Non-Formal Education as a Tool for Church Planting in Latvia22.04.2011 / BPI
Raksts izdevumā "Common Ground Journal", v8 n2, 2011
Need for Change
When I (Peteris) was elected to the position of Bishop of the Union in 2006, I became keenly aware of the issues of our denomination and society. It would have been easy for the Baptists to continue living our comfortable denominational life. However, it did not take a prophet to see that, if we continued in the same manner, we did not have any future. What was needed was a daring recognition of problems and a vision worthy enough for me and others to live and die for. None of us would be ready to live and die for maintenance of a denominational system. We all want to life for something that is worth dying for.
The role and influence of churches in society was declining. Many churches continued to hold onto the mentality of holy, fortified fortresses which had helped them to survive the Soviet times. Their gates now were locked from inside and they had essentially turned into prisons. The Church seemed to live in a denial of the reality of its problems as well as those of our society. There were about 6,000 Baptists in Latvia with its total population exceeding 2 million: what is the point of our history, traditions and values if more and more people are not reached for Christ and discipled as His followers?
The initiatives of the Union were not effectively encouraging our people towards the Gospel centered life and ministry and church as a community living out the Gospel. Many young leaders chose to work for a parachurch organization or went into business instead of church ministry. Church was not seen as a place where to fulfill one’s calling and use one’s gifts. The Baptist Theological Seminary in Latvia, established in 1922 and reestablished in 1991, had provided theological training for some of the Union’s pastors. When it was unable to attract students – potential church leaders, in 2006 its leadership made a decision to move towards becoming an accredited Christian college with general admission programs.
It seemed to be God’s timing for change which would help our denomination, each church and each believer, to be mobilized to follow Jesus in a renewed way. The first steps which I proposed were strengthening and renewal of existing churches, training of new ministry leaders and launching of church planting. The people in our churches welcomed the new initiatives for they had grown weary of living in denial. Everybody wants to be on the winning team – and, with God’s help, that is what we wanted to invite them to join.
Baltic Pastoral Institute (BPI) was established by the Union in 2008*. It became a positive response to the situation with its mission to train, mentor and resource carefully selected men to share the Gospel, establish and lead high impact missional churches in strategic locations in Latvia, throughout the Baltic region and beyond. The development of BPI is intrinsic to the Union’s goal to plant 100 new and healthy churches in the next ten years. At the same time we are eager to serve the believers of other Christian denominations in Latvia and beyond its borders.
Our strategy at BPI (and the entire training model of the Union, see below) is to create a balanced environment that simultaneously emphasizes four key result areas: Content, Competence, Character and Culture** . We want to provide a holistic and balanced approach to human development and education. The first three result areas are not unique to BPI and they are often used as foundation for models of Christian education. We have added Culture as the fourth key result area to emphasize the need for cultural awareness and engagement which often is missing in ministry in Latvia and the Western world in general. These four areas and their specific outcomes are used to assess each course, activity and aspect of BPI’s everyday life as well as the entire program on regular basis.
Structure of BPI Training
There are several ways in which BPI’s training is structured. Two most important ways are dynamic combination of studies and ministry and careful balancing of all four key result areas.
1. Dynamic Combination of Studies and Ministry
There are two ways in which the BPI program aims to combine studies and ministry. First, BPI is a three-year training program with one year of full time studies and two years of part time studies. During the first year students are involved in full time studies led by both visiting and local instructors—experts in their respective areas. Students are also involved in ministry in their local church or town and are expected to complete specific ministry tasks. During the second and third year students are active in fulltime ministry in their local church or town. They also continue their studies through independent work and monthly participation in seminars at BPI.
Second, a typical BPI training week involves training at BPI from Monday through Thursday, followed by Friday through Sunday spent by students in their respective ministries and resting. In Latvian context, most of ministry activities take place during the weekend and we adopted our training model to this cultural dynamic.
The combination of full time and part time studies as well as the weekly training and ministry pattern allows us to balance the time spent by students in classroom setting with actual ministry involvement. It differs from a traditional seminary approach by valuing the connection between training and ministry for which students are being trained. Thus the training is not just training per se but a realistic preparation for real ministry.
2. Careful Balancing of All Four Key Result Areas
From the beginning, BPI was intended as a rather practical training, not a traditional seminary program. Considering the issues the church was facing, we could not afford to invest God’s given resources in purely academic training which is disconnected from and does not lead into ministry (however, we are not against academia). For this reason, we have moved away from focusing on Content (or “head” knowledge) and strive to balance all four areas which metaphorically are called the “training for head, hands, heart and feet”. It means that while certain courses and learning activities focus primarily on one or two of the key result areas, instructors are expected to teach in a way which takes into consideration all four aspects. It also means that chapels, accountability groups, mentoring relationships and community life are indispensable part of BPI everyday life. The program is regularly assessed by BPI’s leadership in terms of the key result areas and, if and when necessary, adjusted accordingly.
Towards a Comprehensive Training Model
We believe God is blessing Latvia with a renewal and church planting movement. For the movement to exist and grow there should be shared vision, understanding and terminology. BPI has become a platform for a more comprehensive training model which supports and feeds the movement. Presently it involves the following:
- Baltic Pastoral Institute: a three-year pastoral training program has been preparing male*** leaders for church leadership and church planting since 2008 (as described above). First twelve students graduated from the program in December 2010. Presently there are 24 students involved in the training. This year we have admitted the first student from a different denomination.
- BPI DRAFT: since 2009, two to three camps have taken place annually for teenage boys to prepare them for ministry, develop their character and help them to clarify their calling. We have come to believe that potential leaders should be identified early. It is important to help them understand that one day the leadership will be passed unto them. They should know that they are the best people to reach their generation. In unhealthy churches there is no effective identification, motivation and training of potential leaders. The Union and BPI cannot, like Snow White, sleep in a coffin on a mountain top and complain that there are no students, no pastors and no church planters. We have to speak to them in their teenage years and help them to have a dream and challenge.
- M4: since 2010, a two-year church planting training has been taking place. Its goal is to help teams and individuals to be trained in church planting or missional group ministry by focusing on important issues and by assisting them in developing common ministry platform for next three years. M4, we believe, is more than a program. It is a learning community where each team develops its particular and contextualized church planting model and the teams are mutually accountable. It is an environment which helps to lead church planters beyond mere dreaming and talking into strategizing and implementing specific steps by specific deadlines. In 2010 ten teams met for training four times a year. In 2011 twenty new teams from various denominations are participating in this training. In 2011, M4 is supplemented by V4 leadership training which aims at providing knowledge and skills for leading oneself and his team or church. Both M4 and V4 are organized in cooperation with DAWN Church Planting Network (Norway).
- IZAICINAJUMS (Challenge): twice-a-year interdenominational church planting conference has been taking place, in cooperation with Soma Communities & Acts 29 Network (USA), since spring 2010. Its goal is to inspire and educate all interested believers in order to develop an environment supportive of church planting in Latvian churches, and to challenge potential and present church planters.
- BPI SYNC: This training will be launched in a form of six gatherings annually in spring 2011. We want to help people to redefine their mistaken ministry and church planting concepts, goals and perception of needs. We want to “synchronize” their understanding with the philosophy, strategy and values of the Gospel (as expressed by the Union and BPI) and help them to process and adopt these as their own. We also want to continually understand where they are and what problems they face in their ministries.
There are many valuable lessons we have learned in these years. Here are some of the most important lessons which, we pray, are helpful to others, too.
1. Shared problem, shared vision
A shared problem creates a shared vision. Once something is perceived as a problem, it is important to promote it (at times in vivid and dramatic ways) and help others to believe it is a problem. Even the most exciting vision will not help, if people don’t own the problem. Nehemiah is our example here: first, he cries alone, and then he brings the problem before the people. Helping people to identify the problem and to identify with it is a basic leadership skill; however, it is often underestimated. In our case, both the problem was promoted and the vision cast, first, by my (Peteris) speech in 2006 when I was first elected to the office. It was further developed and formulated into a vision document by the leadership of BPI and the Union**** . The purpose of the document is twofold: to explain how to implement the Union’s vision of planting 100 new churches, and to help the members of our denomination believe in this vision and in possibility to fulfill it. It provides the rationale for church planting and suggests several models; it acknowledges several challenges we face and identifies a number of problems we are committed to avoid in the process. It also provides some practical guidance to help people identify their calling for church planting and lists a variety or resources the Union is committed to provide to its church planters. The vision document was presented at the Congress of the Union in 2009 and was very well received by the representatives of Baptist churches in Latvia. The vision is regularly reinforced through various denominational venues. Most importantly, it is believed and lived out by the Union and BPI’s leadership. One of the ways in which we own the vision is supporting the church planting activities financially. Over 50 % of the Union’s budget is used towards church planting and training of new leaders.
2. Men Need “Manly” Challenge
Latvia, like many countries, struggles with challenging men to step up to leadership in ministry. We have learned that men need “manly” motivation in ministry, just like in other areas of life. Churches often fail to present the Gospel in ways which are relevant to men. While women better respond to the language of relationships, we have learned that men better respond to the language of challenge and responsibility. Where their challenge, responsibility and ministry are, there are their relationships. It is important for men to know that they belong to the same “tribe” with others who own the same vision, motivation and calling while they are at BPI and for the rest of their life. We believe that more important than BPI’s diploma, is that students graduate with the sense that they belong to one “tribe” with shared mission of transforming church and culture, a “tribe” in which they can rely on one another, a “tribe” in which we all continue to grow together for the rest of our lives. For this reason, BPI, in identifying new students, is constantly issuing the call for men who dare to hear Jesus’ calling into ministry and dare to obey it; for men who, like the first disciples of Jesus, dare to leave what they have to follow Him and help others to follow Him. We are not looking for men who just want to go to school and grow; we are looking for men who own the Union’s vision, have at least some sense of calling into pastoral or church planting ministry, are ready to make sacrifices in their lives and to bring change to their church and culture. We want to prepare these men for their calling as well as we can, through BPI and other training opportunities, starting as early as BPI DRAFT camps.
3. Transforming the Whole Denomination
There are times when the whole system must be restarted. Leading a church is like growing a tree; leading a denomination is like providing for a climate change. Working in one isolated area will lead to division, not healthy change. If we desire to renew each believer, each church and the denomination in the Gospel, it is not sufficient to bring change to only some isolated areas of ministry. There are many factors which affect the whole system. It is important to consider the climate in churches, what their healthy, ministry philosophy is and readiness to respond to the challenge. For example, BPI DRAFT camps draw many youngsters who have not had healthy ministry examples to learn from and be inspired by. If a church is not healthy, its pastor is not the happiest guy in the town and certainly not the most encouraging role model. And by that we do not mean superstars, but warriors. Thus, even if these young men recognized their calling to ministry, they would not want to become failures. It is also important to provide believers and especially leaders with opportunities to renew their personal vision for life and ministry and to lead them to reevaluate and reshape their theology, ministry understanding and practice. Many still think church is only what takes place on Sunday morning, discipleship is for a few chosen ones and evangelism is pastor’s business. We want to help people “synchronize” their thinking and living with the Gospel, its values and practices. Just as important is not just to prepare ministry leaders but also to release them for ministry and continuously support and mentor them.
In the past five years the Union has seen positive change. BPI has been established to train pastors and church planters. The Union has developed a model of ministry leadership training. Church planting initiatives have been successfully launched. The denomination is slowly being transformed into a fellowship of Gospel centered communities. We still feel like beginners in most of these areas. By God’s grace and under His leadership we have done what we have understood and believed He wanted us to do. We still have many lessons to learn, hindrances to overcome and battles to win to see our people, churches and denomination ever more transformed by the Gospel and ever more transforming the society of Latvia with the Gospel.
Pēteris Sproģis and Līva Fokrote
* To learn more about Baltic Pastoral Institute, visit our website at www.bpiriga.lv.
** Detailed description of four key result areas you can find here
*** The Union of Baptist Churches in Latvia practices male eldership in church while acknowledging the value of female leadership in many church ministry areas. Weak men are a problem produced and faced by both society and church. We believe that ordination of women is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. The church should model the role of man in a family where man takes responsibility instead of hiding behind his wife’s back.
**** The vision of the Union of Baptist Churches in Latvia is available here