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Romanian Baptist Leadership Training

Ovidiu Cristian Chivu

Baptist churches in Romania experienced growth after the 1989 anti-Communist revolution. However, the number of trained leaders is lagging far behind the number of churches. While Romanian Baptists should explore new domestic and international mission fields and plant many more churches, the most urgent need is training more pastors and church leaders in order to meet current and future ministryneeds.

In 2004 the Baptist Union of Romania reported1,400 churches and 300 mission churches under 20 members, but only 700 pastors. Thus, leadership shortage is critical. I was first exposed to the lack of trained leaders in Romania when God called me into the ministry in 1993. I was working with the Missions Department of the Baptist Union of Romania. As I traveled with different mission teams, I met pastors and missionaries who were serving several mission churches at a time, trying to minister by themselves to each of these congregations. I found this situation present almost everywhere in the country, with very few exceptions. I began to take note of how widespread was the Romanian Baptist leadership shortage. It became evident that one of the greatest needs among Romanian churches was the training of pastors, missionaries, church planters, evangelists, and children’s and youth workers. The pictures of those hard-working pastors and missionaries laboring alone among those congregations captured my mind and never let go.

In researching various approaches to Baptist leadership training, eight formal and informal programs were identified, each of which is briefly described below. In summary, programs include two Baptist institutions with full academic accreditation; Bible Education by Extension (BEE), a training program that has been at the heart of non-formal training since Communism; cooperative training sponsored by a regional Baptist association of churches; three cases of church-based training; and one case of conference and modular training.

Academic Training in Bucharest

The Baptist Theological Institute operates in Bucharest (south Romania) – the capital city With over three million population, which makes the school strategically located. The Institute is fully accredited by the Romanian government and includes a School of Baptist Theology operating in partnership with the University of Bucharest. According to one of the leading professors, the main orientation of the Institute is to train “ministers for practical pastoral ministry, evangelism, andmissions.”1 The Institute is offering a three-year pastoral theology degree (residential and distance programs are offered).2 In the last four years an average of 24 students have graduated per year from The Institute.3

According to its vision statement, the Baptist Theological Institute in Bucharest is training ministers “for the church, and in cooperation with local churches.”4 In order to help students gain practical experience in ministry, the school assigns each student to a church in Bucharest to work under the supervision and evaluation of that church’s pastor.5 In 1991, the Institute opened a double-degree Baptist school in cooperation with the University of Bucharest, which is offering degrees in theology and linguistics, theology and social assistance, and theology and international languages. A missions program was started in1998 as part of the same partnership with the University of Bucharest. This program is strategic, since Romanian Baptist students graduating with a University of Bucharest diploma have their degree recognized internationally and are welcomed to teach in many countries closed to most Western missionaries. The School of Theology, operating in cooperation with the University of Bucharest, offers master’s and a doctoral degree in theology.

Academic Training in Oradea

The training program in Oradea (northwest Romania) started as a Bible institute or seminary and has now evolved into a Christian university fully accredited by the Romanian government.6 Emmanuel University has two schools – the School of Baptist Theology and the School of Management. The School of Theology offers degrees in Baptist pastoral theology, musical pedagogy, and a double degree in Baptist theology and social assistance. Another double degree – Baptist theology and linguistics – is offered in partnership with the University of Oradea. The School of Management offers a degree in organizational management. Several research centers have been started within the university, which conduct research in evangelism, Christian counseling and education, reformation, evangelism, preaching, and social assistance.7

The university “is training ministers for the local church and through the local church, for the society in its entirety.”8 The aim is to train not only pastors, but also other leaders in order to meet the needs of both Romanian churches and society. Emmanuel University has accomplished much during its17 years of existence. The university is working fervently to strengthen its faculty. The majority of the faculty consists of Romanian professors, helped by several visiting professors, mainly from America and England.

Bible Education by Extension

Western missionaries pioneered the Bible Education by Extension (BEE) training programing Eastern Europe among Romanian Baptists. One BEE missionary reported how, before 1989, various missionaries traveled from Western countries to Romania to teach local church leaders. The training was done mostly in homes. Visiting missionaries distributed to their students textbooks printed in Romanian, had them work on lessons ahead of time, and returned to teach short-term seminars and test the students.9 Visiting missionaries have trained both pastors and lay leaders.10 According to one BEE missionary, the training is now done in churches and homes.

The strategy continues to be one of training leaders for the local church. But the process has been much more indigenous, with Romanians themselves assuming teaching responsibility within their own churches and denominations. However, key elements of the ministry continue to be small group training, Socratic dialogue, independent study, and emphasis on knowledge, skills, andcharacter.11

Today, BEE International’s strategy in Romania is “to assist church leaders both in training leaders with BEE courses and in developing their churches as training centers.”12 A Romanian Baptist pastor acknowledged that BEE uses quality textbooks and biblical leadership training methodology. When asked to evaluate BEE training, the same pastor declared that the majority of pastors and lay leaders trained by BEE have “solid biblical and practicaltraining.”13

Training by Baptist Regional Associations

Several Baptist regional associations have started their own training programs.14 Typically, Pastors, missionaries, church planters, and various ministers from churches throughout an association come together to a central location for training. The programs vary in length, the frequency of meetings, and teaching priorities. Some meet several times a year for intense, one-week training programs. Others meet on a more regular basis. Although the programs are administered by local Romanian Baptist associations, in most cases the teaching is done by Western ministers and missionaries from churches omission organizations in partnership with Romanian associations. Some teaching is done by Romanianministers. Several of the organizations involved inthis type of training – for example, Bible Education by Extension (BEE) and Precept Ministries –were present in Romania during the period of Communism, and they had a part in underground training at that time.

Church-Based Training in Comăneşti

A small church-based leadership training program was started in 2003 in Comaneci. The Program is hosted by Victory Baptist Church and led by the pastor of that congregation. The pastor meets once a week with seven Baptist pastors and missionaries from Northeastern Romania in order to better equip them for ministry. Each meeting lasts three to four hours. The program was started with a vision for “fellowship, doctrinal unity, and cooperation among pastors and ministers from churches in the area.”15 Believing that correct practice in ministry is the direct result of correct biblical, doctrinal teaching, they all meet to pray, study the whole counsel of God, and attempt to find the best ways to put Scripture into practice. The trainer prepares a written lesson plan for each meeting, which serves as a guide to the teaching session. The teaching is interactive, with students encouraged to ask questions and discuss what is being studied. Students are also required to complete a list of reading assignments for each major theme studied. The study is practical, with those involved seeking to find the best practical ways for putting the Scripture in action, while taking Into consideration “the specific situations each of them and their churches are in.” Also, the training pastor visits his students in their churches and supports them “every time they need it.”16

Church-Based Training in Constanţa

A church-based leadership training program –Antioch Leadership Training Center – was started in 1995 in Constanta (southeast Romania) by the pastor of Golgotha Baptist Church. The center offers a three-year equipping program. Twenty-nine people are being trained in this center, among whom are people from the hosting local church and other churches in the area. The center uses the church’s facilities for its meetings and operates in close cooperation with Leader Formation International, based in Dallas, Texas. According to the leading trainer, the program is open to pastors and church ministers in order to enhance their ministry skills. The center’s motto is “serving servant leaders.” The program places emphasis on academic (reading, studying, writing papers) and practical training, but the main accent falls on the practical aspect –“how to implement what you have learned.” Three departments operate within the center – pastoral and missionary leadership development, church leadership development, and women’s ministrydevelopment.17

Church-Based Training in Brăila

Another church-based training center was started in 1998 in Brǎila (southeast Romania). The centers hosted by Holy Trinity Baptist Church. It was started through the initiative of the church’s pastor, who caught a vision for leadership training while training leaders during Communism. The center offers a three-year training program, primarily equipping missionaries and church planters. Among those teaching are pastors from Braila, Galati, Talca, and Bucharest, several Romanian missionaries and seminary professors, and visiting teachers from America and England. Since 2001 an average of eight students has graduated each year. Students come from Romania and the Republic of Moldova. A high percentage of graduates have entered the ministry, which is not the norm for most of the non-accredited Baptist training programs in Romania. The center is located close to Moldova, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. Romanian-speaking people live in all these countries. If reached with the gospel and trained for the ministry, they could become admission force among Slavic-speaking peoples.

Conferences and Modular Training

Many Baptist pastors attend three- or four day conferences and intense modular training sessions organized in various parts of the country by churches, mission organizations, and the Baptist Union of Romania. Usually, these training events are led by well-known pastors and professors from America. Hundreds of pastors gather in one location, where they have fellowship and learn new insights from the Word of God and practical ministry skills. Leading Romanian pastors have been used lately to teach in these conferences alongside their American brothers, helping contextualize the teachings to the Romanian and Eastern European context. Various training programs have been started by Baptist churches since 1989, but no indigenous leadership training strategy has been offered. Following is a proposal for church-based leadership training in Romania which, if implemented, could help Baptist congregations in Romania strengthen their leadership training efforts. The proposal contains seven steps:

1. Evaluation: Assess existing church-based leadership training.

2. Vision: Develop and spread a vision for church-based leadership training strategy.

3. Design: Plan the training strategy.

4. Orientation: Share the strategy and organize the process.

5. Cooperation: Pursue and build training networks and partnerships.

6. Implementation: Implement the strategy.

7. Tuning: Evaluate and improve the training process.

This indigenous, church-based strategy includes cooperation with more traditional academic training programs. Western missionaries pioneered Bible Education by Extension in Romania during the period of Communism with good results.18 Nevertheless, the time has come for Romanians to train their own leaders without relying heavily on teachers and trainers from the West. Everything has a starting point, no matter how hard it is, and being determined to put together a training team and program is crucial, no matter how small the beginning or how scarce the resources. In a country where evangelicals are perceived as being a foreign entity of Western origin, Baptist churches should make strong efforts to implement indigenous ministry and leadership training freeform Western influence. An indigenous church grows without outside control.19

Fine Tuning: The Training Process

Evaluation is critical to the entire training process. No strategy is perfect, but in order to improve it continually, regular and continuous evaluation should be implemented. Baptist churches involved in leadership training should set specific times throughout the year for evaluation of the training program and its effectiveness. Evaluation should be carried out in order to assess the training program’s goals, methods, resources, the effectiveness of the training team, and the progress of those being trained. The leadership team could use feedback forms and meet regularly at least twice a year to openly discuss, evaluate, and adjust all elements of the training process calling for improvement. The purpose of the assessment process “is not to demean or control people but to evaluate work.”20 The desire is to see each one involved (discipler and disciple) “grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ” (Ephesians4:15). Therefore, evaluation should be planned and implemented according to realistically designed means and measurements, and improvements made whenever and wherever necessary.

Conclusion

Church-based leadership training ought to be implemented by Baptists in Romania in a well-planned and strategic manner alongside academic training for the ministry. Having the largest number of Baptists in Eastern Europe and great potential and zeal for local and global ministries, but facing significant shortage in trained leadership, Romanian churches have the responsibility to equip godly leaders for the future. Romanians consider church-based training to have much potential for developing well-equippedleadership.21 Great potential can be realized by preparing and employing an organized strategy. Baptist congregations in Romania would do themselves and their future generations much goodbye making leadership training a priority, adopting plan for developing leaders, and investing in equipping mature leaders. F

Notes:

1 Educator D, interview by author, digital recording, Bucharest, Romania, 21 June 2005. (Missionaries interviewed are identified with code letters to protect their privacy.)

2 Institute Teologic Baptist Bucureşti – Licenţǎ[on-line]; accessed 15 August 2005; available fromhttp://www.itb.ro/licentaid.htm.

3 Institutul Teologic Baptist Bucureşti – CifreŞcolarizare [on-line]; accessed 15 August 2005;available from http://www.itb.ro/saptp.htm.

4 Institutul Teologic Baptist Bucureşti – Viziune[on-line]; accessed 15 August 2005; available fromhttp://www.itb.ro/viziune.htm.

5 Educator D, interview, 21 June 2005.

6 Interview with Rector Paul Negruţ; EmmanuelUniversity website, accessed 15 August 2005;available from http://www.emanuel.ro.

7 Universitatea Emanuel – Viaţa Academicǎ [online];accessed 15 August 2005; available fromhttp://www.emanuel.ro/academic/cercetare.html.

8 Missionary A, who serves in Romania with BEE.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid. Educator F confirmed that BEE trained bothpastors and lay leaders prior to 1989 and continues to be instrumental in training Baptist pastors and leaders for the local church even today.

11 Ibid.

12 Missionary B, who serves in Romania with BEE? He confirmed that “most of the teaching of BEE courses is now done by Romanians.”

13 Educator E, interview by author, e-mail Bucharest, 7 July 2005.

14 The information was confirmed by several pastors who participated in the surveys and interviews.

15 Educator G, interview by author, e-mail, Bucharest, Romania, 5 July 2005.

16 Ibid.

17 Educator E, interview by author, digital recording, Bucharest, Romania, 26 March 2004.

18 Patrick Johnston and Jason Mandryk, Operation World, 21st century ed. (Waynesboro, GA:Paternoster, 2001), 537.

19 Charles Brock, Indigenous Church Planting: APractical Journey (Neosho, MO: Church Growth International, 1994), 89.

20 Edward R. Dayton and David A. Fraser, Planning Strategies for World Evangelism (Monrovia, CA:MARC, 1990), 324.

21 David P. Bohn, “The Perspectives on Theological Education Evident among Evangelical Church Leaders in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Russia,” Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity International University, 1997, 339.

Edited excerpts published with permission from Ovidu Cristian Chivu,“A Strategy for Church-

Based Leadership Training in Romania,” Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,2007.

Ovidiu Cristian Chivu is pastor of evangelism and discipleship, Holy Trinity Baptist Church, and international missions coordinator, Romanian-American Mission, Brǎila, Romania.