By Lisa Green and Bob Smietana
Francisco Medina had been preaching for three decades in the rural Dominican Republic when he first came to a training event for pastors in 2013.
He arrived as a skeptic.
“Francisco very respectfully said, ‘I’m here mostly out of respect for the person who invited me,’” recalls Cris Garrido, Spanish publisher for Lifeway Christian Resources, who was leading part of the training.
“He said, ‘I have the Bible. I have the Holy Spirit. I’ve been a pastor for 30 years—longer than you’ve been alive. And I really don’t think all this theology and all this study is necessary.’”
By the end of the first week of training, Medina was weeping.
The training, he told Garrido, had changed his life. And he planned to come back for more.
“I quickly learned that I’d been teaching a false gospel,” Medina says. “I had wrongly believed that salvation required works.
“I was broken by the reality that I had been teaching a false gospel for so long.”
The training that transformed Medina’s life is part of a new movement aimed at developing local pastors on the mission field with programs that are accessible, practical, and low-tech.
Ministry leaders who work with untrained pastors in unreached parts of the world say the need is great.
After missionaries start churches among unreached people groups, their pastors are hungry to learn more. But in parts of the world where there are few or no indigenous Christians, trustworthy information can be scarce.
Few of the training programs and seminaries for pastors overseas are equipped to serve pastors from these new people groups.
Most training programs are in bigger cities, where it’s too costly for these new pastors-in-training to live. Some pastors don’t speak the same language or have the educational background to attend seminary. Others can’t read, making seminary all but impossible.
Without trained—or even spiritually mature—pastors, new churches often collapse. Or inexperienced leaders try to combine their old beliefs with their new faith in Jesus.
Medina says he and other untrained pastors had absorbed misconceptions about God’s truth.
“I thought that people must earn their salvation,” he says. “But this seminar helped me to see that my thinking was wrong.”
The onetime skeptic has become a strong advocate for pastor training.
“He said, ‘I’m going to be in every session. I’m going to be in every class. I’m going to invite everybody I can,” says Garrido. “And he did. He brought his son. He brought leaders of his church.
“Today he’s leading studies like these for others in his area.”
By sharing with others, Medina says, he multiplies what he has learned.
“I’m grateful for this seminar,” he says. “It has helped me in my understanding of the Scriptures and has taught me to preach the gospel in a comprehensive way.
“Our community has benefited greatly. I have benefited greatly—and so can the rest of the world.”
The power of preparation
Melvin Ardon knows from personal experience the importance of getting the right training as a pastor.
Ardon spent years as a volunteer minister and preacher at Hispanic churches in California. But he always felt something was missing. Ardon had never had any formal biblical training—and he feared he didn’t understand what he was preaching.
“Every time I went up to preach, I felt like a thief, almost,” he says. “I felt like somehow I was cheating people of a bigger blessing.”
That feeling came to a head about a decade ago, when Ardon was helping lead a revival meeting while on a mission trip to Kenya.
The revival had gone well. On the last day, Ardon says he felt God speaking to him—telling him he needed more training and study as a pastor.
As Ardon thanked God for all that had happened at the revival, he felt as though God was asking him, “Do you see what I have done? Now imagine what I could do if you would only prepare.”
He eventually enrolled at the Los Angeles-based Centro Hispano De Estudios Teológicos (CHET), which has been training evangelical Hispanic pastors since the 1980s.
During his studies, he returned to Kenya, befriending a number of pastors there. On one trip, he asked his new friends what their biggest needs were.
Along with buildings for the churches to meet, the pastors needed training.
“That’s when a light bulb went on,” Ardon says. “I said, ‘We can help with that.’”
He pulled out his cellphone and soon was on the phone with CHET’s president, who gave the go-ahead to use the school’s materials in Kenya. After working through the details, Ardon and two friends led a two-year pastoral training program for 14 pastors from Kenya.
The Kenyan pastors were able to stay at their churches while studying—a huge benefit, Ardon says. Many would leave the classes, then go home and teach their church the same material the next week.
At the end of one class, Ardon says, a pastor told him it had transformed the way he saw the Bible.
“He said, ‘I have to go back to my church and ask for forgiveness—because I haven’t been teaching the way the Bible asks you to teach.’”
Those feelings sounded familiar to Ardon. He’d felt the same way before coming to CHET—that he wasn’t teaching the Word of God rightly, because he didn’t rightly know the Word of God.
Without training, he says, “you are teaching from what’s in your heart. And that’s dangerous.”
These days, Ardon has a sense of urgency to return to Kenya to train more pastors. That’s in part because he and his friends are grateful for the people who made it possible for them to be trained as pastors.
“We want to give back from what we have received,” he says.
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