“…before they were allowed to study to be a trained lay preacher… they had to already have planted two village churches in their area….”
This report is provided by Rev. Dr. Paul Mueller who returned two weeks ago from a trip to Liberia and serves as Executive Director of the Center for Applied Lutheran Leadership (CALL), Concordia University–Portland, Oregon.
Dr. Mueller’s Service as an LCMS Missionary:
- 1983-1990 – Evangelistic Missionary, LCMS World Mission among the Kisi, Lofa County, Liberia, W. Africa
- 2005-2009 – Regional Director – Africa, LCMS World Mission
In 1979, mission work was begun by the LCMS in Liberia, W. Africa, and missionaries worked in the country until 1990 when they were evacuated as a result of the war. The LCMS had four upcountry missionaries and one serving in the capital city, Monrovia. During that time, though the missionaries did the initial work of planting village churches and training non-literate leadership, that same work soon became the responsibility of lay preachers – they preached in the villages, cared for the worshippers, led weekly worship, and even planted more village churches. None of them were pastors.
When the war erupted and all missionaries were evacuated, about 30 villages in the entire country of Liberia had Lutheran congregations worshipping – none of them with pastors. At that same time, many Liberians also left the country, fleeing for their lives. As a result, Acts 8:1-4 was resurrected – those who were scattered preached/proclaimed the word everywhere they went, even as they were being persecuted, jailed, and beaten.
As they scattered and proclaimed the Good News, new ministries were started in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire where the Liberian Lutheran Christians fled and where there were no LCMS missionaries. 50 village churches were started in Guinea by the lay preachers – there were absolutely no pastors doing this work. They preached and baptized. As a result, there is now an Evangelical Lutheran Church of Guinea in a country where there were no LCMS missionaries, and where no other protestant church but the CMA was allowed by Guinean law to do mission work. That Guinean Lutheran Church continues to grow. Very few local pastors are available to do the work, so the national Lutheran church relies on the large cadre of lay preachers to do the work today.
Cote d’Ivoire also, as a result of the war, now has a Lutheran church body. Once again: there are very few pastors who then continue to rely on the many lay preachers to carry out the work of the church. In both Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, to my knowledge, none of the pastors has had any academic training equivalent to what is offered in the states, in Europe, or even in Kenya or Nigeria. They have been trained locally by missionaries, or by other African local leaders who have had more experience and local training.
Since 1997 when many Liberian refugees were able to return to Liberia from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, and even Ghana, (though there was still fighting and unsettled movement by many people), lay preachers who returned began the work to re-plant the village churches. From the 30 or so village churches worshipping before the war, there is now a robust Lutheran Church with about 15-20 pastors. One of them has St. Louis/Ft. Wayne Western academic training, one has a degree from Matongo Lutheran Theological College in Kenya, some have limited training from the seminary in Nigeria, but most of the pastors received minimal training from the Coordinating Center for Theological Studies (CCTS) located in the small village of Jembe in Sierra Leone.
The faculty of CCTS included one missionary, visiting instructors, and local indigenous leaders who had received the same training and had local church leadership experience. Lay preachers from Sierra Leone and Liberia, as they were able, would go for a month of training with several months off before the next session would begin. Many only returned as local family and village opportunities allowed. But in order to begin that training, they had to have already planted two village congregations.
Let that be noted again: before they were allowed to study to be a trained lay preacher, and then maybe continue on to be ordained as a pastor, they had to already have planted two village churches in their home area.
Today, that Lutheran church in Liberia has 15-20 pastors, 140 worshipping congregations in villages scattered throughout the country, with about 20,000 members.
Those results (and its continued missional growth) have been achieved by God blessing a model of leadership which primarily uses lay preachers. Most of the phenomenal growth has been done mostly without missionaries on the ground, without outside funding, and without pastors in every village congregation. The Lutheran Church in Liberia is a great example of spectacular success using a lay preacher model very similar to our own Licensed Lay Deacon model in the states. These faithful lay leaders serve in Liberia with the blessing of the Liberian Lutheran Church and the blessing of the LCMS.