Equipping for service at the grassroots of the global Church

Equipping for service at the grassroots of the global Church

The Shepherd's Academy and other Barnabas Academia leadership training

"T his course is very relevant in my life. I am experiencing a transformation within me. The course will go a long way to helping me in ministry to dispense the Word accurately with correct spiritual meaning that will edify the Body of Christ.” These were the words of a church leader from South Sudan, describing his experience of studying with The Shepherd’s Academy.

It is estimated that around five million of the church planters and pastors ministering throughout the Global South have had no opportunity for training. This can limit the effectiveness of even the most faithful under-shepherds of the Lord’s flock. There is a desperate need for leadership training in order to provide guidance to the global Church. Strong and well-equipped leaders help to strengthen and build up the faith of all Christians. Furthermore, in some countries it is required by law that church leaders have appropriate formal qualifications in order to engage in ministry. 

Responding to this immense need, Barnabas Aid created The Shepherd’s Academy (TSA) to provide grassroots church leaders with relevant skills and knowledge to empower them in their ministry.

Strengthening grassroots leaders to build up the global Church

As well as equipping grassroots church leaders with skills and knowledge, the TSA course also guides church leaders in their personal spiritual growth and in the formation of a Christ-like character and integrity, reflecting the Good Shepherd after whom the Academy is named. These qualities are no less important to fruitful ministry than a deep knowledge of theology. 

“I am experiencing a transformation within me. The course will help me dispense the Word accurately with correct spiritual meaning that will edify the Body of Christ”

The training programme is accessible for those who cannot afford the fees for seminaries or theological colleges. Students are able to continue with their church ministries while they study. They are not uprooted from their homes and their service for the Lord is not disrupted. The study method combines online classes with face-to-face tutorials which keeps costs low, and many students receive scholarships with funds from Barnabas.

At the end of 2022 there were 418 students from 16 countries (Cameroon, DRC, Ghana, Guyana, India, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Spain, Uganda, UAE and Zambia) studying with TSA. Most of these students were doing short courses but 97 were studying for a degree. God willing more than 600 will have commenced their studies by the end of 2023. 

So far there are five TSA study centres– one each in Cameroon, Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan, Zambia – each with its own regional coordinator. Running costs are kept low by using the facilities of existing theological colleges or Bible colleges for the TSA study centres. The TSA course material is being translated into Chinese, Russian and Tamil, with further translation into Arabic and Bengali to follow. 

One of the TSA short courses – “Unveiled: A Christian Study Guide to Islam” – aims to help Christians understand the differences between Islam and Christianity, how Islam has spread and is spreading across the world, and how to share the Gospel effectively with Muslims. More than 200 students are enrolled, with 16 having successfully completed the course and another 41 close to completion. 

This course responds to a great need facing Christians in the Global South, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where Islam is growing rapidly, often at the expense of Christianity. When professing Christians convert to Islam, at root it is because they have not fully understood Christianity. They do not know their faith and do not recognise how it is different from Islam. Muslim missionaries are trained to demolish the Christian faith but Christians and their leaders are often ill-prepared to face this situation.

Preparing to meet the challenge of Islam

Because of the urgent need to strengthen the Church to face the challenge of Islam, Barnabas Aid’s academic wing, the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life (OCRPL) has created a master’s-level course on Islamic studies, which equips church leaders to understand and repudiate Muslim arguments against Christianity. There are 31 students registered on this course, nine of whom are expected to graduate soon. Other OCRPL master’s-level students also receive training in this area, while a master’s course in Comparative Religions that will also focus on Islam is scheduled to begin in June 2023.

These courses will “train a new generation of Christian leaders to better understand Islam so that they can teach pastors, evangelists and their people the fundamental differences between the two as well as to know how they should engage with Islam and relate to Muslims”, explains Professor Patrick Sookhdeo, Executive Director of OCPRL.     

“All this prepares our students for more effective ministry among Muslims,” adds Dr Anna Bekele, who leads the master’s programme. “They are also better equipped for teaching at the seminaries and training other Christian leaders for engaging with Muslims in a thoughtful, insightful and well-informed way.”

It is hoped, says Professor Sookhdeo, that in “major Bible schools and theological colleges, Islamic departments will be set up, well resourced by materials provided by Barnabas Aid, and with teachers and instructors who have been trained by OCRPL”.

There are OCRPL master’s-level students in Angola, Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Guyana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Some are recently married with young children, while others are already grandparents. Most are currently serving as church ministers and pastors alongside their studies, while some teach in seminaries. 

Godwin Adeboye from Nigeria was the first student to graduate from OCRPL’s master’s programme. He is now a Ph.D. student and works as a regional co-ordinator for The Shepherd’s Academy

A theology of harmony

In 1983, Zechariah Manyok was one of tens of thousands of Sudanese boys displaced by the second Sudanese Civil War. Now the Bishop of Wanglei, South Sudan, Zechariah was among the first Ph.D. graduates from OCRPL. 

The story of Bishop Zechariah is just one wonderful example of how the work of OCRPL is transforming not just the lives of individual Christians, but also equipping Church leaders across the Global South for service.

Bishop – and now Dr – Zechariah, like many others in war-torn Sudan, had no opportunity for formal education in his youth. But when that opportunity came in later years, he pursued it with enthusiasm, gaining a diploma, followed by a bachelor’s degree, and then two master’s degrees. 

Bishop Zechariah credits the commitment of OCRPL teaching staff in helping to make possible the completion of his Ph.D. studies:  “Each one of our professors would make sure that we learned from his or her expertise. Research seminars that OCRPL organised annually were useful in giving us even more information.” 

The aim of OCRPL’s doctoral programme is to help church leaders make vital contributions to the life and work of the church in their particular contexts. This is certainly the case for Bishop Zechariah’s forthcoming book, Church, State and the Ethical Imagination, which provides principles for leadership in both secular government and the Church. 

“South Sudan has good laws on paper,” argues Bishop Zechariah, “but implementation differs from what the law stipulates.” The main example of this is Article 8 of South Sudan’s constitution, which stipulates the equal treatment of all religions. “Yet,” he continues, “the state provides special treatment to Islam by giving it funds for building Islamic schools and for annual pilgrimages to Mecca. Other religions do not get the same treatment.”

OCRPL in numbers:

418 students from 16 countries registered with TSA

42 current master’s students
from 14 countries

6 students have completed the
master’s programme

48 current Ph.D. students
from 17 countries

6 students have
completed Ph.D.s

Bishop Zechariah sets out a “Christian way of helping individuals and groups resolve different types of conflicts” – a way that could help prevent civil wars and conflicts in the future. The Church, he argues, must hold forth a “theology of harmony which has its foundation in God [and] reflects the Oneness of the Trinitarian God”.

Bishop Zechariah’s research, which he hopes will have applications in contexts other than South Sudan, is just one example of the important work being undertaken. Six students have already graduated, and there are currently 48 researchers from 17 countries – Antigua, The Bahamas, Canada, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Uganda, UK, USA and Zimbabwe – enrolled in the Ph.D. programme. 

Some of the topics being explored include political marginalisation of Christians, theological and physical conflict between Christians and other religious groups, the impact of the Gospel on low-caste and poor people, the ethics of work, Christian education, women in the Scriptures, and domestic violence. God willing this work will provide even greater wisdom and guidance for the global Church.

It is Barnabas Aid’s hope and prayer that the numbers of students at TSA and other levels of OCRPL will increase, equipping even more of those called to feed Christ’s sheep. Can you help fund the vital work of training pastors, ministers and church planters in order to provide sound teaching, wisdom and guidance to Christians facing challenges of many kinds across the Global South?

The monthly costs for one student are:

The Shepherd’s Academy
(degree level) £18 ($25; €21)

Master’s with OCRPL £79 ($104; €87)

Ph.D. with OCRPL £155 ($182; €176)

 

Project codes

PR1499 (The Shepherd’s Academy)
64-1118 (Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life)

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