Imagine a national church that began just over 20 years ago after years of domination by a regime that forbade any form of religious belief and practice. Now many people have welcomed the good news that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. Their lives have been changed, and the church has grown.
Can you imagine what this church is like? Enthusiastic new believers share their faith, while still coming to grips with what it means to follow Jesus. Leaders with little or no biblical and theological training often find it difficult to recognise false teaching. There are few useful books to help leaders or people understand the Bible, and no models of preaching from a Bible passage to help people grow as Christians.
A major need is for the church to grow in depth. Local leaders are working with Interserve Partners to help raise the standard of biblical teaching and preaching. They aim to equip believers with God’s word to Jesus and to fulfil God’s mission in the world.
A Bible college, operating with government approval, exists from month to month with enough to pay a small allowance to the five local staff. Many foreign teachers were involved at the beginning, but the need now is to equip local teachers by providing opportunities for study and teaching. After working together with a Partner teaching a subject, the local teacher then teaches independently. When Valentina* taught an extension class recently, students were amazed at how much they learned from her through studying the book of Ezekiel and how much they enjoyed her interesting teaching method.
Because of the threat of extremism in this part of the world, the government requires all religious leaders to have some qualification. Consequently, many church leaders from all over the country are now coming to evening or extension classes. They say, “I’ve learned so much here!” … “I’m already teaching what I’ve learned here this week!” … “I never appreciated how good and loving God’s law is” … “I have a completely different understanding of the Old Testament now” … “When is the next session?”
Providing good literature is also a key to growth in maturity. We have been upgrading the library with suitable books and computer software, which has streamlined the librarian’s work. Tom Wright’s 13 New Testament for Everyone books are also in the process of translation and publication in the majority language. One enthusiastic reader others saying, “This is an historical moment! The first Bible commentaries in our language!”
A small team of people who have seen the value in preaching clearly, faithfully and relevantly from a Bible text is encouraging and resourcing small preaching clubs where people learn and practise together. Now others are asking for this training. One participant remarked that all you have to do is study the text carefully, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and present its teaching in a clear, relevant and interesting way. She encouraged her pastor husband to attend a preaching club too. Another pastor who used to agonise over what the Lord wanted her to say has now been liberated by realising that God actually speaks through His word when it is faithfully preached.
These are some of the ways local leaders are working with Interserve Partners in a very young national church. It is slow, patient work, with few immediately evident results, but we know that faithful and effective teaching and preaching of God’s word equips His people for mission. The Bible changes the church, and God uses the church to transform the world, in His time and for His glory.
Gwen* is a Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for the past 12 years.
*Names have been changed.