The Nauta Challenge

Over the last few months I’ve begun to understand the scale of the challenge to develop a new training course for pastors and church leaders.

Every learner brings things with them. We all have experiences of life & learning; we all have motivations for learning and all of us are affected by the cultures we live in. That’s as true in Stockport, Greater Manchester as it is in Santa Rita on the Rio Marañon. For river pastors life is tough; leading a small church in a rural community while farming & working to feed your family. Their experiences of education, frequently limited to primary education (at most), mean they are primarily oral learners and are used to learning things by rote. They are also motivated. Many travel long journeys to attend and put up with many hardships because they want to grow as pastors.

A training course for Amazonian church leaders is about much more than information; not least because teaching people isn’t the same as people learning. Historically we have provided lots of information, some of it quite practical, but students have struggled to learn and apply it. Finding teaching styles that are effective for a range of students, many of whom are not used to abstract thinking, which promote learning and reflect cultural assumptions about what ‘teaching’ involves is an art.

As the new course develops there will be much more emphasis on skills and character. Skills in preaching, leadership, environmental awareness and community development – as well as the ability to think, reflect and evaluate. Character growth for discipleship and leadership, while recognising that the cultures of the Amazon are very different from the ‘guilt/innocence’ cultures of the UK and US, requires some careful handling. Including these in a training course creates a number of challenges; not the least of which is time. A pattern for training based around block weeks has severe constraints on what can be covered and many elements depend on developing a relationship between students and tutors.

Added to this I’ve loads of other questions. Much evangelical church life in Peru is the result of US mission activity, which has brought some unspoken ways of doing church I’d love to challenge. But are my English evangelical Baptist views any better? Are my theological prejudices (understanding ministry as sacramental, charismatic understanding of the Holy Spirit, and looking quizzically at defences of dispensational pre-millennialism) any more appropriate? Are we modern day missionaries any different to the Conquistadors who brought Catholicism to South America? We may claim to be sharing the gospel, but are we really simply bringing a form of evangelical imperialism? Isn’t the whole model of Seminary / Bible College training based on cultural assumptions that are questionable?

Into the cultural mix we also need to recognise how church and culture is changing. In Peru, evangelical churches have only been around for the last 70 years. Most Baptist life sees its roots as being from the 1950’s. Society is changing, churches are changing and the future will be very different. The internet in particular changes people’s understanding of the world around them; and can be confusing those who assume that everything on line is real and true. 5 years ago, it was only rich people in Iquitos who had internet access; now young people in small communities as well as the towns are all networked in by smart phones.

Challenging this soup of questions is the clarity of the deadline. Drowning in a sea of questions isn’t an option since the first training week of 2018 starts on the 15th January. So, many of these questions will need to be worked out over the next year as we keep developing and improving the course.

Many elements are also new learning for me. I’m learning much more about adult education, development projects and course design than I anticipated. But the encouragement is that I’m not alone. I’ve been greatly encouraged by conversations with others who have been involved in training courses elsewhere in Peru and who seek to navigate many similar questions. I am only one of the people involved in this project; there are others who are experienced local church leaders, others who work with BMS and others who are involved in church life elsewhere in Peru. Hopefully what emerges during 2018 will be more helpful to students and make them better pastors and leaders in their own communities.

As we return to Nauta it is also the moment to say that all this costs money and we need your help and support to continue to do this. So if you are able please join our team of supporters (details here)

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