize the magnitude of both Peter’s restoration AND the task that lay before him. Small wonder, then, when Peter wields a similarly strong exhortation to the elders of the churches of the dispersion to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” until “the chief Shepherd appears” (1 Pet 5:2, 4). So follow this chain of logic- God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36, etc.), Jesus commissions Peter (as representative of the 12) to serve as “under-shepherd,” and Peter (along with the rest of the NT) says this shepherding task is handed down from generation to generation as local churches are formed and “elders”/”pastors”/”overseers” are appointed. Jesus has not left his flock untended, no indeed.
One thing that becomes clear, however, in the New Testament teaching on the offices of the church is that these “shepherds” are only effective insofar as they fulfill what the Lord promised for His “shepherds”. When the Lord promised to rescue His people, He vowed to bring “shepherds after my own heart” (Jer 3:15). Again, ultimately there is “one shepherd, my servant David” (Ezek 34:23, i.e. Jesus) who meets this description. But elders/pastors/overseers function as representatives of this Christ until He returns…IF they strive to walk as Jesus walked. This is why the qualifications of elders in places like 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 are so significant for the life of the church. It’s not just that we want to hold someone up as a “good example” for the congregation (although that’s certainly true, 1 Tim 4:12), it’s that these leaders will only shepherd Jesus’ flock effectively insofar as their leadership resembles…well, Jesus. Like Adam in the Garden, the effective leadership of church is 100% dependent upon the leaders’ obedience and faithfulness to God’s word.
This brings me to the heart of this post (and sorry for the long path getting here). In our process of going, some have asked us something along the lines of, “Why go to a place that has been classified as ‘reached’ when there are still so many who have little to no access to the Gospel?” To this, there are many answers we could give. Some have to do with the accuracy of statistics regarding the true status of the church. Others may have to do with what “reached” really means or how effective is a 2% “tipping point” anyway?, etc. But the primary answer we must give to this question is that we really love Jesus’ sheep. And because we really love Jesus’ sheep, we really love His shepherds. Having served as a local church pastor for the past 8 years, I might have thought it a bit self-serving to write such things, but now that I’m a layman again I feel total freedom to say- Jesus loves pastors a lot! They are special people. They have been commissioned with a heavy burden and a significant task in the Great Commission- namely, to shepherd the flock that has been set apart by the Holy Spirit to be and do everything Jesus commanded them to be and do.
One of the many blessings our visa delay has afforded us has been the opportunity to participate in the life of our local church, Redemption Hill Baptist Church simply as church members. For the past few weeks, we have had no leadership roles, no responsibilities, no oversight, no expectations (other than those of a regular church member), we have simply been able to enjoy being “shepherded.” And I have to tell you- we may be a little biased, but as far as we’re concerned we have the best pastors anywhere on the planet. We praise God for the shepherds Jesus has given us to “keep watch over our souls” (Heb 13:17). But even as we revel in the opportunity to be loved and fed by these faithful shepherds, we are constantly reminded of a tragic reality around the world. In a recent article over at Training Leaders International (TLI), Weymann Lee writes:
75% of all Christian believers today live outside the U.S. in the “majority world”, where the majority of the world’s population resides – in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many refer to this area as the “10/40 Window.”
As a result of this radical move of God in the Global South which Philip Jenkins calls the “The Next Christendom,” many new churches are being established and growing at an astounding rate. A corresponding reality, however, is that with the increase in these churches there is “an insufficient number of pastors who are theologically trained in God’s Word to shepherd the growing number of believers in these churches!” Lee estimates that there are about 5 million pastors outside the U.S., 85% of whom “have very little to no solid theological training or have no access to it.” To put that in perspective numerically, Lee cites the following:
* Ratio of theologically trained pastors to people in the U.S.: 1:230
* Ratio of theologically trained pastors to people outside the U.S.: 1:450,000
This is a sad reality that many (including the folks over at The Gospel Coalition International Outreach [TGCIO]) have termed a “theological famine.” And lest you think these folks are merely foisting western church expectations upon pastors in the majority world, consider that “the number one need and request from missionaries, churches and pastors outside the U.S. is for pastoral and leadership training.” What I see in this statement is the fact that pastors in the majority world are simply saying the same thing I said 8 years ago when I entered pastoral ministry (and have continued to say ever since), “I want to shepherd the flock of God, but how in the world do I do it?” By God’s grace, Christianity has been established in the U.S. (particularly the Southeast) for long enough that the options for pastoral training and equipping have been virtually limitless for me. I can literally open my laptop to find a library of resources at my fingertips that most pastors in the world (or church history for that matter) could only dream of! This is an embarrassment of riches in the truest sense.
So what can we, who have so much, do to help those who have so little? Well for starters, consider praying for and giving to organizations like TGCIO. Here is a video recently released by TGC in which pastors John Piper and Randy Alcorn cast a vision for TGCIO’s “theological famine relief” campaign. Follow the relevant links here to contribute in any way you can. But your involvement need not be limited to helping from a distance. In recent years, a number of organizations have sprung up to meet this global need by mobilizing U.S. pastors, professors, and even laymen who have theological training to travel on short-term trips to share some of their wealth of resources with pastors in underserved areas. Although (praise God!) there are now many of these organizations in existence, here are some I highly recommend: World Hope Bible Institute, Training Leaders International, Reaching and Teaching, and Teaching Truth International.
Finally, as missionary with the International Mission Board, I would be remiss if I failed to reiterate the priority our organization places upon meeting this need. Under the leadership of president David Platt and Zane Pratt (Vice President for Global Training), the IMB has adopted a posture of prioritizing global theological education. Around 1997, the board made a decisive move away from training institutions (including seminaries and bible schools) and the negative consequences have been felt. As a result, the board has begun moving back toward this task by not reducing seminary personnel overseas and even appointing new personnel (like us!) to such posts with the hope revitalizing these institutions and emphasizing theological education throughout our organization as a whole.
About 6 years ago, when I began personally to recognize this global need, I looked around at the ministry landscape to see who was addressing it and to be honest I almost threw up my hands in despair. But in God’s goodness, we have seen major progress in this area as ministries such as those listed above have raised up servants and resources to send to the nations to help ensure that none of our Shepherd’s sheep are left without under-shepherd, and particularly those who know how to shepherd in a way that is “after His own heart.”