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Training Pastors to Lead New Churches Throughout Africa

As executive director of the Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa, Dr. David Tarus M.A. ’09 has dedicated his life’s work to strengthening the theological foundation of rapidly growing church populations in Africa.

Words: Peter Biles ’20

Wheaton College IL David Tarus

“We need to help strengthen theological education, where pastors are formed to serve the church well and transform societies.”

David Tarus M.A. ’09 always dreamed of joining his father’s pastoral ministry in his hometown of Eldoret in western Kenya, about 350 kilometers west of Nairobi, the nation’s capital. “I wanted to be a rural pastor. To plant churches with my father,” he said.

He attended Scott Theological Seminary (now Scott Christian University), located 40 miles northeast of Nairobi, to receive his theological training and then return to help his father with the ministry. Four years passed without changes to his plans. However, just two weeks before graduation, the president of the seminary asked Tarus if he was interested in serving with them in starting a satellite campus in Eldoret instead. “I was very shocked,” Tarus said with a laugh. “I had led only the Christian Union.”

This moment was responsible for pivoting Tarus away from his initial dream of rural pastoring toward pursuing additional theological education. Now he was busy recruiting students on the new Eldoret campus, serving as sort of deputy for the developing school. After doing that for some time, the same president approached him again and asked Tarus if he wanted to pursue further study at another institution. As they talked, Tarus repeated his original goals. “I just wanted to be with my dad as a pastor,” he said. But, as they continued the discussion, the president said that Tarus had great potential as a theological educator. After Tarus asked the president if he had any ideas, he suggested Wheaton College in the United States.

“I had heard of Wheaton,” Tarus said. “I knew people who had come from there to teach here, people who graduated from there. I knew it was one of the best liberal arts colleges.”

So, in 2008 he applied, and soon after enrolled to pursue an M.A. in historical and systematic theology as a Billy Graham Scholar. “It was a great experience,” he said. “Except for the weather.”

The professors at Wheaton were both “brilliant and pastoral,” according to Tarus. They valued his contributions to the class but also challenged him to new intellectual heights. He remains in touch with many of them to this day and says their teaching and counsel prepared him well for his future.

Upon graduating from Wheaton, Tarus returned to Kenya and continued to teach. In 2013, he moved to Canada to pursue a Ph.D. in Christian theology with a focus on systematic theology at McMaster Divinity College, where he graduated in 2017. Since 2019, he’s been serving as Executive Director for the Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA). The association has a presence in almost 25 African countries to date, and its mission is to strengthen theological education through accreditation, scholarship, and other support services to build up the African church.

Tarus’ work draws inspiration from scholars such as historian Andrew Walls, who foresaw the shift of Christianity’s center of gravity from the west to the south and observed the rapid growth of church populations in Africa. Yet Tarus has observed that this growth has not always yielded strength. “People have talked about Christianity being thousands of miles wide, but just inches deep,” he said. “It’s not strong enough, and so we have problems with syncretism, prosperity gospel, charlatans.”

Tarus hopes ACTEA will continue to raise up theologically strong pastors to lead the expanding church. “We need to help strengthen theological education, where pastors are formed to serve the church well and transform societies,” he concluded.