Lay Leadership is Core to Growing Senegal UM Church
Encouraged to grow a church that is self-sustaining, the people of The United Methodist Church in Senegal have been asking for training in lay leadership, United Methodist structure and history and the role of the lay pastor. Beginning in 2012, a series of events has been held with the most recent a training for local lay pastors charged with spreading the love of Christ in their communities.
By Sandra Brands
To meet the need for trained lay leadership, the early May seminar in Thiadiaye welcomed 34 predominately lay pastors. They gathered to learn about the history of Methodism and the church in Senegal, the role of the preacher and the laity and the theology of the Trinity. Presenters included Senegal District Superintendent the Rev. Joseph Bleck, the Rev. Jean Pierre Ndour, well-known Côte d’Ivoire evangelist Justice Diomande and Global Ministries Missionary Bill Gibson.
The training is part of a plan to develop local leaders to build a self-sustaining church, Gibson said. “This is a change in direction for mission,” he continued. “What we’re hoping is that the lay preachers will each be involved with the development and growth of a local church. The hope is that the church will grow as the result of the work of these young lay pastors.”
Gibson said the May training was the latest of four events held since he arrived. The first was a seminar on evangelism led by Diomande, the second offered worship and training for laity and ordained pastors, and the third was a seminar with Malawi’s United Methodist Men on the role and function of the organization.
“The people here are anxious to learn how things are done in other places,” Gibson said. “Many church members have been asking for (different types of) training. Even more important, laity are anxious to take ownership of the activities and events in their villages.”
The trainings help leaders “identify people in the villages who are ready and willing to take on the challenge of bringing people to Christ,” Gibson said.
The May seminar was a success because much of the work of identifying and organizing lay pastors has been done, and because the pastors are hungry to learn. Gibson himself is learning about the differences in the role of the lay pastor in Senegal compared to that of a lay pastor in the United States.
“In the States, the local lay pastor has a congregation and reports to a senior pastor,” he said. “Here, many of the lay pastors have congregations but many do not, so I’m still learning what the title lay pastor means here. [For some], it’s almost like going back in time because most of the pastors have multi-point charges but don’t have cars. It’s like going back to the circuit riders” on the North American frontier.
Gibson and his wife, Gwen, arrived in Senegal last summer after he spent a month in Malawi learning about church growth and lay leadership from the burgeoning Malawi United Methodist Church.
“Mission is moving in a new direction,” he said. “We’re doing some training and teaching and helping folks realize that they are to take more responsibility for and support the projects and programs (on which) the staff at the Mission Center and Mission Initiative are working.”
That’s a new concept for the Senegalese United Methodists, he said, explaining that in the past support for the mission usually came from outside sources, primarily Global Ministries and churches. As the Senegal church grows, he said, not only members but also people in the local communities can point to the church and say, “This is our church, and we built it and maintain it.”
In addition, while Gibson is sharing best practices he learned in Malawi, a predominately Christian country, he is recognizing that the church has different challenges in Senegal, a Muslim country.
In the past, many viewed The United Methodist Church as a Protestant cult. Congregations met with open hostility. That included complaints from neighbors about the noise of worship, which led to the closing of a church, and to an outbreak of violence at an evangelism event.
Slowly, Gibson said, that is changing. Contributing have been the good work done by Volunteer-in-Mission teams and the Mission Center’s outreach in the community. “Teams from the U.S. come to talk to people about their needs, primarily their medical and agricultural needs,” he said. “The main thrust of those visits has been humanitarian, but the undercurrent has been evangelism and telling the story of Jesus. We bring them help and tell them we do this because of the God we serve.”
It’s having an impact, he said. “People are more and more open to the possibility of seeing things another way. It’s still a hard sell to convert people (from) a long family history of being Muslim to being Christian, but it’s not as violent as it used to be.
“It’s amazing how fast the Lord is working here,” Gibson said.
Learn more about the work of the General Board of Global Ministries and opportunities to partner in mission with a global church.
Contact: Melissa Hinnen, public information officer, 212-870-3833, MHinnen@umcmission.org.