Preaching the Gospel We Received

[3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4ESV).

 Can One Be Christian without Knowing the Gospel?

In 2004, I preached at a youth camp in Cameroon, West Africa. One of my messages was titled “The Good News of Salvation.”  I began by asking  a series of questions, which follow with the answers the attendees gave:

Is the gospel message necessary for salvation?  Answer, “Yes!!”

You mean you cannot be saved without the gospel?  Answer, “Right!”

So you cannot be a Christian without understanding and believing the gospel?  Answer,

“Absolutely correct!!”

Are you a Christian?  Answer, “Yes.”

Do you believe the gospel?  “Yes, we do.”

What is the gospel, then? ———  Unfortunately, I was met with blank stares.  No clue how to articulate the answer. They could not outline the gospel message.

This is troubling for two reasons: 1) These well-meaning young people believe that they are Christians and heading to heaven. 2) Yet, they do not know what the gospel is. So the question remains: can one be a Christian without knowing the gospel?

The Problem

This experience highlights a problem in many mission contexts. While the church exists in terms of numbers, it is deficient in terms of the gospel message. If one asks people in the vicinity of the church, “What is the message of the church,” what will the answer be? If you were to ask members of the church what they believed in order to be saved, will there be a clear statement of the gospel centering around the death and resurrection of Christ? In most cases, one looks in vain. We need to pay attention to the gospel we preach, to put in place means of preserving it through the years so that future generations will not be in doubt as to what the gospel is. This is the task of the missionary. To bring the gospel to a people, preach it clearly, and train others to carry on the task of proclaiming the gospel as they received it.

A Case for Informal Theological Training

In one developing country, there is a denomination with over 1000 churches. Church planting is a strong push in this denomination. A glaring problem is that of these 1000+ churches, less than half have a pastor with reasonable theological training. This means that less than 50% of the churches have a leader who is able to guide the flock biblically.

This denomination, for many years, has had one significant seminary that trains pastors for their churches. Over the years, the seminary has not been able to produce enough pastors to meet the needs in these churches. As a result, many churches continue without a trained pastor. The unfortunate thing about this situation is that for a lot of the Christians, the pastor’s sermon each week is the most they get in terms of interaction with Scripture. The good news is that some of the untrained pastors want to seek training at the seminary. The bad news is that they do not meet the standards for admission. This creates a dilemma.

The Dilemma

Each year, the seminary conducts interviews for those who want to pursue a formal theological education. Many apply and interviews are conducted. In many of the interviews, it becomes clear that a good number of the candidates do not meet admission requirements. Some of them clearly are not believers (it seems). Others struggle to explain their faith or even explain the gospel that they believed in order to be saved. Obviously, such individuals should not be admitted into the seminary to be prepared as pastors. Right? Not so sure!!!

The problem is that these same individuals are currently pastoring churches as lay pastors. Some have been pastors for 5 years and other more. Now, they are deciding to go to school and learn more. These are the ones who can afford to go to seminary and yet, they are not qualified.

What then should be done in such situations, when it is clear that these pastors who do not qualify to enter the seminary are going back to continue their pastoral work? Two options:

First option is admit them as a service to the church to keep it from continuing to sink deep in wrong doctrines. But, then, with whom do you replace them? Churches cannot find pastors since there are more churches than trained pastors. So, we say no to admitting them to seminary, and send them back to their churches. Is this helpful?

A second solution is most likely, but requires commitment. While they are rejected from entering the seminary, the seminary can be taken to them informally. In this scenario, the pastors go back to their churches, but we provide them with a biblically-grounded curriculum that will help them grow in their knowledge of Scripture, and in turn help the Christians grow through teaching. We go into an area where theological education is lacking, set up a training center in one close location where pastors can attend without having to leave their churches on the weekends. We send teachers for one week, three times a year for three or four years, five days a week for 4-8 hours a day. At the end of the three years, the pastors would have received between 60-120 hours of theological education. This is reasonable and when done well, will equip pastors to be equippers.

You see, theological education does not only have to take place in a traditional seminary setting. Informal training programs, like the one just described, will introduce the Bible to pastors and prepare them to be better preachers and teachers of the word for the good of the church.

Training Leaders International believes in this informal approach to theological education as a way of filling in the gaps, and as a way of helping meet the need to put trained pastors into local churches.