Church leaders in sub-Saharan Africa are hungry to know more about God’s Word and how to help their communities.
The words “Bible school” may invoke images of college-like campuses, solemn meetings between scholars and chapel prayer times.
For some in the West, this may be the only way they’ve seen or heard of theological training be done, but for many church leaders in other parts of the world, the experience is quite different.
Like the Word itself, training for pastors can come with eternal truths in ways that respond to their unique needs.
The Gift of Bible School
Many of the men gathered are already acting pastors with church congregations that depend on them. Taking off their jackets, they greet others they recognize from nearby villages.
Church leaders in many parts of Kenya may not have any opportunity to receive formal Bible training. They learn from childhood church leaders, their fathers, or simply from reading and rereading their Bibles. When World Challenge’s partners, the Full Gospel Church of Kenya, offered them scholarships to attend a local Bible school, many leaped at the opportunity.
Here, their theology lessons are paired with practical lessons about how to help their parishioners. After scriptural training from their instructor, they gather in circles to share their own thoughts and experiences as ministers.
Kenyan culture is far more relationally based than many Western societies, but this can sometimes lead to sticky situations for church leaders.
If someone gives a superior a gift or is asked to do a favor, they will expect special help or support in return. These arrangements often lead to more, similar exchanges; and once started, this dependency on leadership is very difficult to end amicably.
Maintaining the reciprocity of benefits can make discipling others into leadership much more challenging, and many newer pastors quickly find their church’s “needs” leaving them drained and overwhelmed.
Crossing the River of Dependency
Much of the Bible school’s practical lessons focus on pastors developing sustainable practices. One particular lesson they learn is the “river crossing.”
The class instructor asks the group to imagine a dangerous river flowing through the center of the class, not difficult for pastors who live near tributaries that claim the lives of several people each year.
On one side is a hospital clinic. On the other is a village, but the people haven’t found a safe way to cross. The instructor presents himself as a leader from another village who has found several stepping stones through the raging waters. He invites two pastors from the group to stand with him.
One grins and the other looks slightly nervous as the instructor quietly explains their roles in the skit.
They join him at the edge of the imagined river. “Can you help us cross? In fact, can you just carry us?”
Laughter breaks out in the room as one student tries to hop up on the instructor’s back. The instructor theatrically struggles to the center of the river, then drops the student there. “I can’t go on! I’m sorry. I have to leave you here.”
“But now I’m worse off than I was before,” the student protests.
“I’m too exhausted. I can’t…I’m sorry.”
The laughs swiftly die off. For nearly every pastor in the room, the pressure and shame of this scenario is all too real.
The instructor explains that he is a different leader now as he walks to the second student. “I can’t carry you across, but I can show you how to cross for yourself and I’ll walk alongside you.” Slowly they work their way across the river, helping the stranded student as they go along together.
After the skit, the instructor links the core concept to how Jesus walked with his disciples and asks the pastors to suggest more biblical examples of discipleship.
Then he invites all the pastors to brainstorm real-life ways that they can equip and empower others rather than trying to “carry” those who want help.
Discussion is thoughtful and fervent. Everyone has vested interest in these outcomes.
For these pastors, the abstract theological ideas must reasonably gain traction on the dusty road back to their church and community where they return each week to preach and care for members.
In many ways, their Bible school instructor is acting out the river crossing for each one of them in every lesson.