Global Sem Initiative: Supporting theological education worldwide

By Melanie Ave

Of the 204 pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia, its president and bishop, the Rev. Amos Bolay, said many are untrained.

Some of the pastors, he said, don’t fully know and understand Luther’s Small Catechism, something that is taught to young people of the LCMS in confirmation classes.

The Rev. Amos Bolay, president and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia and recipient of a Global Seminary Initiative scholarship, addresses the 2013 LCMS convention. (LCMS Communications)

The Rev. Amos Bolay, president and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia and recipient of a Global Seminary Initiative scholarship, addresses the 2013 LCMS convention. (LCMS Communications)

That’s why the Synod’s Global Seminary Initiative is so important to Liberian Lutherans and other church partners around the world who often don’t have access to advanced theological training in their home countries or to the funding to study in the United States.

Improving Lutheran theological education worldwide is at the heart of the Global Seminary Initiative (GSI), begun by LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison after he was elected in 2010.

The initiative provides scholarships for pastors from emerging and partner church bodies to obtain advanced degrees at the two LCMS seminaries. It also sends LCMS professors and qualified pastors to teach at regional seminaries around the world, provides scholarships for students attending in-country seminaries and funds seminars and educational conferences.

Bolay is earning a doctorate at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, thanks to a scholarship from the GSI — something for which is very grateful.

Three other pastors from his church, an LCMS partner church body, also are receiving scholarships for master’s degrees at the St. Louis seminary and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.

“We are saying, ‘train some of us and we will go back and train others,’ ” said Bolay, who holds a master’s degree in systematic theology from Concordia Seminary.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia — with 137 congregations and about 10,000 members — doesn’t have its own seminary but it has purchased 20 acres to build one. Most pastors are trained at multi-day workshops. But with the help of the Global Seminary Initiative, Bolay said he and the other pastors who are studying at LCMS seminaries can help educate their peers in Liberia and have a greater impact throughout their country.

“It’s going to help us with qualified men and women who will rightly teach what we believe and confess,” Bolay said. “Basically we want to uphold the confession of the church. We want to rightly present the message of the Gospel.”

An LCMS mission priority

One of the first acts by the people and pastors who founded the Synod was to form seminaries.

The training of pastors and leaders is crucial to helping the church move forward, said the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, director of LCMS Church Relations. Supporting and expanding theological education is one of six mission priorities of the Synod.

During the 2013 Synod convention, delegates adopted a resolution calling for the LCMS “to recognize that the Global Seminary Initiative agrees with the Synod’s mission priority of strengthening confessional Lutheranism by providing confessional Lutheran theological education around the world.”

In 2013-14, with a budget of $1.2 million, GSI provided scholarships to 25 students at the two LCMS seminaries and helped train another 127 students in Ethiopia, Togo, Tanzania, Russia and Madagascar. In all, nearly 500 people were helped as a result of GSI in 2013-14 through scholarships, regional seminary support, seminars and continuing-education classes.

For the 2014-15 fiscal year, the Synod set a goal of raising $1.2 million for the initiative, which will be used for scholarships, training centers, seminary support, study materials and seminars.

The most frequent request by LCMS partner churches worldwide is for help with theological education, Collver said. He added that they seek out the LCMS for its high academic standards, its theological position that the Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant Word of God and the Synod’s commitment to upholding the Lutheran Confessions.

“Other church bodies around the world recognize the excellence of LCMS theological education and they want to take part in it,” Collver said. “They not only want to come to our schools but they want to enhance their schools to a higher level and they are seeking our help to do that.”

The Rev. Norberto Gerke, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay, said the ongoing education of pastors is of “great importance.”

“We are invaded through the various means of mass communication with the teachings of different churches,” Gerke said. “Our pastors need to be able to differentiate between the teachings that are biblical and others that are not, as they lead the people in their congregations. It’s very important that our pastors continually deepen their understanding of Lutheran doctrine.”

In a video played during the 2013 Synod convention, the Rev. Hailu Yohannes Bulaka, president of the Southern Ethiopia Synod — one of 25 synods that make up the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus —said his church body has 1,320 congregations and 603,000 members. But it only has 155 pastors and 285 evangelists.

The Ethiopian church has asked the LCMS to help train its pastors.

“Even though we experience the growth numerically in the church, we have a shortage of trained manpower, trained pastors,” Bulaka said in the video. “So it’s very important to have pastors trained here.”

The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast, Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary, said the Global Seminary Initiative is impacting Christ’s mission in significant ways.

“It is helping bring gifted future leaders to our LCMS seminaries where they are not only students, they are teachers,” Rast said. “It is sending our professors into all the world. And in both forums it is helping forge relationships among the next generation of leaders who will bring the life-transforming message of Christ’s Gospel to every corner of the world. GSI is an incredible blessing.”

Expanding Lutheranism

Collver said the growth of Lutheranism worldwide as the most faithful confession of the Christian faith depends on well-trained pastors and church leaders.

“This is training the future generation of church leaders in places like Africa, which quite likely will be center of Lutheranism in the future,” he said. “There are 15 to 20 million Lutherans in Africa so there are more Lutherans there than in all the Lutheran church bodies in the United States combined.”

The Rev. Dr. Timothy C.J. Quill, associate professor of Pastoral Ministry and Mission and dean of International Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, said demand for the Global Seminary Initiative is great.

“The training of pastors is an intense, costly, time-consuming enterprise,” he said. “There are no short cuts.”

Quill recalled a meeting held in Kyrgyzstan in 2011 concerning the future of theological education in Russia and Central Asia in which one pastor from Kazakhstan said, “One well-trained soldier is worth a lot more than 10 untrained soldiers.”

Mark Hofman, executive director of LCMS Mission Advancement, called the Global Seminary Initiative an opportunity for the LCMS to affect the world.

He said it is something that calls for the full involvement of God’s people in prayer, concern and funding.

“Our partner churches deserve well-formed, theologically competent leaders,” Hofman said. “They are looking to the LCMS for our expertise and for our capacity to help them become mature partner churches.

“There’s an old saying: ‘You can give a person a fish or you can teach a person to fish.’ What the Global Seminary Initiative does is enhance our partner churches’ capacity to be faithful.”

To learn more about the GSI or to make a gift, visit lcms.org/gsi, call 888-930-4438 or email mission.advancement@lcms.org.

Melanie Ave is a staff writer with LCMS Communications.

Posted Sept. 4, 2014

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One Response to Global Sem Initiative: Supporting theological education worldwide

  1. Ezra Mutai September 26, 2014 at 12:14 am #

    That is a great initiative and may the Lord bless you people in what you are doing to reach the people as the saying goes ‘teach one to teach one for that one to reach out many.’

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