Just as the many activities of summertime 2021 were reaching their crescendo, and in spite of constantly changing COVID-19 travel restrictions, the 130-member Tallinna Kristlik Vabakogudus (Tallinn Free Church of Christ, a member of the Eastern European regional family of churches in our worldwide Christian fellowship of the International Churches of Christ) hosted the first international disciples’ conference dedicated to the development of the Teaching Ministry on the European/Eurasian continent in our fellowship. This event was for any and all disciples who appreciate the importance of high-quality Bible study and teaching in our churches and had about 250 registered participants.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12
Two years ago, the church in Tallinn officially recognized its Teaching Ministry, appointing Reto Zingg (originally from Zurich) and Mati Simm (Estonia) to the office of teacher for the congregation. Women’s Minister Triin Leesmann (Estonia) is also recognized as an integral and influential member of the Teaching Ministry group. The establishment of the Tallinn Teaching Ministry was accomplished through years of prayer and dedication on the part of these individuals and the faithful and frequent visits of Boston teacher and elder Valdur Koha, who has made two trips a year to Tallinn from the USA for the past 20 years.
The Tallinn Teachers Group meets monthly to discuss how best to address the current needs of the church through sound Biblical teaching. They create a plan for study and present it to the wider leadership of the church for further shaping of the plan and to agree upon how best to teach and mature the church.
Eager to learn from the recent appointment of 15 congregational teachers in our African churches, Tallinn’s conference planning committee invited Emmanuel Emeh (Lagos, Nigeria), Paul Smith (Johannesburg, South Africa), and Dr. Steve Kinnard (New York, USA) to instruct attendees about their own process of developing a continental Teaching Ministry. Due to COVID travel difficulties, Kinnard and Emeh appeared virtually and Paul Smith endured quarantining in Estonia before the conference began and then encountered further unexpected departure delays, which meant that Paul spent two full weeks in Estonia for a four-day conference — most of which were confined to the conference hotel! (The conference attendees and planners are especially grateful to him and his family for that sacrifice.)
Perhaps the most-heard takeaway from the African story was a key concept from one of Dr. Kinnard’s slides: “First, realize that this is not a solo project.” The emphasis on humility, the desire to actively seek input on one’s own spirituality, and the commitment to the practice of community teaching (similar to a process of peer review) came up again and again as of prime importance in the successful development of the African Teachers’ Group. The work of many years and various faithfully visiting teachers in Africa was acknowledged, including that of Douglas Jacoby and Dave Pocta, who were also in attendance in Tallinn.
Paul Smith contrasted the building of Solomon’s temple with our efforts in building the church today, calling us to emulate the worshipful heart of David and to strive to build Christ-centered teams in our churches. He acknowledged the decades of involvement and prayer that has brought about the Teaching Ministry team in Africa that we see today. He shared that three women recently graduated at the top of their ministry training class in South Africa and an active women’s training program has begun against the backdrop of a traditionally very patriarchal culture, indicating that the church seems committed to figuring out how to encourage and include their gifted women in the Teaching Ministry.
The conference line-up included several other outstanding features. Andy Fleming (Kiev, Ukraine) delivered a memorable opening address on the crucial role of sound biblical teaching as part of God’s plan for building the church. Conference attendees enjoyed an in-depth walk through the letter to the Colossians, each chapter taught by different presenters.
Two interactive panel discussions fielded questions from the live audience as well as those participating online. The first, “The Bible and Gender,” presented a case study from the Boston church, offering one example of how churches might engage in a discussion of the very important and sensitive topic of the role of women in public worship settings. Valdur Koha (Boston) presented with Ann King (Paris) and Andy and Tammy Fleming (Kyiv) as panel members. The second, “Building Up the Church,” was a practical discussion about the training and development of the role of Congregational Teacher, with Valdur Koha, Triin Leesmann and Mati Simm (Tallinn) and Douglas Jacoby (Edinburgh, Scotland).
Board members and students affiliated with the Disciples Center for Education were also among those who traveled from abroad to be present. The DCE is a newly-formed charity whose goal is to provide assistance for qualified candidates around the world in our ICOC fellowship to achieve advanced degrees in theological study.
Conducted simultaneously in two languages (English and Russian), the conference was broadcast live on YouTube so that virtual participants from 41 countries could take part. Sadly, no Russian Federation citizens were allowed to travel due to the worst spike to date in COVID cases in their country. The technical team of the Tallinn church — all volunteers — everyone agreed, was simply spectacular for a church of its size. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, conference lessons are now available for anyone to enjoy here in English and here in Russian.
The vision of the organizers is for this conference to become an annual event. One of the goals of the ICOC Teachers Service Team is to inspire and assist the development of regionally-based Teaching Ministries throughout our fellowship. It seems that the seeds that have been lovingly and faithfully planted in Tallinn over the years are bearing fruit and ready to multiply! Please pray for qualified biblical teachers to be discovered and developed in all our regional church families around the world.