If you look at how God is using AGWM around the world, it should quickly become apparent that church planting fills much of the big picture. But in order to maintain and even increase our church planting levels, we must hone in on the discipleship and training of ministers.
This is particularly true in the European context. Europe continues to make the transition to across-the-board secularism. Consequently, we have found ourselves — as all religious groups are now often finding themselves — to be stymied in our pursuit of accreditation for our training centers. Governments are making it harder for Bible schools to grow or to get any kind of official recognition.
AGWM ministers in 40 nations in Europe. To serve the training needs of those 40 countries we have to rely on 20 Bible schools, of which only two have more than 100 students. In the last 10 years, seven of our Bible schools have closed because they could not be sustained financially. There are also 31 ICI centers throughout Europe connected with Global University. These are valuable. But we need an educational anchor point to create new vitality in our Bible schools.
We are in desperate need to see something stable and vibrant that can reach into the entire European context. Continental Theological Seminary in Brussels, Belgium, has that potential. Its leadership is from across Europe and has a passion to reach this continent. President Joseph Dimitrov is from Bulgaria; the CTS board includes superintendents and leaders from around the region as well as from the US. Our partnership with CTS is critical to the well-being of our entire region’s future health and vision for the church.
The seminary is a powerful Pentecostal center for higher education that has provided theological studies in an international environment for over 50 years. Students are prepared for a spectrum of ministries and challenged to develop spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and culturally in order to serve God and their fellow man.
An $8 million building program is underway and was wonderfully bolstered at General Council in Orlando in August. A centerpiece of that program will be a Pentecostal Research and Leadership Training Center whereby we can help meet educational needs for all of Europe and even provide impact throughout the world. We’re developing many satellite schools and an online program as well.
Sometimes missions supporters look at a specific ministry center and see enormous energy and resources dedicated to one place. I would encourage anyone with such observations to see CTS’s full engagement with the entire continent of Europe. God willing, we want to pursue a similar upgrade with our Bible schools in Eastern Europe, our most challenging area to engage. This would create west and east linchpins for our regional training strategy.
If we are to continue following the prompting of the Holy Spirit to plant vibrant local churches, we need to have strong, well educated, highly qualified leaders who can get needed training in their language and with great effectiveness and turn those educational resources into powerful, locally contextualized ministry.
Graduates will be trained to do much more than fill pulpits. For several years, Europe has grappled with an annual influx of refugees from across North Africa and the Middle East. This has created an amazing open door for our AGWM team members to offer compassion ministry as a tangible demonstration of Christ’s love among people who are almost entirely Muslim. A wonderful follow-up to that initial contact with the gospel would be men and women trained to disciple Muslim Background Believers. Toward that end, CTS’s planned expansion includes a partner program with Global Initiative, among other partners in mission, to educate our students in reaching Muslims effectively.
Perhaps someone reading these pages has a background in Christian higher education. We need seasoned ministers, professors, teachers and others who would be willing to give five to 10 years of their ministry life to join us and invest in Europe. Yes, the growing secular emphasis creates challenges to reaching multitudes without Christ. But as we follow the path we believe God is laying before us, and as we link arms with people He is calling to serve Him across Europe, we envision a new day of spiritual breakthrough across the continent.