India: How one network is utilizing BILD’s EQUIP to train church leaders and pastors

People in Mumbai, India, introduced to the Christian faith, are hungry for God and to learn more about their faith.

They are meeting together in many ways, some in traditional Sunday services, and others in house churches. Ben Levirakesh, a church network leader in Mumbai, observed that those new to the faith had a high rate of backsliding and of reverting to their cultural practices within their first year of faith. He recognized that there was a lack of leadership training available to equip leaders of churches so that they would have the tools needed to strengthen and teach all believers within their churches. He knew that such training was needed if believers in the churches were to grow in their faith and resist the pull of their culture. In addition, the churches struggled to keep their pastors, often losing them because they didn’t know how to train them and they didn't have the resources needed to do so.

Ben was introduced to BILD in 2016 when Jeff Reed was in India working with other church network leaders, helping them implement church-based theological education programs in their churches. As Ben learned more about BILD and its programs for leadership training, he knew that partnering with BILD would provide the solution to the problem of retaining pastors. Thus, a BILD cohort of pastors and leaders in Mumbai was started.

Utilizing BILD’s First Principles Series, they began leading small groups of believers within the churches through these resources. The certification offered by BILD at the completion of their training levels was motivating to the church leaders.

Church-based theological training was also the solution to another problem ministry leaders were facing. Ben said many people within the churches desire to work within the ministry but could not afford the time or cost to be trained without giving up their jobs. Going to seminary was very expensive, and they could not rely on paid ministry work to take care of their families.

By using the Biblical model for maturing all believers, every person in the church could be on a development path and new, emerging leaders were being recognized. Instead of requiring “outside” conferences or classes or moves to seminaries, all programs are based within local churches and are designed to both bring believers to a greater maturity and to also multiply the number of available leaders. 

Last year, BILD launched EQUIP, an online program that can track both the progress of one’s work as they complete the various BILD resources, and also their growth in their faith development. As users of EQUIP submit work they have done in their training programs, their work is assessed, and advice may be given or questions asked by those who are doing the assessment. Upon completion of their training program, they earn certificates and badges as recognition of their hard work and their development progress.

Ben’s network of pastors and church leaders has been eager to enroll in EQUIP and utilize the resources within their languages. Physical copies of BILD’s materials are not always available in their languages or dialects, and that has been a hindrance to their progress. Ben said that for a while books and curriculum were only available in English. Therefore, while the English-speaking churches were flourishing, churches that needed resources in their own  language were not. Having BILD resources and translations at their fingertips online through EQUIP has been transformative. 

Now, fourteen of Ben's leaders have graduated from BILD's Master Craftsman D. Min. program, after one year of using EQUIP. Another 150 leaders that Ben oversees in Mumbai and outside of India in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Dubai, and France are enrolled in the various tracks EQUIP provides. Ben and his team are strategizing the ways in which they can help these pastors get the most benefit from EQUIP. Ben said it has been so good being able to have a localized place online for leaders to come together because timing and location make it hard to meet in person.

His own, and his network’s, use of EQUIP has not been without its challenges. While it was an easy segue to use EQUIP online since everyone had already familiarized themselves with online meetings, applications and programs during the COVID pandemic, it also highlighted a couple obstacles some of the leaders faced.

Many leaders in the poorer areas of Mumbai did not have access to computers. They were having difficulty getting their work typed up to submit online. They do have smartphones so the problem was solved by taking a picture of their hand-written work and uploading it to EQUIP.

Illiterate leaders had another hurdle to overcome when they were enrolled in the EQUIP programs with no way to show their work. Ben said this created what he calls ‘a new ministry’ as these leaders shared their need for help with their churches. It has become a group effort as many of these leaders share with a college student what they have learned in their cohorts. These students, in turn, will type out the person’s work and help them upload it to EQUIP. It has become a way to share their testimony and understanding of the Biblical model of the church as a family of families, as they are living and sharing their life in Christ together and building up and strengthening the church.

“With any challenges we run into, we pray that God will open the doors to help face the challenges,” Ben said. “These pastors learn and think in different ways, but they are seeing the family of families concept. We are bringing the family atmosphere, and now they are happy. People are coming to church, and we can give them spiritual food.”

As more leaders become familiar with EQUIP, complete their work in their training programs, and receive certificates of completion, their ministries are strengthened. These leaders are planning the next steps needed in their ministries, as they labor to see all believers become mature in Christ and in the biblical teachings. “When the Holy Spirit comes upon these pastors and leaders, they gain such confidence to lead others well,” Ben said.