Seen it all

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Sometimes I think I have seen it all, then the Lord puts something in my path that makes me just shake my head in amazement.

        I thought I had seen the worst when I came to know Martha Carina a number of years ago. She lived in Quito, Ecuador’s worst squatter settlement, in a wooden shack precariously balanced on a rock high on the mountainside overlooking the city. The first time I visited her house the family had only wooden platforms but no mattresses on which to sleep. They had few blankets, no food, little clothing.

        Later, thanks to the generosity of a few contributors, Martha Carina and her family lived in a simple, but to them, palatial cement-block house on the same site, but more firmly anchored to the ground. They ate simple meals and Martha certainly looked better. I saw her several months later and occasionally over the years and was pleased that she was healthy, growing, and lived near a newly forming evangelical church.

        Then I walked the streets of Mexico City one day a year or two later, visiting street children. One group, junior high age, proudly showed us their hole under a viaduct where they lived in unspeakable filth. As we talked, some wandered or turned away to take a sniff of glue while others just breathed it in unashamedly in front of us.

        We joined them and some LAM missionaries for a meal on the worn grass near where they lived. They heard a Bible story and were encouraged yet again to accept Jesus Christ as their savior and turn their lives around. It takes many Bible stories and a good deal of prayer to reach such difficult youth.

        It wasn’t too much later that I joined a group of Christian lay people on a cold, rainy night in Quito as they worked with street children living in the city’s sprawling Carolina Park. They too are ministering through food, clothing, Bible stories and love. The children shivered as a cold wind blew down the street chilling all of us to the bone. But what startled me there was to learn that there were two-year old children living in the park, some with their mothers, others depending on a band of other two to four year olds to protect and nurture them. I guess people dump off children in the park in the same way they abandon pets when they no longer want them.

        Yes, I thought I had seen it all until I walked on a municipal garbage dump in Mexico City. We had to close the car windows to keep the flies out, the stench was nauseating, blowing plastic bags circled in the air like vultures. In the midst of all that stinking, festering garbage and the rabid dogs were people, God’s people, raking, sorting, and living in that trash. Families with children earning five dollars a day for 15 hours of work, seven days a week. They were surrounded by cardboard and plywood shacks in which they live along with disease, and the ever-constant smell.

        Yet, on that dump, home to 3,000 people and, a pastor told me, one of Mexico City’s smaller dumps out of dozens, Christians are ministering, sharing the word, bringing people to know the Lord. Most of the people who live there came from troubled backgrounds in other towns and cities, I was told. And, many of them, once they came to know Jesus Christ, picked up and returned home to new lives.

        Indeed, the Gospel brings hope and new life to children in squatter communities, street kids and garbage dump dwellers. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17 NIV).

        Amidst the pain and suffering, the aimlessness and lostness, people of God are reaching out in the name of Christ to bring that hope and to transform their lives. I praise God that He has given us the opportunity to see His work in Latin America.

This article was adapted from the book, Inside Track, Latin America Through the Eyes of a Missionary Journalist which is available for sale from

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Seminary training: crucial or a nice option?

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Just because I went to seminary doesn’t mean that I think every pastor must do the same.

But, I do think it isn’t a bad idea and that any pastor will benefit and be a much better, more accomplished, deeper servant of God if he or she does.

However, according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor many of today’s new pastors are rising up out of their home church and moving into the pastorate without the kind of formal education and shaping that an earlier generation not only wanted to do but, in some cases (such as mine), was required to do.

The Monitor explains, “What’s emerging…is an example of a quiet but revolutionary shift under way in American mainline Protestantism. Across the country, hundreds of long-established congregations are finding new roles for laypeople as the churches undergo a fundamental change from full-time to part-time clergy.”

The newspaper goes on to explain that one of the main motivating factors for this shift is the declining size of many traditional, Protestant churches which are no longer able to afford a full-time, seminary trained pastor. Thus, they are turning to lay members to assume the responsibilities on a voluntary or part-time paid basis to keep the church open.

The article also demonstrates that most American churches did not have full-time pastors until the early 19th century. And, in that era, many home-grown pastors had no formal theological or seminary training.

Yet, they did well, pastored effectively, and the churches prospered and grew.

One has to praise the Lord for that, and to recognize that God can call whomever He desires and infuse that person with His Spirit to guide, train and build him or her as an effective shepherd of the people.

However, it’s not just traditional denominational churches that are shrinking which are looking for local, untrained leadership to guide them into the future. Newly planted, independent or non-denominational churches are also starting up with dynamic leadership which has little or no training or experience in theological study, homiletics (preaching), counseling or even church administration.

As I observe the numerous newly-birthed churches popping up all over our part of the country in old grocery stories, school auditoriums, strip malls and other previously-used facilities, it is notable how many of their leaders are good people who are struggling to be theologically solid, trained in ministry skills, and effective in reaching out evangelically to those who are seeking a spiritual home.

I do have to express my concern, however, for churches and pastors where the leadership is sorely lacking in the totality of training that a theological degree offers. By that, I mean a full degree that is designed to train men and women for pastoral service from an accredited seminary or Bible college.

Why do I think this is so important? Because seminary or Bible college training produces pastors and other church leaders who are well-versed in biblical studies, theological doctrines, Christian pastoral counseling techniques, psychological and sociological training that provides a broad understanding of the milieu in which they work, homiletics which trains in the areas of sermon preparation and delivery, church organization and management, church history, missions studies and so on.

When pastors work their way through a full seminary training program, they go to churches prepared, seasoned by contact with other seminary students and caring professors, and professionally capable to leading their flocks with care, quality and compassion.

And it’s not just the classes and the books that are important. Equally crucial are the informal insights, nuggets of information and wise guidance that comes from educated, experienced professors who bring a life-time of service and knowledge to the classroom.

Many of the gems of wisdom that I picked up in seminary came in response to a student’s question or an off-hand comment from a professor that wasn’t in his notes, but came to mind in the context of another discussion.

Seminary today doesn’t mean that a family has to pack up and move a thousand miles away for three years. Many degrees can be obtained online or in seminary branches that are popping up in major cities around the country.

However it is done, churches and pastors can better assure that their leaders are adequately trained by providing them with an education offered by qualified teachers in accredited seminaries or Bible colleges.

The local church and the Kingdom of God will be blessed when we provide the highest quality, educated and trained leadership to our churches.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer with to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.