The American Keralite church has been making many adjustments to address the spiritual needs of their American born youth and children. English songs and translation of messages are very common in most of these churches now, but young people are seldom enthusiastic about the level of changes.
The changes in the American Keralite church is taking place within the changing nature of Christian ministry in North America. Scholars are now studying the major trends that are taking place in American churches. The mega church phenomenon, multiplying television ministries, cell group concept, high tech ministries, specialized ministries, short term missions emphasis, multicultural ministries, etc. are changing churches and ministries in America. As a result, American pastors are going back to Bible Colleges and seminaries to update their skills through formal and informal education. They are trying to cope with the changing needs and contexts of their ministries.
Today’s local church ministries in the American Keralite churches depend on the acculturation levels of congregations. Educational level of lay leaders and social status of the congregants may also play a role in how Americanized a church’s ministries are. The number of years a pastor has been in America and whether or not he is a full time or bi-vocational minister also may make a difference.
Although Keralite pastors value the word of God and take time to study and prepare messages to feed their flocks, generally speaking, these pastors do not attend higher education or continuing education courses. Of course, there are exceptions. As pastoral leaders experiencing changes within changes in the larger society, Keralite pastors in America need more skills, but there is no discernable trend on this issue among these pastors at this time.
I strongly believe that Keralite pastors in America need to be encouraged to continue their education through degree seeking and non-degree seeking programs. Even ministers who have earned high level degrees years ago need retooling courses. This will improve the level of their ministries in today’s fast changing world. Unfortunately, most pastors do not receive any encouragement for higher education from their congregations because Pentecostals generally do not value theological higher education. Many still believe that the anointing of the Holy Spirit alone with little or no training will create a competent minister for the 21st century. The truth is that although education alone does not make a good minister, an anointed person with proper education will be a more effective pastor.
There is a mystery I never fully understood. When it comes to selecting a physician or dentist, Malayalis demand the best-trained and the brightest in their fields. Keralites encourage their young people to get their MBA’s, MCA’s and MD’s. However, when it comes to the people - ministers - who care for their souls, feed their spirits and guide them to eternity, Keralites discount the importance of higher level education and training!
I have been associated with Oral Roberts University for twenty five years and have been engaged in full time theological education since 1989. I have served as professor and administrator in theological education. It has been my privilege to visit numerous churches and ministries led by graduates of my institution all across America and in various nations of the world. Most graduates are active in ministry and leadership across the globe. Even the largest church in the world in Seoul, Korea has top level ministers who are graduates of ORU. It gives me great joy to see their work.
However, there is a sad truth I have witnessed. Most of our graduates (other than cross cultural missionaries) are working in churches of their own people, EXCEPT graduates of Indian origin! Theology students of Indian origin at ORU, particularly Keralites, often say that they receive no encouragement from the Indian churches and pastors. Most of them are not given opportunities to be involved in ministry during their studies and upon graduation almost all of them are NOT hired as pastors or staff ministers in the Indian churches! Those who are fortunate enough to be included in some form of ministry are NOT properly paid in the churches of the richest of American immigrants!
Let me make it very clear. White churches do not refuse to hire white graduates. African American churches are not afraid to hire African American graduates. This also holds true of Hispanic and Korean churches in the U.S. Keralite Pentecostal churches, on the other hand, refuse to hire theologically educated American Keralites – individuals who have spent years of their lives and thousands of dollars to get an education in response to God’s call. They still prefer to hire pastors from outside the U.S. regardless of the pastors’ limited cultural awareness and/or the impact of this on their own sons and daughters!
This is not unique about ORU graduates. The story is the same for graduates of other evangelical and Pentecostal seminaries. I’m talking about graduates of fully accredited institutions who hold traditional pentecostal doctrines. Graduates of these schools are trained to be professional ministers. Most have ministry experiences under supervision gained through Field Education courses, practicums and internships. They also go through courses and experiences to foster their spiritual and ministerial formation. Many recent graduates can minister well and with some real life ministry experience they can become great pastors and specialized ministers. But someone has to hire them first and give them a chance.
American Keralite churches must hire graduates of accredited American theological schools for several reasons. I will point out just two. First, by not hiring them, Malayalis are depriving themselves of ministry by good ministers with outstanding biblical and practical skills. They are also losing great future leaders, surrendering themselves to be led in the future by people without proper theological training or spiritual formation.
Secondly, American Keralite young people need role models. If the first generation American Keralite pentecostals do not respect the calling and preparation of their own theological graduates and hire them as ministers, why should any young American Keralite offer himself or herself to God for full time Christian service within this community? If these churches do not offer Bible College and seminary graduates any meaningful opportunities to minister locally and national conferences continue to reinforce the idea that Americans of Indian origin regardless of their gifts, talents, ministries, testimony or anointing are never good enough for prime time ministry, what is the message we are sending to our youth?
It is imperative that we look at the big picture for the sake of the next generation. We are ALL accountable for the spiritual development of our children and grandchildren. Therefore, we must encourage current leaders in American Keralite churches to continue their education through theological retooling courses in order to remain relevant and effective within the U.S. cultural context. In addition, we must hire those who have sacrificed so much to respond to God’s call and have completed graduate theology degrees from U.S. schools.
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