On the ground floor, in the extension of the large mansion which houses the premises of the Nogent Bible Institute (IBN), there are around twenty assiduously following an introductory course on the New Testament. It is in this establishment in the heart of the commune of Nogent-sur-Marne (Val-de-Marne), now a hundred years old – its foundation dates back to 1921 – that some of the future evangelical pastors who will officiate in churches in several years are trained. of the different denominations of this branch of Protestantism.
In these places, the Evangelical Center for Information and Action (CEIA) was imagined in 1948. The 2023 edition of this annual Christian fair, which took place from Monday November 27 to Tuesday November 28, had the theme “Vocations: crises or opportunity? “. An opportunity to reflect on how to encourage vocations based on the testimonies of different Church leaders.
No academic recognition
Between two lessons, Matthieu Castagno, 27, confides. “I really turned to Christ quite young, from the age of 14 I wanted to serve him fully,” says this Grenoble resident whose father worked in an evangelical church of the Darbyst movement (which brings together beyond the different denominations). I thought about training myself in a self-taught way, remotely, but beyond just knowledge, I wanted global training on being, my character, my convictions. It was important to live in community, to compare my opinions. »
Here students of all sensibilities of evangelical Protestantism meet: Pentecostals, Baptists, etc. “The advantage of being an institute where all expressions of Churches are found is that once in charge, our former students will know each other and will be able to maintain relationships with other Churches,” underlines the president of the Institute, Étienne Lhermenault.
If training for the pastorate is still sometimes carried out self-taught, more and more evangelical pastors today go through the six existing institutes in France, or go to study abroad. At the IBN, training lasts three years, with an optional additional year of internship in a parish. As the training is not recognized by a state university diploma, the baccalaureate is not a prerequisite. “It’s complex work,” explains Étienne Lhermenault. Some of our students are doctors, others were sometimes academic failures. We have to adapt to our students. »
Due to its cult status, the IBN does not benefit from any state funding. This is reflected in schooling costs: between €5,950 and €3,930 per year for the most precarious. Prices which do not allow, according to the director of the establishment, to finance the entire studies: “Approximately a third of our budget comes from donations from Churches and individuals. » The Institute finally has around fifty accommodations for its students.
Among the 60 students at the IBN, around thirty are destined for the pastorate; the others are training to become missionaries, evangelists (preachers) or leaders of evangelical works and organizations. However, many pastors reorient themselves during their first years of ministry. “For some, the pastorate is difficult to combine with family life (an overwhelming majority of them are married, Editor’s note), indicates Étienne Lhermenault. It’s sometimes complicated to come up against the demands of the field. »
The evangelical Protestant Churches, however, could do with reinforcements, in a context of vocations crisis, despite the certain dynamism of the faithful and rapid growth of the communities. But many candidates are missing. We would need around a hundred new pastors per year, if only to replace those who are leaving. However, the nine French-speaking institutes provide 35 new pastors each year.
The scarcity of vocations is also felt in the strategy of opening churches led by the National Council of Evangelicals of France (Cnef), which aims to develop one parish for every 10,000 inhabitants throughout France. “Church planters have a very enterprising character, which is not always compatible with the support required to take care of a parish and its faithful», Explains Étienne Lhermenault. From there to showing pessimism for the future? “We are not talking about desertion either: evangelical youth are very dynamic and zealous. »