In a suburb of Mumbai, on the western coast of India, Hamant Rajul Wala and his wife, both lay people, were instrumental in starting the church in their community. It is now a vibrant, growing congregation. The couple believed that taking the Nazarene course of study – which prepares ministers for ordination as clergy – through South Asia Nazarene Bible College (SANBC) would help them as they lead the local church. So they established an SANBC learning center and went through the course. This year they both graduated.

Lay people, such as the Walas, represented 80 percent of the South Asia Nazarene Bible College (SANBC) graduates from the Western Maharashtra District, India, this year, marking a major philosophical shift on that district regarding who may benefit from a theological education and ministry training, according to Simon Jothi, principal of SANBC.

Twenty-seven people from the district graduated at the recent district assembly.

The lay members in the group were encouraged to enroll in SANBC by the district superintendent, Sanjay Gawali, and the district leadership team because they believe that engaged and trained lay people will be a key to the district’s growth, Jothi said.

“He is placing education as a priority of the district’s total mission.”

Gawali had appointed an education coordinator for the district and started 11 learning centers to train leaders, enrolling 80 students, 52 of whom have completed the first track oriented toward leadership.  When he reported this at a leadership meeting in India, several other district superintendents asked him how they could replicate his efforts.

“Not all have joined the ministry but we encouraged them to just complete the courses and when they feel that God is calling them for full-time ministry, they will join the second track,” Gawali said.

He’s noticed that among the lay people in the SANBC course, many are becoming more involved in their local churches.

Due to the effective ministry of JESUS Film teams around the district, a number of church type missions have been started, and some of those will be officially organized churches soon. That’s why there is a growing need for more pastors and leaders to be theologically educated – even housewives, Gawali said.

The district’s pastors are also encouraged because of the support they are gaining from trained lay leaders in their congregations.

This graduation in Western Maharashtra is just one example of how SANBC is increasingly attracting lay people across the five countries where the institution has learning centers and students, in addition to pastors and those recognizing a call to full-time ministry, Jothi said.

SANBC has learning centers in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The school’s design as a decentralized institution, which offers intensive courses on weekends or for short periods, works well for many people who are employed full-time and have families or other ongoing demands on their time.

“They see SANBC as the perfect match because they are business people or people who work in (Nazarene Compassionate Ministries) child development centers, government teachers, housewives,” Jothi said.

— Reposted from the December 2015 edition of Where Worlds Meet. To sign up to receive the monthly newsletter in your email, scroll to the bottom of the screen.