SBT: a year of unexpected changes and new possibilities

In February 2020 the School of Biblical Teaching leadership team met to review teaching materials and to plan an increased number of workshops, with those trained taking larger roles.

Their careful plans were cancelled within weeks, as India entered a severe lockdown and millions of low-paid workers lost their livelihood in an instant. Workshops were impossible and needy people both in the churches and the larger community needed support. In Delhi, where cases surged, Devender Verma and his team worked flat out to provide relief. The SBT staff spent hours contacting local pastors by phone to encourage them, pray with them and offer needed support. It was intense and they were in tears at several points. But some of the pastors shared that ‘…they have attended several other training programmes, but this is the first time they have experienced so much care and concern.’

Could SBT switch to Zoom for the workshops, like most of the world? Not so practical as many didn’t have good internet access. Village workshop groups could not adapt easily to Zoom – though mobile phones have surprising capacity!

But last July they held the postponed ‘Ezra (preaching) Conference’ on Zoom. Over 70 logged in, many with two or more listening together. Then the delayed Ezra Theology Course (ETC) classes were held on Zoom and it worked. Now they plan to try this with the larger groups who attend the more basic SBT workshops. The plan is to gather local groups of 5-6 with a more experienced trainer. They will listen to the central teaching and then go over the Bible passages together, working out how they would analyse and teach them.

Two more developments this year: In February two pastors from Punjab came to try out the ETC. In their context there are many enthusiastic preachers but some put more emphasis on ‘prosperity’ for the listeners and donations for the speakers. This group wanted clear and reliable Bible teaching and they found what they were looking for. So a follow up workshop will be held in Amritsar, Punjab, on April 15-16, which may lead to increased opportunities for teaching and training.

Secondly, SAIACS, one of India’s leading theological colleges, would like to partner with ETC to help give the course accreditation. This could be really valuable but several details need to be worked out to ensure that the training remains grounded in the local context and keeps its focus on ministry skills and personal character.

Apparent setbacks and frustrations last year. But the time spent by leaders in contacting local pastors and responding to their practical needs was a powerful demonstration of service and care. Their tears have not been wasted.