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Theological training – How it’s leading to church growth in West Africa

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Working through each of the 12 biblical characteristics of a healthy church, Yoakum preaches on a different one each month at two young churches in the capital of Togo. (Photo courtesy Maryann Yoakuym)

TOGO, West Africa (BP) — “How do we become a healthy, biblical church?”

That was the question two Togolese men had for IMB missionary Trevor Yoakum. They each led groups of believers who gathered weekly in Lomé, the capital of the West African nation of Togo. They both wanted their groups to go to the next level or, as church leader Hallo Pascal put it, “so that the church is a true church of Jesus Christ.”

Yoakum was happy to help, and as a full-time professor of practical theology at the West African Baptist Theological Seminary, it was certainly his area of expertise.

“The best reference point that I could use was by showing Scripture,” recounts Yoakum. He shared with them the IMB’s Foundations document [2] and the list of 12 biblical characteristics of a healthy church [3]. That became the framework of a year-long plan for teaching and preaching.

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Since February 2021, Yoakum has been focusing on a characteristic each month and preaching a sermon on that topic to each group’s Sunday gathering. On Sunday afternoons, the groups’ leaders gather, and he teaches them hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) and homiletics (sermon preparation and delivery). At those trainings, he references the sermons they heard him preach as concrete examples of the methodologies they are learning.

After just a few months, Pascal has been seeing the effect of their new understanding of Scripture. “We see that we must preach the Word of God; it is not our own word. That’s what changes lives.”

Yoakum is impressed by the passion exhibited by this group of men who’ve had no prior theological training. Most of them don’t have the same level of education as his seminary students but they all come eager for God’s Word.

“I’ll take the guy who wants to learn and has passion over high intellectual aptitude any day!” says Yoakum with a smile.

Around the world, IMB church planters work to organize disciples into churches that bear the characteristics of health described in the Bible. While Yoakum’s primary role is at the seminary, he sees no separation between teaching at the seminary and teaching to inform the local church.

“When you’re teaching and forming the church and the church is engaging the nations, then you’re going to see the fulfillment of what we read in Revelation 7:9 – a multitude beyond count from every race, tribe, language, tongue singing praises before God.”

Pascal says he is proud that his fledgling church is receiving solid biblical instruction. “I want our church to be strong …for the people to know the Word of God.”

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