As mainline churches continue to offer comprehensive training to laymen aspiring to become officiating clergy, consensus in Pentecostal churches is that God, and not academic qualifications, remains the pulley that elevates individuals to church roles.
The Bible, in Ephesians 4: 11, explains that the Lord gave people various responsibilities in tandem with their capabilities, some are called to be apostles, some evangelists some pastors and others teachers, among other callings.
And, in their efforts to help people fulfill these prophetic roles, mainline denominations such as the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) and Roman Catholic Church prepare potential officiating clergy by exposing them to rigorous training in a bid to prepare them fully for pastoral work.
In the Catholic Church, for instance, the minor and major seminary remains the preparatory ground, while CCAP is yet to entertain the idea of shortcuts in pastoral training.
Blantyre CCAP Synod Moderator, Rev. Andrew Kamponda, said on Wednesday, in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, that the procedures followed before one becomes a member of the clergy effectively prepares individuals for the important role of serving the temporal and spiritual needs of the Lord's sheep.
"In the first place, it is a felt calling to be a Reverend. Individuals who feel that they have been called apply to the Presbytery, after which interviews to determine whether they have the necessary qualifications, are spiritually sound, and are of good behaviour are conducted. After that, the individuals are invited to attend interviews at Synod level," Kamponda said.
Blantyre CCAP Synod, which has 18 Presbyteries, draws candidates from these Presbyteries.
"After scrutiny at Synod level, those who have the necessary qualifications and are found worthy are sent to Zomba Theological Training. We are running a four-year programme in Bachelor of Divinity, under which we teach Pastoral Theology and Systematic Theology," Kamponda added.
Under Pastoral Theology, prospective members of the clergy acquire knowledge on how to relate with Christians and, under Systematic Theology, they learn how the Bible talks about God, and how they can relate to, and apply, such scriptures in everyday life.
"While serving the Lord is a calling, (Theological) training is very important," he said.
However, Bishop Geoffrey Matoga of Faith of God said one does not need to go to school to effectively execute God's work.
Said Matoga: "The most important thing is knowledge on how to do one's work. A calling in the church is God's idea and, when you know God has put you there, you are assured that He will guide you in honouring this call."
Matoga said, however, that, in order to avoid making preventable mistakes, one has to learn the dictates of their call, and act within their mandate.
"It is God that qualifies one to perform tasks in the church; it has nothing to do with qualifications," he said.
Reverend Otis Bushiri of Enlightened Christian Gathering in Zomba concurred with Matoga. He said God, and not Theological colleges, held the key to serving in the church.
"Of course, people talk of schools but, if you talk of the Old and New Testament, you find that the schools were informal. Students were learning from seniors through observation and doctrine. These were not formal schools.
"Therefore, one does not become a man of God by going to school, or learning Bible knowledge. Information comes through learning, and this is why we have so many men of God who did not go to school but performed miracles. Examples include Apostle Simon Peter and John: These are people who were totally illiterate," Bushiri said.
Bushiri said the problem with theological training is that it equips people to speak on the basis of what they learned at school, and not necessarily what God wants them to say.
"If you go to school, you may not necessarily speak from the heart of God, or things that are in the heart of God. You speak what you were taught at school, which, sometimes, may not be applicable to the situation. When such people are faced with a new situation, they may not know how to respond favourably," Bushiri said.
Reverend Lazarus Chakwera, President of Malawi Assemblies of God, said, while his church recognizes the call of the spirit, this does not negate the importance of training.
"Jesus Christ offers us the greatest example. When he came on earth to respond to his father's calling, he called around him people he wanted to train. So, while the Apostles were filled with the Holy Ghost, they also had training.
"Of course, we believe in the calling of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, we recognize the calling of God in people's lives and recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives by offering them training. How long the training takes is not an issue, but such training ensures that ministries help people," Chakwera said.
The Malawi Assemblies of God runs one of the biggest theological training institutions in Malawi under the name Assemblies of God School of Theology. Chakwera said the college is in the process of offering education up to PhD level.