Above, people from around the world using the Third Millennium App.
December 2019 – In the fall of 1994, Janie Pillow, respected ladies’ Bible teacher and mother of six, was taking classes at Reformed Theological Seminary(RTS) in Jackson, Mississippi. On an otherwise uneventful day, she shared a table in the seminary library with an older African student.
The August 1 issue of Time magazine lay nearby on the table. Its headline quoted a resident of Goma, Zaire: “This is the beginning of the final days. This is the apocalypse.”
The man looked at the Time cover photo. His anguished moan broke the library’s silence. The memory still unsettles Pillow.
The voice, the vision
“I think that’s my son,” he said in a hushed voice as he studied the photo. It showed a mass of children trampled to death as they attempted to escape the genocide that claimed the lives of 800,000 Rwandans. Several weeks later, the Red Cross confirmed the worst regarding his son.
Already sympathetic to the plight of third-world seminary students who left their families, churches, and communities for years to come to seminary in America, Pillow sensed God moving her to do something to change that dynamic.
“One day Janie Pillow called me up,” said former RTS professor Dr. Richard Pratt. “She said, ‘Rich, we’ve got to put seminary in a box and ship it around the world.’ Then she said these faithful words: ‘If I can get the money, can you get the box?’”
And Third Millennium Ministries was born. Since its inception 25 years ago, God has used Thirdmill to reach an untold number of Christians around the world with high quality, seminary-level training.
Today, more than 650,000 individuals have used Thirdmill resources in biblical and theological training. From the beginning, Pratt has served as president and Pillow as a member of the board of directors and passionate advocate.
And – like the gospel of Christ that continues to propel Pratt, Pillow, and a 50-member staff in Casselberry, Florida – it’s all free.
The need, the numbers
“Every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor,” said Rev. Ed Norton who has served on Thirdmill’s board for 20 years.
Among ministry advocates, that oft-quoted maxim takes on audacious proportions considering that the need for trained pastors far exceeds the supply.
For example, according to The Atlas of Global Christianity, there are presently 500 million Christians in Africa. By 2050, that number will likely double. If the average church consists of 100 congregants, the need on the African continent by midcentury would be 10 million trained pastors.
“There aren’t enough traditional schools to meet the immediate need,” Norton said.
Meanwhile, the ratio of trained pastors to people is 1:230 in the U.S. compared to 1:450,000 outside the U.S., according to Training Leaders International (trainingleadersinternational.org).
Norton summarizes the global inadequacies this way: “In regions where the church is growing the fastest – including China, Russia, Latin America, and even some Muslim nations – the least opportunity exists for pastors to be trained in sound, biblical theology.”
By God’s grace, Thirdmill’s unique multimedia, multilingual, multi-format curriculum is bringing equity to that imbalance.
And it’s all free.
The media, the methods
Although the earliest ministry concepts literally involved cassette tapes mailed in cardboard boxes, that strategy soon gave way to an emerging computer technology called “The Internet.” A website was created, and Thirdmill officially launched in 1998.
The first video teaching series was titled He Gave Us Prophets. Soon the series was translated into Spanish and Russian, and later Chinese and Arabic. By 2005, the website had logged over six million hits.
By the end of the first decade of ministry, the number, quality, and demand for Christian leadership training resources had increased substantially. A wide variety of mission partners, including individuals, churches, seminaries, affinity groups, and prison ministries had begun to use Thirdmill teaching resources.
In 2011, SAT-7, a Christian satellite television network broadcasting across 25 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and 50 countries in Europe began broadcasting Thirdmill Arabic resources.
The God-sized vision of Thirdmill was becoming the reality expressed in the ministry’s tagline: Biblical Education. For the World. For Free.
Today, Thirdmill leverages every relevant level of communications technology to render trusted Bible training into whatever digital or conventional form students need, even an entire two-year seminary curriculum on a single USB thumb drive.
Presently, 119 courses are offered in five core languages; 77,324 people use social media or the Thirdmill mobile app to access resources; 147 ministry partners use the materials; and 77,324 users participate in structured online classrooms.
Courses are available in 18 languages that cover 65% of the global population. The 350-plus Thirdmill instructors represent a variety of evangelical traditions from across the globe. All are committed Christians.
The church, the commission
To westerners, it may seem that Christ’s church is shrinking. However, globally, the church is growing rapidly, according to Norton.
“God is building His church,” he said with assurance. “He is having his way in the world. A Christian’s response should be to fold into His plan, His wisdom, and His power. We are called to make the name of Jesus famous in all the world. That is really why we are alive.”
Norton is convinced that support of Thirdmill is one of the most effective and profound ways to fulfill that call.
“Businessmen like to talk in terms of ‘return on investment,’” Norton said. “I believe that Thirdmill has one of the highest spiritual returns on investments in the Christian world, especially considering the ministry’s reach, quality of resources, and the modest size of the operation.”
Another major reason Norton sees Thirdmill as such a valuable resource in extending God’s Kingdom is because it is free, a concept people often have a hard time grasping.
“Nobody believes you when you say it’s free,” he says with a chuckle. “And even when they do ‘get it,’ their response is often ‘What do you mean? Do you mean it doesn’t cost anything?’ So, obviously the material is not without cost to produce, but it takes some time for people to understand we really do give it away for ‘free.’”
Third Millennium Ministries
Third Millennium Ministries is a non-profit that is creating and distributing multimedia seminary curriculum in multiple languages and offering it to anyone who needs it, wherever they live, for free.
Learn more at thirdmill.org