A Holistic Approach
Equipping Churches in Latin America
by David Nacho
or some Christians, a church is a place to escape the world. Their understanding of the Church’s mission is akin to Noah’s ark: bringing lost souls in and holding them securely until one day they are taken to heaven. Was this God’s plan when he called a people to himself? Biblically understood, the Church is meant to be God’s agent of transformation. To live up to this calling faithfully, we must question our individualistic views of discipleship and learn how to see the whole of life with missional eyes.
Christians, no matter where they are from, are called to engage others in love – sharing the gospel in both word and deed. This is called integral mission. In the mid-1980s a group of theologians and Christian professionals in Argentina created a ministry of theological education called CETI (a Spanish acronym for Community for Interdisciplinary Studies). The central objective of CETI is to help build the Church holistically. CETI provides practical course material related to everyday life with family, church, society and work modules, rather than the traditional subjects offered by many theological education programs. CETI students come from various local congregations. They work through the modules using an interdisciplinary approach that draws on field work, biblical study, theological input and social analysis.
Recognizing CETI’s potential for missional discipleship, CBM has played a leading role in revamping and empowering its transformative ministry across Latin America over the last decade. As a result, CETI study circles have been established in Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba and several other countries, encompassing close to 500 students. CETI group facilitators invite students to participate in biblical discussions related to the contexts in which they serve. This collaborative approach invokes curiosity in participants and invites students to own what they’ve learned and hold one another accountable as to how it’s lived out.
As the Church is God’s agent of transformation, a missional understanding of discipleship is key. A strong church is a mission-oriented church. At CETI, Christian formation means helping students to establish connections between God’s good purposes (Ephesians 1) and everyday life, as they serve others through their local church. A missional understanding of discipleship can positively impact a church’s testimony to the wider community.
A recent example comes to mind from Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in El Salvador. While studying CETI’s work module, a group of students at the church decided to do something about the unemployment and underemployment within their community. After prayer and discussion, they decided to organize a job fair for their small town. The group and their pastor consulted with government officials and invited local businesses to post job openings. They also held a forum with young entrepreneurs to promote local ventures. More than 200 people participated in this initiative, which exceeded the group’s expectations and resulted in a concrete act of service from the church to its surrounding community.
CETI teaches students in churches across Latin America to think missionally together. This communal learning experience creates an environment in which students can be a testimony of God’s love to those inside the church as much as they are to those outside. Testimonies are essential to building a strong mission-oriented church. However, many Christians tend to view their testimony from an individualistic perspective. While character and personal growth are vital in discipleship, the testimony of a faith community as a whole – not just those of its individual members – helps churches to live out God’s integral mission more faithfully.
Last year, I visited a Baptist church on the periphery of São Paulo, Brazil, that had just completed the church module. Marcos, one of the study facilitators, shared how the course material helped him reflect on the concept of belonging. From this, he identified a need among their study group: some of the women struggled to focus on the material because they had to care for their children in another room. To address this issue, Marcos rewrote portions of the church module in the form of a children’s story, which describes a boy who wants to become an integrated person. In each chapter, the boy has an encounter that relates to one of the CETI themes, leading him on a journey to wholeness. Marcos encouraged the men to take turns leading the story time with the children while the group studied the material. Through this intervention, the women increased their participation in the study and the men benefitted from reviewing the course material in simple terms as they read to the children.
Learning together as a community is not merely an intellectual endeavour. Rather, it builds the Church through strengthened relationships and holistic witness. While serving as CBM Field Staff in Bolivia, I watched CETI students discover how their concept of church had been limited by today’s individualistic and consumerist worldview. Studying with missional eyes, we discover together that the Christian life is about belonging. Yes, we belong to Christ, but we also belong to one another.
David Nacho is CBM Field Staff
based in Costa Rica. He serves
as the Academic Dean and a
Professor with CETI.