“The Shepherd’s Academy … helped me to correct myself in many areas. … I thank God for this wonderful opportunity.”
These were the words of “J.V.”, one of the South Asian church leaders who recently completed a short training course delivered through Barnabas Aid’s The Shepherd’s Academy.
Christianity has been present in South Asia since the first century, yet believers today are a persecuted and marginalised minority. Opportunities for church leaders to undertake formal training – often taken for granted in the West – are few and far between. Recent statistics indicate that more than five million church planters and pastors across the Global South have not had the opportunity for proper training.
The Shepherd’s Academy (TSA) is a project of Barnabas Academia, offering undergraduate-level learning opportunities to grassroots Church leaders in the Global South.
The vision and goal of TSA is to empower these grassroots church leaders with the necessary tools to lead their communities and churches faithfully and effectively, emulating the Good Shepherd in their contexts. The intention is for church leaders to be a ladder that their congregations and leaders can use to grow the Church to greater heights.
Short courses equip more church leaders for ministry
TSA’s work in South Asia is new and growing rapidly with many students having already completed courses and more joining every month. At present there are more than 100 active students in undergraduate programmes, with many others having already completed courses and continued in their ministry.
A church leader called the course a “privilege”, describing his studies as “thought provoking” and adding, “The peer learning during the tutorials and discussion forums gave me a wide range of practical ideas to implement the learning. The tutor’s clear passion made the learning complete.”
A third, James, reported that the course “gave me a lot of clarity and guidance in my ministry among neighbours”.
Online learning respects cultural context
In order to provide the most directly applicable ministry training to grassroots leaders, the course material has been written by subject experts from the students’ own regions. This means that course materials are tailored to benefit church leaders in their particular context.
TSA is the undergraduate section of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life (OCRPL), providing training opportunities for grassroots church leaders across the Global South who often struggle to access formal training or education. At present 418 students from 16 countries are registered for short courses or undergraduate study with TSA, and TSA study centres are based in Cameroon, Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan and Zambia. TSA course material is being translated into Chinese, Russian and Tamil, with, God willing, further translation into Arabic and Bengali to follow.
“...Lord, help me to be a ladder like you”
Under a qualified mentor, peer group learning is used through an online learning platform. Regular assessments focusing on practical engagement with the information complete the learning process.
Online learning is used for three main reasons. Firstly, it provides flexibility for grassroots church leaders who are shepherding a congregation – many of whom will also have paid employment outside of the church and cannot devote themselves to attending seminary or university.
Secondly, online learning keeps costs minimal. These savings allow formal training to be offered at reduced cost to church leaders who would otherwise be unable to afford it. Thirdly, online learning means that students can undertake their study without being uprooted from their contexts and ministries.
This prayer from a senior church leader, “J.P.”, who is completing a TSA course, is a useful conclusion and summing up of the fantastic work that TSA is doing in South Asia, through your donations and by God’s grace.
“Lord, I thank you for reminding me to be in disciple-making and leadership development. Lord, I am willing to go to the next step to become a ladder. This is costly to me, but Lord, I am willing to develop people and to take for myself the back seat. Lord, help me to be a ladder like you. Lord, I am willing to be a ladder to develop disciples, leaders and even ladders. Lord, give me more understanding. Amen”
The Shepherd’s Academy achieves international accreditation
We are thankful to the Lord that, after much hard work, The Shepherd’s Academy has achieved international accreditation for all TSA programmes from the European Council for Theological Education. This is a vital step for TSA, allowing us to offer degree qualifications that will be formally recognised by churches and theological colleges around the world. In some countries, such formal qualifications are a legal requirement in order for church leaders to lawfully practise their calling as pastors and ministers.
Project references: PR1499 (The Shepherd’s Academy); 64-1118 (The Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life)