P raise God for the wonderful church growth in the Central Asian republics as many Muslims turn to Christ.
There are new believers meeting together in convert churches all across this vast region, in addition to the historic Christians.
The pace of growth is creating a big demand for leaders to guide congregations. Many are being led by Christians who are both young in age, and young in terms of their Christian knowledge and beliefs.
Huge need for pastoral training
Barnabas Aid’s theological and pastoral training programme The Shepherd’s Academy (TSA) – the undergraduate section of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life (OCRPL) – is expanding into Central Asia to meet this demand and support leaders in their God-given calling.
“There is a huge, and growing, need in Central Asia to train pastors so that they are better equipped for ministry,” said Dr Prasad Phillips, Deputy Executive Director of OCRPL.
“Many pastors serve a number of congregations but have never had an opportunity to be trained. There are a few well trained but the majority of them are not.”
Church leaders in the region need to be equipped also for the particular challenges that face their church members.
Converts to Christianity are often rejected by their families and friends, and are subjected to hostility by their communities. They are frequently denied work by Muslim employers and, as a result, many Christian men are forced to look for employment further afield, leaving their small churches weakened by their absence.
The governments of the Central Asia republics, which emerged out of 70 years of communist rule, tend to be deeply suspicious of Christians and closely monitor church activities.
Pastors and congregations are often subjected to intimidation or fined for unauthorised worship. Churches are required to register, but the rules of registration are sometimes impossible for small congregations to meet, thus rendering them unlawful.
Expansion of TSA warmly welcomed
The expansion of TSA was warmly welcomed by more than 60 evangelical church leaders and heads of theological institutions from Central Asia who gathered for a Barnabas-funded conference on the future of theological education in the region, held in Armenia’s capital Yerevan in October 2023.
Delegates were enthusiastic at the opportunities online learning offers to pastors, the majority of whom share the overall poverty of their communities and cannot afford normal tuition fees.
Many pastors are bi-vocational, supporting their families through secular employment, and are unable to leave their jobs for residential college studies.
Initially TSA is offering Central Asian students a choice of five undergraduate degree courses in Russian. There will also be three TSA short training courses in Russian that will enable students to sharpen their skills as under-shepherds of the Lord’s flock.
More TSA courses are in the process of being translated into Russian and will be available shortly. Courses in Georgian and Uzbek are also planned.
Hundreds studying with TSA in Global South
The Shepherd’s Academy was established by Barnabas Aid in 2021 to meet the need for leadership training among grass-roots church leaders in the Global South.
Its currently has more than 800 students registered from over 30 countries in the Global South, and has 20 study centres in 12 countries.
Students undertake short training courses or full undergraduate degrees. The courses, which are accredited by the European Council for Theological Education, combine guided self-study and online classes, providing flexibility and affordability for church leaders who would otherwise struggle to access formal learning.
Additionally, each degree student is linked to a local study centre for in-person tutorials, which help students to apply the self-study materials to their own cultural contexts.