When pandemic lockdowns resulted in canceled church services across South America, Foursquare Missions International’s Global Associate Director Paul Otremba’s extensive travel schedule came to a screeching halt.
Suddenly, numerous leadership training sessions in the 17 countries the veteran Foursquare missionary oversees were shuttered. This dimmed efforts he had been making since 2015 to disciple the emerging church—namely, pastors and other spiritual leaders under 40.
“The body of pastors and leaders in Latin America is getting old,” says Paul, 65, who is planning to pass the baton to the next generation for his own role in FMI later this year. “In the next three to five years, we’re going to face a lack of leaders to fill existing positions. We had young leader retreats in the last couple of years to help with that, but with the pandemic everything was closed.”
However, from crisis came opportunity. With Zoom video conferencing, Paul determined a solution. He quickly created a pilot project known as Forum for Leadership on the Move (FLM), designed for a maximum of 20 people, where participants attended via personal invitation and enjoyed breakout groups often.
“These are people who want to see a change and move forward, and develop the potential to reach their nation.” —Paul Otremba
FLM sought to facilitate reflection and dialogue on different issues to promote personal growth and equip leaders. The initial sessions explored principles from the book of Acts that expanded the church to the ends of the earth. In addition, Paul encouraged the group to watch videos featuring Foursquare leader John Amstutz and read John’s book, Disciples of All Nations.
Not only did the twice-a-month sessions produce encouraging results, over the following six months a second group was started. Participants from half a dozen countries began informally training other leaders, as well.
“These are people who want to see a change and move forward, and develop the potential to reach their nation,” Paul explains. “Young leaders want to move on and see certain things changed, especially how we do church.”
While they aren’t questioning core belief and values, Paul says these sessions uncovered the need for deeper repentance and belief in Christ. In introducing others to the Christian faith, he says too many just ask nonbelievers to raise their hand to affirm belief.
“We discovered in the book of Acts repentance, believing in Christ, baptizing in water, and the baptism with the Holy Spirit,” Paul says. “Those are keys to life in Christ. Sometimes we miss them or don’t preach them as we should. This has affected the way people are starting their walk with Jesus. Sometimes people have trouble connecting with Christ because their initiation is not complete.”
Another approach the under-40 groups explored is the need for sound hermeneutics—the interpretation of biblical texts. On the South American continent, there are prosperity doctrines and other movements that can stray from the Bible, notes Paul, adding there also needs to be more emphasis on ministry of the whole body.
This kind of practical spiritual development is one reason the FMI global associate director appreciates FMI’s Global Missions Fund defraying the cost of Zoom for those who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
Even as the pandemic subsides, Paul plans to continue digital discipleship, although he says groups can be limited to one year and include one or two co-facilitators.
“When we finish this cycle, we want to come together for a weekend to connect, talk, pray and have some fun,” Paul says. “Latin Americans like to be together. We can learn from one another. Zoom is a help, but it’s not everything.”