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Episode 5 - The Bear Grylls of Pastoral Training


Date: May 30, 2018
Run Time: 11:26
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Rev. Will Savell
From the Series: Collaboration and Creativity to Equip Church Leaders

Program Notes

What if you saw an acute need for pastoral-training resources somewhere in the world? What would you do? Will Savell decided to start The Grace Institute. We talk with Will as he discusses:

  • The goals of The Grace Institute
  • Why he’s chosen to partner with Third Mill
  • The Bear Grylls approach to theological education
  • Christ alone; not Christ plus

Rev. Will Savell is President of The Grace Institute, an organization dedicated to training, equipping, preparing, and resourcing church leaders throughout the world.

Podcast Transcript

Episode 5: The Bear Grylls of Pastoral Training
Guest: Will Savell

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.


Our guest today is Will Savell, founder and president of The Grace Institute based in Memphis, Tennessee, and I am your host, Greg Perry. We're coming to you today from the studios of Third Millennium Ministries in Orlando, Florida. I first met Will when he was completing his masters in theological studies from Covenant Seminary where I served as professor of New Testament for fourteen years. So, shall we say how long ago we met, Will?

Will: I don't know. I don't know. No, no. It's a long time.

Well, I think we both have a little bit of gray in our beards since those days.

Will: We do, and you contributed to that gray. You know, you weren't my favorite.

Oh, is that right?

Will: I know we didn't know each other very well. I did a lot of my stuff online, but you took over the Capstone project. And before you it wasn't quite as rigorous. I was looking forward to that moment, you know, where I got to make the coffee mug with the Bible verse on it. But you actually made it into something way more meaningful, which really spurred me along to do something that contributed to what we're doing even today.

Wow, I didn't know that part of the story. I'm looking forward to talking together today. You guys flew in last night from Memphis. Thanks for making the trip down.

Will: You're welcome. I love being here in Orlando at Third Mill and just being with really significant partners.


Well, Will is a follower of Jesus Christ, husband to Elaine, and a great friend of Third Mill. It's been five years since you started Grace Institute?

Will: Yeah, we went down to Costa Rica in 2011, so a little bit more than five years. My wife and I traveled to Costa Rica to be missionaries and to do pastor training, but the official date of The Grace Institute I think is December 27, 2011.

Okay. So why did you start Grace Institute? What is your mission?

Will: Well, when we started The Grace Institute I was a long-time employee of a church in Memphis that I still attend now — I'm not employed there anymore but I still attend — and they did a great service to me by providing a seminary education for free. I didn't have to have the burden that a lot of young pastors have by taking on financial debt to receive a good, solid, biblical education. Missions was on our mind. We didn't know what that meant, though. We just had no clue, but we knew that this genre of pastoral training and leadership development, we liked it, and we wanted to do something like that for rural pastors and rural church leaders, and we wanted to do it for free because we knew what it meant to us not to have a huge debt. And so we went down to Costa Rica to get some language, and after that we started The Grace Institute which really exists to train and prepare and to resource church leaders and pastors.

So you have three areas of focus, you say?

Will: Yeah.

Tell us a little bit about that.

Will: Well, it's all developed over time, but right now our three areas of focus is great biblical education — not just education but biblical education, conservative great biblical education — and Third Mill is our primary source; a contextualized delivery system, although that started out with little tablets that we put microSD cards on that's developed into full-out learning centers. Sometimes it might mean a generator that provides electricity to, you know, a little projector in the middle of nowhere, or it could be a copy machine for paper copies. We're open to any kind of contextualized delivery system. But then our third kind of leg of the ministry, if you will, is we're seeing that learning by yourself is doable, but it's not the best. And so transformation learning communities is what we focus on. So, biblical education, contextualized delivery systems, and transformational learning communities.


Alright. And you said that collaboration is one of your core values. But why collaborate with Third Millennium? What is it that sort of made this a good partnership for Grace Institute?

Will: I think we have the same heart for the people we're going after. There's content providers out there, and they're good content providers, but you guys create content, great biblical content aimed at the same pastor that we're going for. And, you know, you're going after that pastor who couldn't normally afford a formal seminary education, and so I think that affects everything that you guys do here. It informs your decisions on what you're creating and why you create what you create. And we collaborate with you because you're so open-handed, your content is free, and you let people use it how they see best to use it. It's not just boxed in.

You don't have to do it like "this way."

Will: That's right. And so you allow somebody like me to be creative with it and to work with different groups through different parts of the world who are very different. And everything about our ministry looks different depending on where you are. And you guys support that and you encourage it.


Our most important partners — we're talking about our partnership — but our most important partners are those indigenous church leaders. You know, we live in a time when the church is growing the fastest in parts of the world where theological education is least available, and that's part of what drives, I think, both of our ministries.

But tell us a recent story from your travels that sort of keeps you on your knees. I kind of think of you as like the "Bear Grylls" of theological education in so many different contexts. But tell us a story about kind of what keeps you on your knees but also going back for more of these teaching and learning experiences.

Will: The thing that keeps me on my knees is Africa. Now, we do most of our work in Latin America, but it's Africa that keeps me on my knees because it's just hard. Everything about it is difficult, and specifically in the location we're working in. You know, it is 20 miles south on a dirt road from the closest city which isn't much of a city.

Can you say where that is?

Will: It's 20 miles south of Mubende in Uganda. You go up 3 hours toward the Congo, you hit Mubende, and then you go south. And it was a small orphanage there, two hundred kids, and this guy from an orphanage, named Patrick, in _?Chebadega. He had written me on FaceBook for a year and I just didn't respond. He wore me down and we finally became great friends. And he said, "You know, Will, I watch your ministry of FaceBook and I see the networks that you have and that you're associated with. We'll never be able to be that, but we have about fifteen teachers here and we have a lot of pastors in the surrounding areas, and we're not going to be able to spread it out like these other things, but we don't know the Bible and we want to. Can you help?" Well, what do you say to that?

It's hard to say no to that.

Will: I'm like on the next plane. And you go over there and you find out, you know, over the years that I've been traveling there that most of the pastors, just until recently, they didn't have a Bible in their own language. They were just listening to whatever they heard from some bishop that's kind of strolled through town. It could be a good bishop or a bad bishop. So, you're going up against a lot of prosperity theology. You're going up against a lot of illiteracy, a lot of poverty, a lot of … they don't have a history of understanding or knowing the Bible, and they don't have any resources. So, with that said, in this orphanage that I stay in, there's no water, electricity or plumbing. It's about as Bear Grylls-ish as you'll ever want to get.


Will: But anyways, I keep going back there because it just keeps you centered almost a little bit of why you're doing what you're doing. You know, it's not admin, it's not an Excel spreadsheet, it's not fundraising. You're really working with the people and it's hard, and it's sticky, and it becomes very complicated. And that's a good thing for humility reasons and for just going before the Lord and saying, "I don't know how to do this, but you do, and help us be wise as we continue to go and…"


It gives you a taste of Christ's love for his church too, doesn't it, just in terms of how far he's willing to go to us and to all parts of his church, not just in North America but all parts of the world.

Will: Yeah. You know, we get to sit around in Orlando or Memphis and have little discussions about the nuances of a certain theology or this, that and the other, you know, in an air-conditioned nice office building or a church or whatever. And that's just not the case. I mean, you're looking for some pastors who will say Christ alone, you know? I mean, the very basics. Not Christ plus…

Grace alone. Faith alone.

Will: Yeah, yeah. I mean, not just, "Yeah we believe in Christ, but you also need to buy this oil, because if you don't buy the oil there's no way that you can be of the Lord." You know…

Too many "gospel plus" theologies out there.

Will: It's gospel plus. That's all it is. And that's disheartening, but also it's needed. That why what we do is needed. That's why what you do is needed.

Wow. Thank you for being with us and talking a little bit about access to theological education. I'm looking forward to our future conversations as well.

Will: Absolutely. Thank you.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Each week we bring you conversations to cultivate your curiosity about God's word, to inform your intercessions for God's people, and to equip your efforts in God's mission for the world. Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin. Production assistance is provided by Stephanie Mathis. And I'm your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Today's podcast was brought to you by our partner, The Grace Institute, and by listeners like you. Thank you.