Yearly Archives: 2018

St Philip's, Bundibugyo

Making an impact: Bundibugyo, Western Uganda

The staple diet of the Church of Uganda’s BUILD Unit is to train trainers who reach out to local church leaders across Uganda with essential biblical knowledge and ministry skills. Those leaders, in turn, influence co-workers and churches, and the lives of those around them. But  the BUILD team is also involved in direct work with individual churches and communities in a range of ways, which has included schools work and basic HIV & AIDS education for example.

One intervention grew from an invitation to train leaders in the neglected area of Bundibugyo in the west of Uganda, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. And, with a recent training even there, it is worth looking back at the genesis of BUILD’s work there a decade ago. Bundibugyo is a community with significant deprivation, with few committed Christians and high levels of drug and alcohol abuse. Livelihoods have suffered through poor farming practices, low education levels and a lack of financial skills with which to handle the modest income from crop sales. In the midst of this poverty trap, a Uganda-based agricultural business that is committed to the area and has a Christian director constructed a beautiful new church building, St Philip’s, to replace the one on Church of Uganda land the company had purchased for its new factory.

However, to some peoples’ surprise, very few came to the new building, the real church had yet to be built. BUILD was invited into the situation to not only train leaders and build a congregation, but to reach out with the gospel, influence other churches in the area and bring change to people’s lives. The approach was simply to equip church leaders to handle the Bible and to help them apply it to areas of church and community life, alongside additional training in sustainable agriculture. Using the new church building as a venue, training began with 30 local leaders in 2008. Within a year numbers had grown, with over 125 involved, increasing to 140 by 2010. Follow-up training was done in six local centres, with one church attracting over 150 participants. Wider evaluation of BUILD’s impact in the area found numerical growth in congregations; improved stewardship and giving; new Bible study groups and youth groups forming; and people gaining and using new agricultural skills. And many had transformed attitudes to saving and a more hopeful outlook.

When these localised efforts began in 2008 there were fewer than 20 people attending Sunday worship in the new church building. Now over 400 people gather regularly to worship the living God, with youth fellowships, children’s activities and Bible study groups in place. And with a well-trained leader to oversee the people he has equipped, the groups are sustainable. The church also reaches out to those around them in different ways. This mission focus continues so that at one event at the beginning of this month, March 2018, 132 people responded to the gospel. The church building now has and continues to have a real church at its heart – a congregation that understands its purpose and is reaching out to the community to which it belongs.

Finally, one other unexpected outcome early on in the outreach was the first ever writing and translation in the local minority language, Lubwisi, which had no orthography let alone Scriptures. Local leaders were asking for genuine local training, not in their second language or third language, but in their first. Partnership with translators and others providentially led to the first Lubwisi Scripture: Second Timothy, the text BUILD Module One is based on.

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Influencing training in the Zambezi Evangelical Church of Malawi

Myles MacBean (businessman, mission-partner, church leader) developed a preacher training programme and leadership development seminars for Malawi’s Zambezi Evangelical Church. Both programmes drew on aspects of the BUILD approach. Jem Hovil interviews Myles about one element of that, BUILD’s ‘ERA’ model of reflection.

Q: Myles, can you give us a thumbnail picture of ZEC and the programmes you developed?

A: Zambezi Evangelical Church was formed in 1892. It is the largest explicitly evangelical church in Malawi, Presbyterian in its governance, and credo-Baptist in its practice. With some 700 preaching points, the church identified the strategic need to develop biblically mature servant leaders as – in this typical sub-Saharan context – there is a core of college trained pastors but the vast majority of preachers and leaders are untrained.

Q: One element of BUILD that you adapted and adopted for leader training is the ‘ERA’ (encounter-reflection-action) model of reflection. Why did you include that?

A: A concern of the church was that doctrine, policy and decisions were typically being made based on church tradition, cultural norms or expedient intra-church politics rather than the application of biblical principles. Having encountered and applied ‘practical theological cycles’ during my masters degree in the UK, I realised this appropriately simple version could be a way of encouraging leaders to slow down and reflect more deeply and biblically on a situation.

Q: Were there ways in which you modified the ERA model, or lessons you learned from using it?

A: I tweaked the model to be “explore-reflect-act”. Partly this was a semantic change to encourage an active approach. It also clarified that we would start by pausing and exploring in depth the situation under review and its root causes, before moving on to reflect on what the Bible had to say about the topic, and then agree how we could concretely act to improve the situation. We learned that the process was best done in small groups, where different perspectives on the topic and a shared understanding of Scripture could be brought to bear.

Q: Can you give an example of the sort of issue you applied that to, and the outcomes?

A: We applied the method to many common pastoral issues in Malawi from the appropriateness of contraception to traditional marriage practices. However, one issue that came up repeatedly was what the church’s attitude should be to the so called ‘prosperity gospel.’ Most preachers recognised they lacked a clear, biblical, theology for suffering, poverty and prosperity with which to counter this false gospel. The typical result from the application of the ERA process was the rediscovery of Bible texts and themes emphasising that the gospel is about a supreme God giving us a far greater gift than wealth, health and prosperity: himself. That the most perfect of men, Christ himself, had to suffer to enable that gift. That Bible history showed that God’s blessed so often suffer. That Christ himself did not link suffering to a lack of faith or to sin. And, that ultimately the ‘prosperity gospel’ is another manifestation of false human religion where mankind vainly tries to control God. The preachers left encouraged to preach more confidently on the subject, and it is expected that this ERA approach will now be used to establish ZEC-wide pastoral guidance on this and other key doctrinal topics.

Q: How does that engagement with God’s word and God’s world strengthen the preaching programme, and the leaders and churches as a result?

A: In practice I saw Malawian church leaders wholeheartedly embrace the tool, recognising the improvement it brought to their decision making, and giving them confidence to go back to biblical first principles when reviewing the major pastoral challenges the church faces. It was also a good introduction for the ‘Preach the Word’ program which gave the leaders the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of hermeneutic principles that would help their future decision making as well as their preaching. Also, a sermon series on the topic was almost always one of the actions resulting from an ERA reflection, again emphasising the complimentary nature of these different elements of church leadership.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers on this particular topic?

A: Western readers might want to consider using this model within their churches. During my masters studies the eldership team of my home churches successfully used theological reflection when two churches entering into partnership had different traditions concerning Holy Communion. Reflecting together on the situation not only resulted in a renewed and common view among the leaders but was also an excellent team building exercise.

Thank you Myles. It would be good to interview you again in the future about an aspect of the preaching programme you developed.

I also want to thoroughly recommend your recent book, Preach the Word (London: Apostolos Publishing 2017). It is an invaluable resource for those who are developing training programmes in context. I have written a review of the book here.

St John's Mukhombe

Ninety-five

With Reformation 500 and all that talk of ninety-five theses behind us, what about the ninety-five percent of local church leaders with little or no theological training? It is time for the reformation of our training priorities, a revolution in resourcing in order to BUILD God’s present and future Church.

Ninety-five percent. Ninety-five out of every hundred of those who actually lead, care for and teach congregations in the world today, the majority of whom are in the global South, and many of those on the African continent. Yes, it is an estimate (sources here), based on the approximately five percent of church leaders who have formal theological education, meaning, conversely, that ninety-five percent do not.

But ninety-five. And if anything this shocking global estimate underestimates the problem in the global South, where it is intensified and exacerbated due to the unequal distribution of global Christian resources: it is estimated that around sixty percent of the world’s Christians access only seventeen percent of those total resources. This is then compounded by the fact that the limited resources are invested in forms of training that are inaccessible and often inappropriate for the majority.

So, at the start of 2018, beyond Reformation 500, here is a brief reminder of what BUILD is all about. First, a new arithmetic, that of multiplication as well as addition. The mathematics of traditional training is the slow trickle of one-plus-one equals two. Constant and considered, with all sorts of advantages, but addition none the less. The cascade that is needed is that of twelve-times-twelve equals one hundred and forty-four. Second, a new approach, that creatively couples non-formal and formal forms of training. To achieve multiplication BUILD recognises the importance and experience of existing systems, but wants to couple non-formal, group based learning in situ, to formal, mixed-mode training of trainers. Finally, to break the barrier students face on leaving formal training, and the rupture that results, it puts a dynamic, locally developed curriculum in their hands, that not only equips them to equip others, but helps them to grow and to continue to grow in the process.

Ninety-five percent with little or no training, and the bulk of training resources being directed towards the minority who have the education and resources and mobility to access them. Isn’t it time to change the statistics with the revolutionary spirit of reformation?