A Summary for Indian Christian Leaders

by D.R. David, D.Min., Ph.D.

(February, 2002)

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1.0 Introduction

By 2035 India is projected to overtake China as the most populous nation on earth, with over 1.5 billion people.[1] Already it is the world’s largest democracy, with a population of 1,027,015,247.[2] India is also home to hundreds of unreached people groups, including some of the largest, such as the Chamars (47 million), Rajputs (40 million), and Bhils (10 million)[3]. Without question the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in India today. Reports of bold new evangelistic endeavors and rapid church growth are coming from numerous areas, especially in the tribal zones, but also among former Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. At least 440 indigenous Indian mission organizations are sending out more than 44,000 missionaries, 66% of whom are working cross-culturally in India, and 440 of whom are in foreign countries.[4]

These new churches need biblically-trained lay leaders and pastors. The indigenous missionaries, evangelists and church-planters who are establishing these congregations need to be equipped as well. So do the teachers in the Bible schools, mission agencies and denominations that send them. Trainers of trainers need to be prepared at the highest levels, and credentialed with recognized masters and doctoral degrees in order to teach in the seminaries. Furthermore, established churches and institutions need to be infused with new vision from leaders who have examined the theological and practical dimensions of the missionary task.

The insights in this study are based on in-depth personal interviews with approximately 300 leaders, primarily Indians, representing about 200 churches and Christian organizations, in nearly every state of India. The purpose of the study was to identify the key needs and opportunities for developing leaders for healthy, reproducing churches in every district and every people group of India.

2.0 Context of India Today

2.1 Complexity

India is really more like a continent than a nation. Within its 29 Union States and 6 Union Territories, 222 languages are spoken by more than 10,000 people each[5] (including 18 official languages), and 25 scripts are used. Immense cultural differences can be observed between north and south, between west and northeast, and between urban, village and tribal. Dr. K.S. Singh of the Anthropological Survey of India (1991) has identified 4,693[6] communities or people groups. He says, “Nowhere in the world have so many streams mixed, with such diversity.” The India Missions Association records 960 castes and tribes with populations of at least 10,000[7].

According to Ebenezer Sunder Raj, former General Secretary of the India Missions Association, India is home to approximately 450 million Hindus. In addition, nearly 300 million people of lower castes have been classified as Hindus by the Census of India since1931, but since they do not practice the Brahminical religion, they are not properly called Hindus.[8] In India we find the world’s largest block of accessible Muslims, about 123 million, as well as 22.2 million Sikhs, 6.5 million Buddhists and 3.8 million Jains.[9]

Fundamental to Hinduism is the idea of caste. Traditionally caste divisions are related to occupational groupings and endogamous marriage arrangements (i.e. marriage within a similar social unit). However, when combined with religious ideas of purity and social practices of hierarchy, it has become for many an instrument of discrimination and oppression. At a recent UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, Indian Dalit leaders argued unsuccessfully for the identification of caste discrimination as a form of racism in the Indian context. The “politically correct” term preferred in place of “caste” is “community.” However, in this report I will use the word “caste” for clearer communication.

At the top of the hierarchy are the Brahmins, the priestly caste, comprising only 4%[10] of the population. The next two highest castes, the Kshatriyas (warriors) and Vaishyas (traders), comprise 8.3%. These first three castes are called “Forward Castes” by the Government, because they are considered to be relatively wealthy and developed. Even though the Forward Castes comprise less than 15% of the population, they hold the dominant influence in politics, education, and business. The lowest castes, called “Backward Castes” and “Other Backward Castes” (Sudras) are 45.3% of the population. Together these four groups, the only ones properly called Hindus, comprise only 57.6% of the Indian population.

Another 14.5% belong to the Scheduled Castes, also called Outcastes, Untouchables, or Dalits, renamed “Harijans” (that is, “children of God”) by Mahatma Gandhi. Another 7.6% are tribals, the “Adivasis” or original peoples. Both the Scheduled Castes and the tribals were enslaved centuries ago by the four higher castes, but for political purposes often are referred to as Hindus. All other religious groups comprise about 20% of the population.

The different castes are separated by high social barriers, with numerous prohibitions related to intermarriage, food, and ritual purity. Even though caste discrimination is forbidden by the Indian constitution, it strongly influences social behavior and thinking for over 80% of the population, including many Christians.

According to the official government census of 1991, Christians comprised 2.61% of the population. The provisional figures from the new 2001 census indicate that the percentage of Christians has dropped to 2.3%, but these figures are open to question for a number of reasons, as will be explained later. Operation World (6th edition, 2001) lists the percentage of adherents to Christianity as 2.4%, whereas the World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd edition, 2001) cites 4.0% affiliated, with an additional 2.1% unaffiliated (“crypto-Christians”).

Christians are concentrated primarily in the four southern states (Kerala, 19.3% Christian; Tamil Nadu, 5.7%; Andhra Pradesh, 1.9%; and Karnataka, 2.1%) as well as the Northeastern states (especially Nagaland, 87.5%; Mizoram, 85%; Meghalaya, 64.6%; and Manipur, 34.1%). Most of the northern states recorded less than 1% Christians, and some less than 0.1% (Haryana and Himachal Pradesh).[11]

Indian Christians commonly speak in terms of three basic regions: the North (where Hindi is the dominant language, and where Aryan influence is strongest); the South (the seat of Dravidian culture, and where English is preferred over Hindi); and the Northeast (comprised largely of hill tribes who are racially and linguistically related more closely to China and South Asia, and who have been shaped far more by Christianity than by Hinduism or Islam). But even within these regions, there are profound and important cultural, linguistic and religious differences.

Because of this complexity, it would be simplistic to think in terms of one approach or one set of needs for the entire country. In fact, it is very difficult to make generalizations that apply to all of India. Many Indian leaders have suggested it would be wise to approach leadership research and strategy on a regional level.

2.2 Change

India today is undergoing rapid changes in many areas. In the last decade and a half, the relaxation of restrictions on foreign investment, the privatization of a number of industries, the explosion of the Indian software enterprise, and the introduction of satellite TV, especially MTV, have contributed to far-reaching changes in the Indian economy as well as culture.

Even though almost 41% of the people in the cities and 51% of the people in the rural areas live below the poverty line,[12] the middle class is growing rapidly in purchasing power. In the cities, motorbikes and private automobiles are replacing bicycles and rickshaws. Computers, cell phones, Internet cafes, and e-mail addresses on business cards are multiplying. Western soap operas, movie stars and rock bands receive wide exposure. Western values and morals are rapidly undermining many Indian social and family traditions. Divorce rates are rising. Urbanized young people identify more with their peers in other Asian as well as Western countries than they do with their parents’ generation. The influence of television reaches beyond the cities to impact the villages and rural areas as well. But amidst these rapid changes, the gaps between the economic and technological “haves” and “have-nots” continue to grow.

Apart from the growth of the middle class and the increase of urbanization and globalization, the other most obvious change in India today is the rise of religious fundamentalism. Abuse and persecution of Christians, as well as destruction of Christian properties, have increased dramatically in the last three years. Churches have been burned. Christians at prayer have been beaten up. Christian workers have been killed. Some may argue that these are isolated instances, but the increasing frequency is difficult to deny.

Yet even while the forces of religious fundamentalism are gaining strength, another great social movement is emerging. A wave of social discontent and political awareness has been growing within a large segment of India society: the Other Backward Castes (Sudras) and the Dalits (Scheduled Castes, or Untouchables), who resent the concentration of power and privilege in the hands of the forward castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas), and do not want to be identified as Hindus. Some of their leaders have called on their followers to “quit Hinduism” and convert to Buddhism, Christianity, or any other option that offers them more dignity, respect, and social mobility.

2.3 The Church

Yet amidst all the pressures and changes, the church in India is growing more rapidly than ever before. The persecution has begun to bring together many Christian leaders who have operated rather independently of one another in the past.

Tradition traces the beginning of Christianity in India to the arrival of the apostle Thomas in 52 AD. But there is little doubt that Syrian Christians had become established in Kerala by the fourth century. Roman Catholic work began in Goa in the sixteenth century, and Protestant missions began in the eighteenth century. Indian Christians recently celebrated the bicentennial of William Carey’s arrival in 1793. Yet despite this long tradition, the percentage of Christians recorded in the 2001 census was still less than 3%. Of these Christians, 39% were Protestants, 27.6% were Independent, 29.2% were Catholics, and 3.8% were Orthodox.[13]

Indian leaders commonly refer to two primary streams in the Protestant church: the mainline churches (including the Church of North India, the Church of South India, the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Methodist Church of India) and the evangelical/charismatic churches. We could define “evangelicals” as those who hold to the full authority of the Scriptures, who believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and who emphasize the need to share the gospel with those who have not yet heard or believed. We could define “charismatics” as those who believe in the full operation of the New Testament ministries and gifts in the church today, though there are varying degrees of emphasis on speaking in tongues, or on a separate experience of baptism of the Holy Spirit.

These categories are of limited usefulness, however, because many of the mainline churches have significant numbers of those who are evangelical in theology, while in some regions traditionally “evangelical” churches like the Baptists have been strongly influenced by non-evangelical theology. Lines between charismatics and non-charismatics are increasingly indistinct, especially in newer fields. There is also growing fellowship and cooperation between charismatic Catholics and evangelical Protestants in places like Mumbai and West Bengal. In fact, Bible-believing Catholics and Protestants often find much more in common with one another than either find with the non-evangelical wings of their own groups.

Many of the mainline churches have been sadly weakened by limited vision, political struggles, the drain of expensive institutions inherited from the missionaries, endless lawsuits involving church property, and theological pluralism. Although there is evidence of evangelical awakening in many parts of the mainline churches, the great bulk of evangelism, missions initiatives, and church-planting efforts are coming from the evangelical and especially the charismatic streams.

The Christians in India are distributed very unevenly by region and by caste. Seventy percent live in the South, and 25% in the Northeast.[14] Only 5% of India’s Christians live in the entire North of India, and half of them (2.5%) are non-Aryan tribal Christians.[15] Furthermore, more than half of the Christians in India have Scheduled Caste background, and another quarter are from tribal origin. The Syrian Christians of Kerala, the Goans of Goa and the Anglo-Indians together comprise 12%. Only about 25% of the Christian come from the Backward Castes, Other Backward Castes and Forward Castes, even though these groups make up 60% of the Indian population.[16]

Whatever the official government statistics may say, it is evident that definite growth has been occurring in the last decade. Even though the census of 2001 shows only 2.3% Christians, most Indian Christian leaders think the percentage of Christians is actually closer to four percent, or perhaps even more, if you include all the secret believers.[17] But all agree that in many regions of the country, and in a number of people groups, the churches are growing at an unprecedented rate.[18]

Not only are churches multiplying, but so are indigenous Indian mission agencies, sometimes with only three or four workers, but often with dozens or even hundreds. In 1998 the India Missions Association was estimating that there were about 300 indigenous mission agencies in India. But since then new groups have continued to spring up. The 2001 edition of Operation World reports 440 agencies. Many of these churches and missions have no ties with any Western denominations or agencies.

Much of the growth of the church has been coming through cell groups (networked together as part of larger worshiping congregations) and house churches (in which the cell performs all the functions of a church). The cell and house church models have drawn increasing attention, not only because of their rapid multiplication, but also because of their suitability for apprentice-style leadership development, their ease of cross-cultural adaptation, and their ability to survive and even thrive during times of persecution.

The combination of local agitation as well as official harassment and media attacks have prompted Indian Christians to rethink their strategies of evangelism. In many places public meetings and street preaching have become nearly impossible, though in some areas well-publicized evangelism and healing services can still be conducted without interruption. However, in general there is a growing emphasis on friendship evangelism, home meetings, and practical service (e.g. health, literacy, AIDS prevention, environmental initiatives) that plainly benefit the entire community (non-Christians as well as Christians) and that win a hearing for the Christians. Two common criticisms leveled against the Christians by their opponents are that (1) they are outsiders, not true patriots, mere agents of the West, kept alive by foreign money; and (2) all their “good works” are simply dishonest ploys to “convert” (i.e. to rip away from their community and their culture) the ignorant.

The last decade has brought a noticeable increase in the desire of Christian leaders, especially younger leaders, to network with one another and to partner together, e.g. to focus on a particular people group, region, or city. The recent pressures on the church have accelerated these movements toward collaboration. The time is ripe to encourage broad-based, cooperative leadership development initiatives. Another encouraging trend is the increasing awareness and involvement of the overseas Indian community in mission work, church-planting and leadership development in India.

2.4 Leadership in the Church

According to numerous Indian leaders interviewed, the number one need in the church today is leadership. Leadership is required for the rapidly multiplying cell groups, house churches, and other newly planted congregations. Many of these churches are led by illiterate new believers who know little other than that Jesus healed them, or delivered them from demonic bondage, or forgave their sins and gave them peace and joy. They lead their congregations in enthusiastic worship, fervent prayer and joyful testimonies. They pray for the sick and the oppressed, and continue to spread the name of Jesus, but they do not know how to feed spiritually themselves or their congregations in a way that moves them toward maturity. Even less do they have any training in ministry skills like counseling, teaching or administration.

The same lack of training applies to most of the pioneer missionaries. Most have had minimal if any biblical or theological training, and very few have had any specialized training in missiology, cross-cultural communication, or church-planting. But they have great zeal, and willingness to live simply and sacrificially, often at considerable cost to themselves and their families.

Many of the newer organizations have increasing leadership needs as their ministries expand. As people who began with no special training, and whose organizations have expanded rapidly around them, the founders often have little idea of how to develop the people coming along behind them. Often the passion of the founders is focused entirely on the goals of the ministry, not on the development of the people within the ministry.

Frequently heard is the complaint that there is a scarcity of second-line leaders. Few organizations or leaders have orderly plans for succession. Few have systematic ways to develop the gifts and expand the skills and responsibilities of people within the organization. In many ministries, there is a very large gap between the top leader and everyone else in the second or third line of leadership.

The problem is deeper than the tunnel vision commonly found in gifted entrepreneurs who have built an organization around their particular vision or passion, or around the force of their inspiring personality. The problem is more than a theological or methodological blind spot of those who have not considered the implications of II Timothy 2:2 (NIV): “And the things you have heard in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will be qualified to teach others.” The issue is not simply that many of the missionaries did not do an adequate job of modeling good leadership development and succession practices before they were forced to leave by the government in the 1960’s.

Even though many Indian leaders are beginning to talk about this problem of succession and the second line, the explanation for the frequent failure to develop other leaders may be rooted in deep cultural patterns which are very difficult to challenge and to transform with biblical values. One of the foremost Christian anthropologists, Dr. Paul Hiebert, who grew up in Andhra Pradesh, observes that a common pattern across Asia is the patron/client relationship between leaders and followers. In this pattern the leader receives wealth, influence, obedience and loyalty from the followers, and then redistributes privileges to those same followers as a generous but authoritarian benefactor. So power and privilege flow up to the leader, then are sent back down by the leader. Within the Indian context, there is the additional influence of caste, which is a fundamentally hierarchical worldview, in which people are not encouraged to think in terms of upward mobility within this life, but rather in terms of doing their duty in order to make progress in the next life. The result is a pattern of leadership sometimes compared to the banyan tree, which smothers its seedlings under its own luxuriant growth.

Indian society is also highly segmented by differences in caste, religion and language. People think naturally in terms of lifting up their own extended family, or clan, or language group. Admittedly there can be certain strengths in a linguistically or ethnically homogeneous organization, such as greater ease in communication, and stronger social cohesiveness. And if an organization is working primarily within one region, it makes sense that their staff would be primarily from that region. Similarly, family relationships may contribute to enduring loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice for the goals of the organization. Many parents find great delight in seeing their children join them in the ministry, and sometimes the second generation of the family is able to build effectively on the foundations laid by the first generation.

But casteism, regionalism and nepotism have become barriers to leadership development in many churches and Christian organizations. Emerging leaders soon become aware of the barriers to further advancement in the organization or encouragement in expansion of their vision, if they are not related to the top leaders, or from the same caste or region. It is difficult to find truly national organizations, where the board as well as the top leaders come from different regions and ethnic groups, and in which leaders from any caste or background have equal opportunity for personal development and increased responsibility.

Indian education is oriented to memorization and mastery of facts, rather than to analysis and creative thinking. Theory and philosophy are much more dominant than practical application. Moreover, the accumulation of certificates and degrees is a very important measure of status. Leadership training for the church often reflects these same emphases.

In general, Christian leadership among evangelicals in India has been much stronger and more visible in the mission agencies and other parachurch organizations than in the local churches. But there is an increasing concern among many Indian leaders to train leaders for the local church, to strengthen the local church, and to relate parachurch agencies to church-planting, equipping local churches, and cooperating with local churches. There is also a deepening desire to find more ways to train and develop leaders within India, even up to the highest academic levels, so that fewer will feel the need to go abroad.

3.0 Discoveries and Insights

3.1 What sort of leaders are needed?

What is a leader? Who is a leader? Although the phenomenon of leadership is observed in every culture, and although all of us probably think we can recognize a leader when we see one, there is no universally accepted definition of leader. There seem to be as many definitions of leadership as there are researchers. But through all the definitions, two common themes emerge. The first is that leadership is a process of influence. The second is that leadership involves moving people toward a goal.

Therefore, when we talk about developing leaders for the Indian church, we must keep in mind the great variety of those who are influencing others toward Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of his purposes. They include parents with their children, cell group leaders with their small groups, Christian professionals within their peer groups and associations, writers of journal articles and textbooks, and spiritual mentors with younger believers, as well as officially recognized leaders like church-planters, missionaries, pastors, district superintendents, bishops, and CEO’s and other managers of Christian organizations and mission agencies.

Contrary to popular perception, a leader is not just the one at the top of the organization chart. Anyone who has the ability to influence how others think, feel, and act can exercise a form of leadership. Anyone who is calling others to follow him as he follows Jesus is a leader. The village pastor or Sunday School teacher is a leader just as much as the bishop. The itinerant evangelist or cell church planter is a leader just as much as the General Secretary of the mission.

What sorts of leaders are needed in the Indian church? The starting point for all Christian leadership is the challenge of Jesus in Mark 10:43-45 (NIV): “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Leadership in the community of Jesus Christ must be servant leadership. The leader must first be a disciple, a learner, a follower. The fundamental qualification for leadership is a devoted, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, combined with right relationships with fellow-believers as well as with the community at large (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-8). That is the essential foundation on which the acquisition of knowledge and skills must be built.

As seen in the example and teaching of Jesus as well as the apostles, the role of the leader includes nurturing a community as well as accomplishing a task. The leader is a shepherd as well as an overseer. The leader is a brother/sister in a family of brothers and sisters, as well as a manager, or steward. The church is described as a Body, marked by love, in which every one has a spiritual gift, and an irreplaceable role to play in building the church to maturity and carrying out the ministry of Jesus in the world. Jesus told his disciples that he was sending them into the world as he himself was sent, and that they were to be his witnesses, making disciples of every “nation,” i.e. ethnic group. The special role of the leaders is to build up the people (II Corinthians 10:8: 13:10) and to equip them for their various ministries (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Biblical foundations like these have profound implications for the design, implementation and assessment of leadership training and development programs. That is, such programs need to emphasize the cultivation of intimacy with Jesus Christ, and the development of Christ-like character and relationships, in addition to the acquisition of knowledge (whether biblical, theological, missiological, contextual, managerial, technical, or whatever) and the mastery of various ministry skills. Heart, head and hands must each be impacted by the training.

We must look at the end product, as well as the process. In what ways is this training shaping the character, the knowledge, and the skills of the participants? In what ways are the learners becoming better builders and equippers of people? What is the evidence that they are contributing to the making and maturing of disciples, to the multiplication of healthy churches, and/or to the ministry of Jesus to the whole person?

Again and again in the interviews I heard Indian leaders say that what is most needed in India today is leaders with Christ-like character, and servant hearts. In India even the very wealthy have always been attracted to simple, humble leaders.

Such leaders are needed at all levels. Since leadership is a process of influence, it is useful to employ a classification of leadership based not on formal job titles, or on levels of education, but on breadth of sphere of influence. Therefore I would like to propose the following classification for leaders, adapted from a chapter by Dr. Edgar Elliston in Missiological Education for the 21st Century (Orbis, 1996).

Type 1 Leaders (Small Group Leaders) are leaders of small groups. These would include house church and cell group leaders, heads of families, Sunday School teachers, and others who have direct, face-to-face influence in guiding and encouraging a limited number of people. They would normally be unpaid, volunteer lay workers.

Type 2 Leaders (Self-supporting Local Supervisors) are volunteer workers who supervise other volunteer workers in their own local area. Their influence is multiplied because they are encouraging and equipping others who are also leading, but their sphere of influence is still limited because of their other regular employment, and because of their focus on their own locality. In some cases these could be volunteer workers overseeing a ministry in a local church, or they could be an unpaid or very nominally paid pastor of a smaller congregation that consists of several home groups. This category could include self-supporting or “tent-making” pastors and missionaries, as well as volunteer supervisors of a number of house churches.

Type 3 Leaders (Full-time Local Leaders) are leaders who are devoting most if not all of their time to the work of Christian leadership. These would include local church pastors, church-planters and missionaries, whether they devote all their time to one congregation, or to a circuit of several congregations in the same general locality. Some may be bi-vocational workers, but in such cases their Christian service would still be equivalent to a full-time job. Like the Type 2 leaders, they are also overseeing volunteer leaders, but their influence is broader because they have more time to devote to their task. Yet their focus is still limited to a particular locality.

Type 4 Leaders (Regional Leaders) are leaders whose influence is felt within a region. They may be the leader of several missions teams, or the district supervisor of a number of full-time church workers, or the principal of a small Bible college that serves a particular state. Their ministry is generally indirect, in that they work with and through the local leaders who have the primary face-to-face contact with the people. The ministry of the regional leaders is generally in the vernacular, but they will also interface with national leaders, primarily within their own group or denomination. They may also have influence through their writing, but it is limited to their own region or local language.

Type 5 Leaders (National Leaders) are leaders who have influence throughout the entire country, or internationally. They may be leaders of denominations, or national missions or Christian organizations, or training institutions that draw their students from the entire country. They may influence through policy-making, or writing, or mass media, or speaking at national conferences, in addition to their personal influence on co-workers who have broad responsibilities themselves. Leaders of Type 4 and Type 5 may or may not be involved in Christian ministry full-time, but their influence clearly extends well beyond their own locality.

These categories, of course, are merely conveniences. Many ministries do not fall neatly into a single classification. But we can see this typology as a continuum from very narrow and focused influence to very broad influence. And the training and development needs are quite different for the different levels.

How does this classification relate to the term, “grass roots leaders?” In the Grass Roots Church Planters Training Handbook, developed for North India in 1996 by several Indian mission organizations,[19] the term “grass roots church planters” refers to lay people from the local tribe or caste group, who may be established Christians or new believers, and who are being trained to carry out a church planting ministry among their own people and in their own district. The term “grass roots” stands in contrast to professional evangelists, pastors and missionaries, especially those who are from outside the target community. Many of them are poor and illiterate.

On July 5-6, 2000, a Consultation on Grassroots Training, organized by the Indian Institute of Missiology (now called Indian Institute of Intercultural Studies) was held at Balasore, Orissa. There a suvartik (which means literally “one who brings the good news”) or grass root level worker was defined as “one who presents the gospel in day to day life to his own people.” The report also corrected the common misunderstanding that suvartiks or grass root level workers were only tribal evangelists. Rather, they come from the rural and urban areas as well, with different levels of education and literacy, and different levels of vocational commitment (full-time and part-time).[20]

Thus “grass root leaders” would definitely be included in Type 1 and Type 2 Leaders. Some might be Type 3 pastors who have started as Type 1 or Type 2 leaders, but whose supervisory responsibilities have broadened to the point that they are giving full, or nearly full-time attention to the ministry. (The main differences between Type 2 and Type 3 leaders are between part-time and full-time, and unpaid and paid.)

Not all Type 1 or Type 2 leaders are necessarily poor or illiterate. Some are well-educated middle class professionals and government workers, who lead Bible study groups at their place of work, or in their neighborhoods, or who are engaged in systematic outreach within their vocational groups. Since the terms suvartik and “grass roots” in popular usage often imply illiteracy and lack of training, I would suggest adopting the terms Type 1 and Type 2 Leaders (Small Group Leaders and Self-Supporting Local Leaders), and that in discussions of “grass root leaders” we be sure that we know how the speakers are defining the term.

All five types of leaders are crucially important for the growth and development of the church.

The strength, health and speed of expansion of the church will depend largely on what have become the core values of the Type 1 and 2 leaders. Do they honor the Word of God? Are they servant-hearted, holy, sacrificial, compassionate and prayerful? Do they believe in the necessity of evangelism? Are they free to exercise their gifts and to innovate? Do they encourage others to join them in ministry as brothers and sisters, and as fellow-members of the Body?

Type 2 and 3 leaders are the keys to rapid multiplication, since their influence is direct and personal, yet they are also investing themselves in other leaders. As they serve effectively, and reproduce other leaders, their impact will lead to multiplication rather than merely addition.

But Types 4 and 5 leaders are critical to keeping the movement on course, and well resourced. They are in the best position to think strategically, and to see new opportunities.

When we look at India as a whole, it is evident that by far the largest number of leaders needed are Type 1 leaders, and the smallest number are Type 5 leaders. For example, if by 2010 AD we desired to see 10% of the Indian population as followers of Jesus Christ, incorporated into multiplying local churches, we could view the need for leaders somewhat like this:

100,000,000 Indian Christians (Goal for 2010 AD)

10,000,000 Type 1 leaders

2,000,000 Type 2 leaders

400,000 Type 3 leaders

20,000 Type 4 leaders

1,000 Type 5 leaders

3.2 What sorts of training and development must be provided?

Before we consider the kinds of training and development that need to be provided for the 5 types of leaders, let us clarify a few definitions. “Training” and “development” are closely related terms, but with distinct emphases. “Training” focuses on preparation for someone who is about to enter a new area of responsibility. “Development” refers to the further shaping and maturation of a leader who is already in the process of growth. “Training” is more closely related to equipping with specific knowledge and skills, whereas “development” implies a more comprehensive approach involving character, attitudes and perspectives. Both training and development could be appropriate for all five types of leaders.

Three terms commonly occur in training and educational circles: formal, nonformal and informal. Here is a brief definition of each, taken from Edgar Elliston in Missiological Education for the 21st Century (p.255f):

Formal education normally refers to schooling. It is long term, centered in an institution, resource intensive, expensive, theory based and preparatory in nature. It is generally resistant to change. Nonformal education is normally short term, function oriented, and often associated with conferences, seminars and workshops. It is planned, staffed, and budgeted, but is controlled by the market or the community it seeks to serve. Informal education is by definition unplanned. It is what occurs within the functioning of normal relationships. Informal education provides the most important dimension to a person’s learning. A person learns world view, language, culture and values informally. Informal education may be facilitated or planned. When planned, it becomes nonformal education.

The five different types of leaders have different needs, including a different balance of formal and informal education. Type 1 and 2 leaders (Small Group Leaders and Self-Supporting Local Supervisors) need very basic training that is short-term, focused and manageable in view of their regular job responsibilities. It must also be appropriate to their educational level. This will generally be nonformal training, such as Portable Bible Schools. Type 1 and 2 leaders also need materials in the vernacular, which they can use themselves as well as distribute to others, e.g. Bibles, tracts, booklets, audio cassettes, videos.

Type 3 leaders (Full-Time Local Leaders), in view of their broader responsibilities, need additional biblical and theological grounding. They require resources to help them to plan and manage a larger ministry. They need help in how to plant daughter churches, and how to multiply volunteer leaders. Since these leaders are devoted to their ministries full-time, they are in a better position to benefit from formal education, and may have more time to read books, do assignments, and participate in formal degree programs or training that may last several months or years. Because their primary influence is still with the people in their locality, it is best if they can be trained in the vernacular, in the same language in which they will be ministering.

Type 4 leaders (Regional Leaders) are the ones who can sustain movements and manage organizations on a regional level. These leaders may lead Bible schools or training centers, or be in charge of regional offices. They need assistance with broader strategic and missiological thinking, yet with practical applications. They may be able to write in the vernacular, if encouraged to do so. They may need to build relationships with overseas mission agencies, funders and trainers, and with national level leaders. In order to do this they must be comfortable not only in the vernacular, but also in national or international languages. Like the Type 3 leaders, they can benefit from formal education programs, which may also be important for their own credibility within the Christian community or in their interactions with secular leaders of their region.

Type 5 leaders (National Leaders), in view of their national and international responsibilities, require the highest levels of training and specialized equipping. They can benefit from international exposure and networking, whether within Asia or beyond. Many of them should be encouraged and assisted to write, because of the broad spectrum of their influence. Yet they also need assistance in staying connected with the grass roots, so that their strategic insights and wide influence can yield practical fruit for the growth and health of the church, as well as the salt and light of the Christians in Indian society. Some will have already advanced as far as they need to in formal education. Their greater need may be for personal encouragement, consultation and peer mentoring from other experienced leaders, or for very focused and intensive nonformal seminars on particular areas of need, e.g. how to deal with the media in light of the growth of opposition, or how to develop an effective national board of directors.

There are three very important factors needed in the training and development of all five types of leaders for the Indian Church today, whether formal, nonformal or informal. First, effective training must include an emphasis on knowledge and character and application or skills. Head, heart and hands all must be involved. Two out of three are not sufficient. Second, the development process and training materials should be contextually appropriate. It is not adequate simply to import a curriculum designed in the West by Westerners for Western Christians, even if it is translated into an Indian language. Third, the training should impart a vision for passing the training on to others who in turn will train others. As Paul said in II Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (NIV). A fundamentally new mindset needs to be fostered, in which people are set free to minister with their God-given gifts, and in which leaders see their fundamental, divinely-mandated task as equipping others.

Dr. Raju Abraham has identified four areas of training that are commonly needed by pastors all across India, which he identifies by the acronym “PEPSI:” prayer, expository preaching, pastoral care and social impact. In the area of social impact, he suggests another acronym, “PIES,” to describe four areas where Christians in India today need to speak out and teach: public justice, personal integrity, economic opportunity and social peace. If Christian leaders are going to address such issues intelligently and persuasively, they need training which will equip them to derive and apply principles from God’s Word that pertain to contemporary issues. Seldom are such topics included in training curricula.

All five types of leaders should be encouraged to be lifelong learners. The need for ongoing training and development never stops, especially in an environment marked by great complexity and rapid change. After all, the basic meaning of “disciple” is learner, and the school of discipleship is one from which the followers of Jesus never graduate.

3.3 What resources and assistance are needed?

On the one hand, it is encouraging to see the number and variety of training opportunities being provided within the church in India today. Yet the need for training is still vast, especially in view of the rapid growth of the Indian church, as well as the profound changes that modern Indian society is experiencing. There are particular needs specific to different regions, but there are also a number of needs mentioned repeatedly by a wide cross-section of leaders.

1. Training for Types 1 and 2 Leaders

The first great need is for multiplied and accelerated training for Types 1 and 2 leaders (Small Group Leaders and Self-Supporting Local Supervisors), especially in the village and tribal areas where the churches are multiplying rapidly, and yet where most of the leaders are illiterate and many have only the barest understanding of the gospel message and the Word of God. There is a very real danger of repeating the situation in Africa, where the church has been described as a mile wide and an inch deep, or the situation in China, where the rapid spread of the gospel through uninstructed new believers has allowed all sorts of cults and aberrant doctrines to flourish. It is vitally important to identify and to help strengthen those training initiatives that can deliver basic biblical training rapidly and at relatively low cost, in the vernacular languages.

2. Tools for Leaders

A second great need is tools for the leaders, especially in the vernacular languages. The great majority of Christian literature and reference material is still in English, and most of it is written by Western writers. Often the tracts that are available in the vernacular are simply translations of Western tracts, rather than serious attempts to engage the Indian mind with an Indian style. Even the training materials written in India, by Indians, are largely in English. Bible reference tools and commentaries in most of the Indian languages, including Hindi, are scarce to non-existent. Picture Bibles such as the very popular He Lived Among Us are sold as fast as they can be printed. The same is true with Bibles and New Testaments.

There is a growing desire to collect and preserve stories of what God is doing in missions in India today, i.e. to write modern histories and biographies, and to produce reference books and dictionaries focusing on Christianity in South Asia. Books are also needed to address contemporary social and theological issues in India, to help guide the thinking of the churches and their leaders in these rapidly changing times.

Ten to fifteen years ago in India, it was very difficult to find leaders who were willing to take the time to write at all, in English or in the vernacular. Today many more are willing and eager to write. Many of the dissertations and other articles being produced by Indian evangelical scholars and researchers are worthy of publication. But the two great needs are (1) funding so that writers can be released from their regular responsibilities in their institutions in order to write, and (2) funding for translation and/or publication of what they have already written.

When we think of tools, it is easy to focus only on the literate, and to assume that those who are being trained are already literate. However, these assumptions are quickly exploded by conversations with people such as the non-literate or barely literate leaders in the house church networks of central India. Several Christian organizations have developed innovative and effective ways to plant churches, to disciple believers and to train leaders among non-literates through Bible-based story-telling.

3. Strengthening Organizations

A third need is to strengthen the organizations that are present or potential pace-setters in leadership training and development. Often the need includes land and buildings to accommodate the increasing number of people to be trained, or to create nerve centers of communication, research, and coordination for training ministries.

Another common need for the seminaries, colleges and training centers is the expansion of their libraries, especially in the areas of missiological books, current biblical and theological books, subscriptions to journals, and books in the vernacular. Even though digital technology is progressing rapidly, and in the long run may be more cost-effective and efficient, these discussions do not answer the present need for research and training materials for the great majority of Indian students in the coming decade. There are still many institutions that have no computers of any type, where e-mail is not yet available, where extended power outages are commonplace, and whose graduates are going to be working under conditions where a few well-chosen reference books will be far more useful to them than expensive electronic tools. Times are changing, to be sure, but in the meantime investment needs to be made in upgrading the present libraries to make them most useful to the students.

The discussion of libraries leads to another need of the training organizations: assistance in updating their equipment for the new electronic and digital age. Computerization of databases and accounts, installation of e-mail, Internet access, word processing and desktop publishing software and hardware, duplication equipment, portable overhead projectors and laptop computers for leaders who travel constantly are among the commonly expressed needs. Many of the government and private schools are pouring large amounts of investment into computerization, but sometimes the Christian institutions lag behind because of lack of resources. And even when the funds are located for hardware, it is sometimes difficult to find sufficient resources for the software that will make it fully functional.

Some equally important areas for organizational development include help with management systems, delegation, interpersonal relationships, strategic thinking, resource development, finances and accounting, board development, personnel policies and benefit packages. Many of those leading churches and organizations have large administrative responsibilities but little if any training for it. The exceptions tend to be those who have left previous jobs in business or government, who have sometimes had advanced management training. But often these leaders too have been permeated with the hierarchical values that emphasize the consolidation of power and the accomplishment of the task more than the development of the people.

As we consider the strengthening of training institutions, we must remember the needs for different institutions for equipping different types of leaders (i.e. Types 1 through 5) at different academic levels (certificate level through doctoral and post-doctoral levels) and for different arenas of services (in churches, missions, Christian organizations and various other professions and arenas of Christian leadership within society at large). It is very east to become focused on traditional residential theological education. But Ebe Sunder Raj reminds us that most of the missionaries are not produced by Bible colleges or seminaries, but by missionary training institutions like the 85 who are served by the Indian Institute of Intercultural Studies (formerly called Indian Institute of Missiology), most of which are less than ten years old.

4. Member Care

A fourth large area of need is member care within Christian organizations, especially the mission agencies whose workers are often laboring in relative isolation, under very difficult conditions, at minimal salaries. On the one hand, the Indian churches have made outstanding progress in recent years to raise monthly support for their missionaries. But the full costs of deploying a missionary family, or keeping that missionary on the field, or caring for that missionary after retirement, have not been faced.

A number of Indian leaders have told me how difficult it is to raise money in India for the training of missionaries, especially for Bible translators, whose specialized needs nearly double the cost of their training. A major problem in many fields is the education of the missionary children. Often local schools are non-existent, and the costs (both financial and emotional) of sending the children hundreds of kilometers away to a boarding school are prohibitive. Once on the field, the missionaries need emotional and pastoral support, and sometimes expert counseling. These too are added expenses for the organization, even if the personnel are available. The lack of health insurance for many missions, and the absence of retirement programs, also generate severe hardships. For reasons like these, the rate of missionary attrition is higher than it should be.

5. Development of Individual Leaders

A fifth area of need is for the development of individuals within the organizations to use fully the gifts God has given them, to acquire the skills needed for their responsibilities, and to continue to grow in wisdom and spiritual maturity. This could be included as one more aspect of organizational development, but I believe that it is important enough to deserve special emphasis. In particular, some of the greatest needs are those of the Type 5 leaders, those with national and international influence. For the mid-range leaders, especially the Types 3 and 4, there are a good number of degree programs and nonformal workshops available. But sometimes those who most need encouragement, fresh insight, and assistance in strategic thinking are those who are heads of organizations.

One of the needs expressed several times by senior leaders was their desire to have concentrated time to think, envision, strategize and pray with other leaders. There are many consultations with schedules packed with plenary meetings, workshops, presentation of papers, and general networking. But there are few opportunities for deeper reflection, relationship-building, perspective broadening, and spiritual refreshment.

These Type 5 leaders also need to be encouraged and challenged to think systematically and prayerfully about succession, mentoring, and developing their second and third line of leaders.

A few comments should also be made about the differences in leadership needs between various regions of India. A common observation is that Christian leadership in the South is far more developed than in the North. An all-too-common phenomenon is that even mission agencies and Bible schools that are supposed to be doing work in the North continue to be staffed and led entirely by people from the South. Sometimes even the students studying at institutions located in the North are overwhelmingly from the four southern states, or from the Northeast. In some ways these disproportions are understandable, in that approximately 90% of the Christians in India are found in the South and the Northeast. And I have heard a number of stories from Southern leaders about unsuccessful searches for candidates from the North. But still there is a very pressing need for deliberate development of local leadership.

The Northeast presents an interesting paradox. On the one hand, the Northeastern states have the highest percentages of Christians (at least nominal Christians) of anywhere in India. Some tribes are virtually 100% Christian, though there is a disturbing trend among some of the young people to revert to their pre-Christian animist roots. Problems of drug use, alcohol and AIDS among the youth are epidemic. Yet many of the denominations and regions of the Northeast continue to experience waves of revival. Some of the churches are aflame with mission passion that longs to be released more fully. Several Indian leaders have said that if it weren’t for the students from the Northeast, most of the seminaries and Bible schools in the rest of India would go bankrupt; many of them draw 60% of their students from the Northeast. Yet too often those who populate these institutions do not have a genuine call to the ministry; rather many are the academic drop-outs, and “black sheep” of their family, who are not considered fit for any other kind of training.

Almost all of the leaders from the Northeast whom I interviewed expressed concern about the lack of training resources within the Northeast itself, where their leaders can be trained in context. Many leaders of the Northeast have expressed in particular the need for cross-cultural and missiological training. Most missionaries from the Northeast go with strong backing from their local churches, but virtually no training whatsoever. Because of the political and economic isolation of the Northeast, relatively fewer resources have been invested in recent decades for the development of Christian institutions in the Northeast, even though there is some of the greatest potential and vitality among the churches, especially in the area of missions outreach.

I would like to inject a word of caution about some of these regional concerns. I have heard it said by a number of Indian leaders, who themselves are from the South: “Don’t give any more money to the South; the South has its own resources; the great need is in the North.” There is some validity in this generalization. However, there are organizations located in the South which have great influence on ministry in the North. And there are regions of the South, such as some parts of the state of Karnataka, which are as unreached as many parts of the North. Just as the recent emphasis on the 10/40 Window led many churches to turn their attention away from unreached areas that lie outside the 10/40 window (prompting Dr. C. Peter Wagner and others to start emphasizing the 40/70 window), the justifiable emphasis on the needs of North India must not blind us to the different but equally real needs of the Northeast, or to the very strategic opportunities available in the South.

3.4 What opportunities should be seized?

There are a number of areas where the opportunity appears especially ripe for leadership development projects that can make a significant impact on the growth and health of the Indian church. These are areas where relatively little is being done in proportion to the need, where promising models are being developed that could be replicated by others, and where effective ministry could open many other doors as well.

1. Ministries to Children and Youth

Sixty-five percent of the Indian population is under the age of 30, and 400 million are under age 18.[21] Because of their early exposure to satellite TV, computers, the Internet, Western-style entertainment and advertisement, etc., especially in the urban areas, their values and behavior are changing rapidly in ways that are often incomprehensible to their parents. They are questioning old assumptions, and more open to new ideas than ever before. They are looking for reliable guidance, and for trustworthy role models. Perhaps 85% of those who become Christians do so before they reach the age of 18.

Indian pastors who are 35 years and under see the need for training in how to reach the youth culture. But in the entire country there are probably not more than 50 full-time youth workers in the churches. I have not heard of a single seminary or Bible school that has a concentration, or even a significant number of courses, in youth ministry. There have not yet emerged any sort of national youth networks. Most churches still expect the young people to adapt to the church culture of their parents, but that attitude is only driving the young people away.

The most vibrant church ministries in India are those who are learning to attract and hold the younger people, through contemporary worship forms, relevant preaching/teaching, and involvement of the young people in ministry. A number of ministries are beginning to do innovative work among youth. Some of the youth workers from different church and parachurch organizations are beginning to get together to share ideas for ministry to this new generation, which has so many affinities with youth culture worldwide.

Many organizations are finding sports and recreation activities to be very effective ways to build bridges with youth in the villages as well as in the cities. Children’s Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible Schools are also being employed by an increasing number of Christian leaders, who find that whole families are being drawn by the changes that have occurred in their children as a result of the good news of Jesus.

Many evangelical leaders are taking a fresh look at the potential of Christian schools. Unfortunately there are a great number of schools which are Christian in name only, but where the majority of the faculty have no Christian commitment at all, and where the Christian faith that is presented is nominal at best. But there are new examples springing up of evangelical leaders with clear vision and passionate spiritual commitment, who are seeing very positive results through excellence in academics combined with a solidly biblical, values-based approach.

One of the advantages of these schools is that they can generate sufficient income not only to be self-supporting, but also to subsidize education for a certain proportion of needier students, and to contribute to Christian work. Some, however, criticize such schools as catering too heavily to the middle classes and the upper castes.

A very large door is opening right now through the invitation of many Dalit (Untouchable) and OBC (Other Backward Caste) leaders for Christians to come and open schools for their children. These leaders realize that the only hope for their children and for the social uplift of their communities is through literacy and through education[22]. Christian education has an excellent reputation throughout India, and Christians are known for their concern for the poor and downcast. The possibilities for training teachers and administrators for these schools, and for training local church leaders to work closely with these schools, are enormous.

2. Ministries to Women

The influences of traditional Hindu and Muslim ideas, combined with the conservatism of much of the Indian church, has not encouraged an emphasis on the potential of gifted women. Yet even secular development agencies have discovered that the single greatest factor contributing to positive social change is the education of girls and women. Richard Howell, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, insists that to change the core of India, you have to impact the women. Of course, over the years there have been a number of Christian ministries in India focused on the needs of women, such as Amy Carmichael’s work in Dohnavur. Christians were the first to offer education to women in India, and to oppose practices like widow-burning, child marriage, temple prostitution, and dowry abuses.

But only recently have Indian Christian women begun to consider seriously the opportunities potentially available to them for contributing to ministries of evangelism, missions, church-planting, teaching, administration, and many aspects of community development, including literacy work, health care, and micro-enterprise development. Often Indian women can go where men cannot, especially in Muslim communities. More and more women’s networks are beginning to spring up, but until recently, even some of the large regional networks have been unaware of the existence of the other networks. Women’s groups for Bible study, prayer and friendship evangelism are multiplying. But many Indian women still do not have access to the kinds of training opportunities available to the men.

3. Ministries to Families and Ministries of Counseling

The rapid changes related to urbanization, modernization and globalization have impacted the Indian family greatly. Divorce, previously almost unheard of, is becoming increasingly common, even among Christians. Moral failures by highly visible Indian leaders have been shattering for the churches. More and more young people are engaged in drugs, alcohol, and premarital sexual activity. AIDS is spreading with alarming speed. Television has changed patterns of home life, and has made it more difficult to do home visitation and to involve people in evening meetings. Desire for material advancement and acquisition of consumer goods is an obsession for many in the urban middle class. Traditional patterns of family life are breaking down as young people move to the cities for education and jobs.

Church leaders often do not know how to cope with the bewildering complexity of stresses and changes that people in their congregations are facing. They have never done premarital counseling. Nor do they know how to address parents who are contemplating divorce, or whose Christian children are becoming involved with drugs or the occult. With the changes coming in women’s roles, and the stresses of urban life, yet without the support system of extended families, many Christian leaders are facing unfamiliar tensions in their own marriages.

The few who are involved in family life training are finding great thirst for the resources they provide. But their ministry is so new that it is difficult to find adequate funds within India. The same is true for ministries of Christian counseling. There is far more need for Christian counseling, and for equipping leaders in counseling, than there are trainers or resources available.

4. Urban Ministries, including the Slum Dwellers and the Middle Classes

There are 600,000 villages in India, but there are also 346 cities with populations over 100,000, 33 cities with over one million[23], and eight cities with over three million.[24] One hundred years ago, India was only 5% urban. It is presently about one-third urban, and is projected to be nearly 40% urban within ten years. Yet traditionally, the ministry of the churches has been within the villages and the tribal areas, and among the lowest classes. Few churches and Christian organizations have even tried to develop strategies to reach the urban middle classes. The furthest that many churches have gone in urban ministry is to try to reach members of their own denomination who have moved from other cities, or who have migrated to the city from the village. Urban ministry requires a different approach from the village. Dr. Samson Parak of Methodist Bible Seminary in Gujarat observes that, “There are two cultures in India; the village is very different from the city.”

But within the cities themselves, there are two very different worlds: that of the slum dwellers, and that of the upwardly mobile middle classes. In each major city I visited, I found churches and missions with outreach into the slums, sometimes through health clinics, or preschools, or vocational and literacy training for young people. A number of organizations and churches have been effective in reaching street kids, prostitutes, AIDS victims and others for whom life in the city has meant deprivation and abuse. Since so little assistance of any kind is available to the people in the slums, especially to their children, the parents tend to welcome those who come with sincere hearts for long-term ministry.

But the slums are growing at such a rate that the Christian ministries have not begun to keep pace. In Mumbai, for example, at least 8 million of its 18 million inhabitants live on the street or in slums[25]. Too many churches have been content to serve the needs of their own membership, or people who have migrated to the city from their own rural churches, rather than reaching out across ethnic, linguistic and economic barriers to pioneer ministries in the new slums that are constantly multiplying.

Although many missions have overlooked the emerging urban middle class, the India Missions Association has been trying to encourage its members to turn their eyes to this harvest field, rather than to focus so disproportionately on the tribals and the lowest castes. There is evidence that those who have the courage to develop strategies appropriate to the middle classes will find fruit. The cell-based strategy has been very effective in urban settings where permanent buildings are difficult if not impossible to obtain.

One important but challenging aspect of this emphasis on the middle class is the need to reach out to upper caste Hindus, who form much of this segment of society. Many Christians are from lower caste backgrounds, and so feel insecure in relating to those who for generations have been regarded as social superiors. Furthermore, many Christians are second, third or fourth generation believers themselves, who are so far removed from Hindu thought patterns and ways of life that they find it difficult to build relationships or to communicate in effective ways to upper caste Hindus. As I interviewed a number of ministry leaders who are first generation believers from high caste backgrounds, several of them spoke of the difficulties that they and others like them faced in being accepted and integrated into the local church fellowship, which culturally (not just theologically) was so far removed from their Hindu home life.

Urban ministries all over the world are discovering the powerful impact that can come from mobilizing church leaders for prayer and for strategic thinking about the city as a whole. A powerful video entitled “Transformations,” which documents how four cities have been visibly changed through united prayer, is currently being translated and distributed in a number of cities.

5. Holistic Ministries

Christians in India have been accused by their opponents of engaging in ministries of compassion and social service only as an unethical inducement for conversion. Several Indian states have passed laws specifically prohibiting offering “inducements” as part of evangelism. In the Indian context, “conversion” is a very negative term, evoking images of people being ripped out of their communities, breaking the hearts of their families and tearing the social fabric apart.

In this atmosphere of distrust, including opposition to public evangelistic meetings in many places, many Christian leaders are re-thinking the foundations of their commitment to holistic ministry. Theologically, those who have always been committed to evangelism and church-planting are coming to see that obedience to God’s commands also includes being a good steward of creation, working for the peace and prosperity of the “land of our exile,” showing compassion to the poor and downtrodden, loving our neighbors as ourselves, showing respect for all people, and being salt as well as light to the world. God’s Word includes a cultural mandate as well as an evangelistic mandate. But strategically as well, ministries of compassion and service can open the doors to hearts that would otherwise be closed to the good news of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Indian evangelicals have an opportunity to reconnect the streams of proclaiming the good news and living out the good news which have often been separated during the last century in the West. In particular, three great areas of opportunity and need for holistic ministry in India today are health, education and the environment.

In the midst of the growing tensions in India arising from religious fundamentalism, as well as the social upheavals surrounding the growth in Dalit and OBC (Other Backward Classes) activism, evangelicals in India are being stirred to see new issues as part of holistic ministry. Matters of justice, reconciliation and religious liberty are now being addressed by evangelicals in national and regional forums on the basis of biblical principles applied in an Indian context. For too long many evangelicals in India have been content to focus only on evangelism, missions, and life inside the walls of the church. Increasing numbers of evangelicals are seeing the importance of expressing the love of Jesus through involvement in literacy, education, community health, agricultural projects and the like. But more and more Christian leaders are also starting to see the need to speak out in the public arena, from biblically based theologies, on issues like peace, justice, liberty and equality— areas which in the past have often been concerns only for the theological liberals.

6. Encouragement of People Movements

Much of the growth of the Indian church has come through multi-individual, interdependent decision processes called “people movements.”[26] People movements are not mindless mass conversions, but rather the result of decision processes involving months and even years of many individual conversations and group deliberations, finally culminating in rapid change that is supported and encouraged by leaders of that group. The observation and historical analysis of these people movements were the foundation of much of Dr. Donald McGavran’s early teachings on church growth.

When Christian workers are patient enough to wait for and to encourage these dynamics, churches can be planted with far less social dislocation to the community, with greater indigenous identity, and with much improved long-term prospects for continued multiplication and maturation of the congregations. However, when Christian workers insist on extracting individuals one by one through premature public decisions by the new believers to identify themselves as Christians, the disruption to families and to the community as a whole is greater, and higher walls tend to rise immediately between the emerging church and the community in which it is being planted. People movements can also be accelerated when there is an emphasis on the development of local leadership right from the beginning.

7. Facilitation of Accurate Research

A common weakness seen among Christian ministries, sadly acknowledged by the leaders themselves, is a tendency to exaggerate numbers and to inflate reports of success. Statistics that are gathered simply through questionnaires sent to leaders of churches and mission agencies are not necessarily reliable, and are subject to inflation. There is no substitute for personal, on-site research, actually counting and recording congregations and workers, to eliminate intentional or unintentional duplication.

Researchers today are starting to work together more closely to get a more accurate picture of the size of the harvest field as well as the harvest force. The sharing of specific data has been effective in awakening slumbering church leaders to the unfinished task.

8. Ministry to Muslims

There are many encouraging reports that Muslims are beginning to turn to Jesus, especially when Christian workers try to be sensitive and respectful toward cultural elements that do not necessarily need to be eliminated immediately, or at all, in order to be true to the gospel. As worshipers of one God, and as “People of the Book,” Muslims have much potential common ground with Christians. Yet a negligible amount of effort has been expended by the Christian community in India as a whole to reach out to Muslims. Those who have had the courage and creativity to surmount these traditional barriers are finding greater openness and responsiveness than ever before.

9. Employment of New Technologies

India has become the largest software producer in the world next to the USA. More and more high-tech companies are establishing themselves in places like Hyderabad and Bangalore (which has an area south of the city known as the “Indian Silicon Valley”). A number of Christians, both Indians and Westerners, have found the high-tech field to be a very effective vehicle for establishing a credible presence, for providing technical assistance to Christian ministries, and for generating income and jobs for the support of missions. This newly emerging group of “techno-Christians” is brimming with ideas for enhancing research, facilitating more rapid and secure communication, penetrating unreached areas, and linking Indian leaders with one another and with the larger Body of Christ. Many feel that the only way to address the vast challenges of India, and to train a sufficient number of workers while there is still time, is through the massive use of digital tools, including computers, e-mail, the Internet, cyber-classrooms, CD-ROM, DVD, and more.

10. Strengthening Stewardship within India

Another strategic opportunity for which the time is ripe is the encouragement of stewardship teaching and resource development within the Indian church itself. Many Indian leaders commented that one weakness of the missionary era was that too much was done for them, so that when the missionaries left, they had not learned to be generous givers themselves, and were not able to maintain the structures and institutions they had inherited (especially in North India).

But now there is a renewed interest in teaching stewardship in the Indian churches. Dr. Vinay Samuel speaks of the need for training for “economic literacy” (ability to understand and apply what the Bible teaches about money) as well as for ordinary literacy (ability to read and write) in the churches. There is also a desire to impart vision for missions and for generous stewardship to the emerging class of business owners and professionals who are riding the rising tide of the Indian middle class economy.

Another promising new approach for strengthening stewardship in the Indian churches is the formation of businesses that create jobs as well as generate profits that can be invested for kingdom purposes. One challenge is that so many Indian Christians come from lower caste backgrounds which lack the confidence, the entrepreneurial skills, the networks and the business-oriented ethos of the traditional castes who dominate the worlds of finance, industry and trade in India. However, as new technology opens up new opportunities, and as more intentional outreach is done among the middle classes and the upper caste Hindus, increasing numbers of Christians can be mobilized for these initiatives.

Stewardship has two sides. One side has to do with the preservation and multiplication of resources, and the other has to do with the allocation of resources. On the one hand, Indian Christians need assistance in becoming economically more productive, and in creating new jobs. But they also need vision for ministries like leadership training and development, that will pay long-term dividends for the church. Again and again I have been told by Indian leaders that the churches will give for direct evangelism, missions, and church planting, but not for the costs of training. It is easier to raise funds to send church planters directly than to raise funds for training and equipping those church planters, or for training the trainers, or for infrastructure to support the training. But eventually the costs of training need to be shared by those who send the workers.

3.5 What pitfalls should be avoided?

The Indian leaders were quick to agree that many mistakes can be made, and have been made, by Western agencies and donors. But they were grateful to be asked their counsel on which pitfalls should be avoided.

1. Family dynasties

Two cautions recurred more than any others. The first warning concerned giving to organizations that were family dynasties. Positions in these ministries are filled with members of the immediate or extended families, both in the administration and on the official board. I heard specific warnings to avoid organizations that had more than two related members on the governing board.

There were three primary reasons given for this caution. In the first place, there is not likely to be sufficient accountability, especially in the area of finances, or in areas related to abuse of authority, when so many family relationships are intertwined. In the second place, too often people are given positions of responsibility simply because they are related, not because they are qualified by their gifts and their spiritual maturity. In the third place, development of emerging leaders who are not related to the family is unlikely to take place.

2. Regional monopolies

A second related warning was to be cautious about organizations, especially national organizations, whose leaders all come from the same region, and especially the same caste. The issue, once again, is leadership development. If an organization has been willing to entrust decision-making responsibility only to one group of people, then it is unlikely to have a serious commitment to developing the full potential of all the potential leaders in their organization.

3. Over-reliance on written presentations

A third pitfall is the tendency to assess an organization based only on their written presentations or their promotional information. There is no substitute for meeting the leaders personally, and doing on-site visits that are thorough enough to get beyond the introductory pleasantries. Too often resources flow to the organizations with the glossiest presentations, and whose leaders are most fluent in English, rather than to those who are necessarily most effective in their own context and most respected among their own Indian colleagues.

4. Ignoring the context

A fourth pitfall mentioned by the Indian leaders was to assess needs or to develop strategies without reference to the local context. This includes ignoring the differences between urban and rural, literate and non-literate, North and Northeast and South, Hindu and Muslim, middle class and lower class, and so forth. Another expression of failure to consider the context is to try to employ “Made in the West” training programs without modification or adaptation.

5. Failure to listen to outsiders as well as insiders

On the other hand, I would add a word of caution concerning another potential pitfall, i.e. to listen only to the recommendations of Indian leaders. Sometimes, like the fish that are unaware of the water in which they swim, we can be unaware of the blind spots arising from our cultural worldview and our limited experience. For that reason, both the insider and the outsider perspectives need to be combined. We need to listen to one another in the Body of Christ, not only within one nation but also across national borders, if we are to hear accurately what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

3.6 What guidelines should be in place for identifying worthy individuals and organizations?

A number of helpful guidelines for identifying worthy individuals and organizations emerged from the interviews, and would be echoed in my own observations.

1. Look for the true servant leaders who are mentoring others.

Like produces like. As Jesus said in Luke 6:40 (NIV), “Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” The quality of leaders developed in the program or organization will be no greater than the leader.

2. Examine the actual products of the training.

What are the graduates doing? Where are they serving? Who is actually putting people in the “front lines” of ministry to the unreached? How healthy are the churches that are being planted? How holistic is their outreach? What changes have been made as a result of the training?

3. Look for a balanced emphasis on character development, acquisition of knowledge, and development of practical skills.

In what ways are these values built into the schedule, reinforced in the curriculum, and modeled by the teachers and other leaders?

4. Look for faithfulness to the Word of God, reliance on prayer, and for confidence in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

There are large segments of the Indian church (as also the Western church), which have little if any genuine spiritual life, or which have been saturated with liberal theology that denies the uniqueness of Christ, or the necessity of evangelism, or the authority of the Scriptures. There are also groups that have much zeal, but little knowledge.

5. Look for clear accountability structures, both in governance and in finances.

The Christian Institute of Management, formed by the Indian Missions Association, has developed a useful set of guidelines for organizations, with requirements for non-family governing boards, regular audits, consistent personnel policies, etc.

6. Check for affiliation with evangelical “umbrella” organizations.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India, the India Missions Association, the Indian Institute of Intercultural Studies (formerly Indian Institute of Missiology), and the Asia Theological Association each have particular strengths and areas of focus, but all of them are aware of the key leadership needs of India today, and all of them are working to strengthen organizations to do better preparation of evangelical leaders for India. However, there are sometimes good reasons why certain organizations and institutions have not affiliated. Therefore, evidence of affiliation should not be used simplistically to qualify or disqualify involvement with particular organizations.

7. Look for local leaders.

To what extent is the organization raising up leaders from the churches that have been planted, or from the region in which the ministry is serving? Local leaders will generally understand the context better, and be able to serve more effectively, than those who are viewed as “outsiders.”

4.0 Summary

In order to help multiply healthy, reproducing churches in every district and every people group in India, five types of leaders are needed:

• Type 1 Leaders (Small Group Leaders) who lead cell groups, family groups, etc.;

• Type 2 Leaders (Self-supporting Local Supervisors) who supervise other volunteer workers;

• Type 3 Leaders (Full-time Local Leaders) who devote most if not all of their time to Christian leadership, including local church pastors, church-planters and missionaries;

• Type 4 Leaders (Regional Leaders) whose influence is felt within a region, but whose ministry is largely indirect, as they work with and through the local leaders;

• Type 5 Leaders (National Leaders) who have influence throughout the entire country, or internationally.

Three kinds of training may be involved in equipping these leaders:

• Formal education, with organized schools, regular faculty, defined curriculum, degrees and accreditation;

• Nonformal education, which is still structured, but tends to be short-term, more flexible, and more focused on the particular needs of the learners;

• Informal education, which is unstructured, and occurs as a result of being in close relationship with another person.

For Types 1 and 2 leaders, nonformal education is most important. Types 3 and 4 leaders are most likely to benefit from formal training; but for them too, nonformal learning experiences are valuable, depending on their specific needs. Type 5 leaders may have already completed all the formal education required or available, but need the stimulus and encouragement of nonformal learning environments, as well as opportunities to learn informally from other experienced leaders. At all five levels of leadership, informal learning and personal mentoring are important.

Five major areas of need were identified to prepare, equip and sustain leaders for the Indian church:

1. Training for grass roots leaders, especially in the villages and tribal areas;

2. Tools for the leaders, especially in the vernacular languages;

3. Strengthening organizations that are present or potential pace-setters in leadership training and development, including assistance with land and buildings, expansion of libraries, updating of technology, and training in various areas of management and organizational development;

4. Member care within Christian organizations, especially the education of the missionary children, and the provision of pastoral support, specialized counseling, and health and retirement benefits;

5. Full development of individual leaders within the organizations, including provision for continuing education as well as periodic “retreats” for relationship-building, perspective broadening, and spiritual refreshment.

Then ten areas of strategic opportunity were listed, places where the time is ripe for new initiatives:

1. Ministries to children and youth;

2. Ministries to women;

3. Ministries to families and ministries of counseling;

4. Urban ministries, including the slum dwellers and the middle classes;

5. Holistic ministries;

6. Encouragement of people movements;

7. Facilitation of accurate research;

8. Ministry to Muslims;

9. Employment of new technologies;

10. Strengthening stewardship within India.

India is particularly diverse and complex. Impacting all of India is not like putting some drops of colored dye into a glass of water, so that the color gradually permeates the entire liquid. No, in order to see the task of leadership development accomplished for all of India, it is more helpful to view India as a mosaic of colored tiles, in which each different colored piece must be completed and fit into place in order for the design to have full impact. No single approach will do the job. A “multi-colored” and segmented strategy is needed.

It will be necessary to think in terms of people groups and geography (regions, states, districts, blocks, pin codes), Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs and Buddhists and other individual religious groups, middle classes and higher castes and Dalits and slum-dwellers, urban and rural, North and South and Northeast. It will be important to equip leaders at all five levels, and to encourage rapid church-planting while also laying foundations for long-term sustainability.

[1] 1997 projection by Population Reference Bureau; see <http://nyac.aed.org/factsheets/india1.htm>

[2] As of March 1, 2001, according to Provisional Population Date from Census of India 2001.

[3] Projected population for 2001 cited in Peoples of India, India Missions Association, 1997.

[4] Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster USA, 2001), p.311.

[5] Languages of India (Chennai: India Missions Association, 1997). According to SIL’s Ethnologue web site www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=India there are about 850 languages in daily use in India. The World Christian Encyclopedia (Second Edition, 2001; Vol.1, p.359) cites 1650 mother tongues in addition to the 18 official languages recognized in the Constitution.

[6] Cited by Dr. K.S. Singh in a Research Workshop on February 3, 2000. Dr. Singh’s categories are based on people’s perceptions and self-perceptions, identifying 76 cultural traits, and including dimensions of biology/morphology, language and culture. The commonly cited number from Dr. Singh’s 1991 study is 4,635 people groups; apparently in the last decade he has identified several dozen more.

[7] Peoples of India (Chennai: India Missions Association, 1997).

[8] Ebe Sunder Raj, National Debate on Conversion (Chennai: Bharat Jyoti, 2001), as well as private correspondence.

[9] World Christian Encyclopedia (2001 Edition).

[10] The percentages given in this section relating to castes and Christians have been deduced from the 2001 edition of Operation World, edited by Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk. I say “deduced” because on page 309 they list percentages by caste, but these appear to be percentages of the Hindu population (not the total population), which they identify on page 310 as 79.83% of the total population. On page 315, the number of Brahmins is given as 40 million (i.e. 4% of the total population). Somewhat different percentages have been cited by Dr. Raju Abraham, and by S.D. Ponraj and R. Bruce Carlton in Strategic Coordination in Mission (Chennai: Mission Educational Books, 2001). But I have not been able to locate an authoritative source on which all can agree. In The National Debate on Conversion (Chennai: Bharat Jyothi, 2001), Ebe Sunder Raj warns that, “Our Census figures on religion are very unreliable data and the cause for great communal tensions. They cannot be made the authentic basis for any legal or legislative purposes” (p.150).

[11] Percentages are cited from Operation World (6th edition, 2001).

[12] World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd edition, 2001; Vol.1. p.361).

[13] Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster USA, 2001), p.310.

[14] Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster USA, 2001), p.315.

[15] Ebe Sunder Raj, in private correspondence, September 25, 2001.

[16] Rev. S. Vasanthraj Albert, Executive Director of the Church Growth Association of India, in Unreached Mega Peoples of India (Chennai: India Missions Association, 1999), p.6

[17] Rev. S. Vasanthraj Albert estimates in Unreached Mega Peoples of India (Chennai: India Missions Association, 1999, p.6) that there are 45 million Christians in India, in addition to 10 million crypto-Christians or secret believers. As stated earlier, the World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd edition, 2001; Vol.1, p.360) estimates 40.8 million Christian adherents and 21.5 million crypto-Christians.

[18] Not only have believers multiplied, but so have denominations. The World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd edition, 2001; Vol.1, p.838) says there are 1,327 denominations in India.

[19] Based on the North India Consultation on Grass Roots Church Planters held at Jabalpur in May, 1995. See article entitled “The Scope and Relevance of Grassroots Church Planters’ Training” by S.D. Ponraj in Indian Journal of Missiology, Vol.5, No.1 (May 2001), pp.55-59.

[20] Indian Journal of Missiology, Vol.5, No.1 (May 2001), p.18.

[21] According to Dr. Augustine Pinto in June 23, 2001, interview in Mumbai. The World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd edition, 2001; Vol.1, p.359) states that there are 337,651,000 under the age of 15.

[22] According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd edition, 2001; Vol.1, p.361), illiteracy for India as a whole is estimated at 48%, but among some disadvantaged groups is 87%.

[23] World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd Edition, 2001; Vol.1, p.832).

[24] World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd Edition, 2001; Vol.2, pp.572-578).

[25] According to Rev. S. Joseph of New Life Fellowship, interviewed September 22, 2001, in Mumbai.

[26] S. Vasanthraj Albert, in Unreached Mega Peoples of India (Chennai: India Missions Association, 1999), says: “About 80 percent of the 45 million Christians and a majority of the secret Christians are part of people movements or descendants of people who embraced the faith in Christ in a series of group decisions” (p.6).

See also the India Research Project…