To continue our series examining the ministries of our mission partners, we asked Tony Swanson, why theological training is so important.
If we take it that theology concerns an enquiry into the very nature of God’s revealed self, together with our subsequent questions, opinions and actions resulting from this revelation, then theology is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
It’s helped me know how to explain my faith
Deborah Sweya & her husband John are both pastors in Tanzania. Deborah recently attended a seminar at the Institute of Bible & Ministry. Here she shares about how it has helped her.
‘These seminars have helped me by building up my ability in my area of work, especially when I am managing various matters in the office. They have built up my self-confidence. In addition, these seminars have helped me to understand more about the different environments of servants of God, especially those who are in missionary areas on the coast in Tanzania.
‘It has been very beneficial to build our ability to explain our faith, so we can discuss God with people with different beliefs in the various societies where we are serving. It has been good to learn methods that we can use in reaching a society with different cultures and beliefs.
‘Through my time at the Institue, God has reminded me to pray without ceasing for the Lord’s work, to witness to people the news of Jesus Christ, to recognise and respect the traditions and cultures of people and to be careful when reaching them with the news of Jesus. The Word of God has reminded me and teaches me methods which I can use to reach Muslims. When I want to reach people with the gospel I should first understand them and where they are in their culture.’
AIM’s vision to see Christ-centred churches amongst all African peoples, is firmly based in our theological understanding of the God whom we seek to serve. He is a God who loves the world, so much that he sent his only son to seek and save the lost.
Theology therefore, is crucial to the health, survival and direction of church and mission.
Relevant to the changing needs
Like many others, my call to mission developed over many years and can’t be pinned to a particular date. I originally studied agricultural economics with the idea that it may be of use in countries where much of the population are involved in subsistence agriculture. I spent ten years pastoring churches in the UK (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) and then in Tanzania which, together with further studies at All Nations Christian College in Hertfordshire led me into a particular branch of theological education.
For the last ten years I have been coordinating an Africa Inland Church Tanzania (AICT) programme, grandly called ‘The Institute of Bible and Ministry’. It is a continuing education programme of around 140 pastors and their wives who are already involved in ministry and serving around 6000 church members. It is proudly practical, distinctly Biblical and hopefully relevant to the changing needs of the Tanzanian church in the 21st century. The strapline of the Institute is to ‘Enable, Mobilise and Inspire’ the pastors and evangelists of the AICT to a close vibrant relationship with God and greater effectiveness in ministry.
“It is proudly practical, distinctly Biblical and hopefully relevant to the changing needs of the Tanzanian church in the 21st century.”
During three to five day retreats and seminars, the pastors are engaged in various curricula including: Biblical studies, spiritual formation, missiology and pastoral theology. Much time is given to prayer and discussion concerning on-going pastoral challenges. In this respect, the Institute provides a forum for real-time theological discussion and debate, and has the potential of impacting the whole church body in the following week! The energy and enthusiasm ‘to do theology’ is demonstrated by excellent attendance and local commitment through financial programme support.
Urgent prayer for Tanzania
Currently, urgent prayer is being sought for the whole country of Tanzania, as discussions are being tabled in parliament concerning the recognition and instigation of Sharia law courts. The Institute has over the last year run a number of courses raising awareness and understanding amongst the pastors concerning this growing threat. I believe the Institute has a strategic role to play in helping mobilise the local AICT to meet these challenges. In partnership with AIM the Institute acts as a catalyst to see an ever growing number of Christ-centred Tanzanian churches engaging with unreached Muslim Tanzanians.