History & Scope

Context and Challenge

As the 20th century came to closure, the Church was in a unique place within the history of Christianity. Evangelical Christianity was growing at a faster rate than any previous time since the dawning of the Church. Evangelism to unreached peoples was taking the name of Jesus Christ to areas previously untouched by the gospel. Saturation church planting was seeing new congregations started at a rapid clip. However, these foci were exposing a monumental challenge in the arenas of discipleship and the equipping of newfound pastors.

Two million pastors urgently need training. At the dawn of the Third Millennium, we face the urgent necessity of equipping two million pastoral leaders! They have responded to God’s call on their lives - they are gifted - but many lack adequate ministerial training. These servants are pastoring millions of believers in Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union and Latin America.

Discussion and Formation

Leaders of 99 Western-based Christian organizations involved in the non-formal training of pastors worldwide gathered for the first-ever Trainers of Pastors International Consultation (TOPIC). The meeting was called by RREACH International and co-hosted by the Billy Graham Institute of Evangelism in December 1997. Many of the participants were convicted of “the sin of doing one’s own thing,” when it was clear that more would and could be accomplished with an organized, cooperative effort.

Many of these ministries expressed their desire to continue discussion and exploration of a compelling and necessary vision – to see every church with at least one equipped and maturing pastoral leader. Twenty-four organizations declared “coalition level” commitment to that vision. Others chose an “affiliate level” status, while yet others wanted to stay in an information loop. There was unanimous agreement that this should not simply be a “West-to-the-Rest-of-the-world” approach. If large numbers of pastoral leaders were going to be equipped, it would take a truly international, grassroots movement.

Coming out of that initial gathering, 1998 was a year dedicated to praying, discussing, and verifying the validity of the TOPIC vision and mission with those involved in grassroots pastoral training initiatives within the “majority world” (i.e., that part of the world within which the rapid growth of the evangelical church is calling for help). The TOPIC Coalition’s “Basic Precepts” were drafted.

In 1999, a transfer of vision took place at the TOPIC Manila Consultation, in the Philippines. At that time, 122 participants from 96 organizations, representing 50 countries, affirmed the vision of TOPIC and launched it as an international coalition with 44 partners and 50 affiliates. This event also saw the initiation of TOPIC Philippines, which today is setting the pace in the development of a model of pastoral training ministries working collaboratively.

Because TOPIC is addressing such a pressing issue, and due to its development in a grass-roots fashion, collaborative efforts have quickly begun in other parts of the globe. Since its formal inception in Manila, TOPIC has begun formal efforts in Central America, India, Brazil, the Himalayan Mountains region (centered in Nepal), East Africa and Southern Africa. Other locations where TOPIC discussions are taking place include Spanish-speaking South America, West Africa and the former Soviet Union.

TOPIC in Southern Africa

In a similar fashion to the initiation of TOPIC International, TOPIC Southern Africa developed out of a consultation of pastoral training ministries in this part of the world. The event was held in May 2001.

Point leaders and steering committees exist to establish priorities and plans for collaborative pastoral training in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. There is openness to dialog about collaborative efforts in Angola and Botswana as well.