What sets The Master’s Academy International apart? We think there are at least six elements that make this ministry model distinct. Today we’re focused on distinctive #5: Maturity. Our training centers take seriously the call to fully equip pastor-teachers for the work of the ministry. We’re not training mere academics; we’re intent on producing mature, biblically qualified, godly pastors—who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).
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About ten years ago, Sebastian suffered an injury that interrupted his career as a professional soccer player in Italy. Through that experience, he came to know the gospel and the Lord graciously saved him, giving him a deep desire to know His Word—and to share it with others. Because of that desire, Sebastian decided to enroll at the Italian Theological Academy. But when he first came to ITA in 2011, neither he nor his professor and pastor, Johnny Gravino, had any idea where the next decade would take them.
“Never would we have imagined when the work began in Messina that, by God’s grace, our training would produce several faithful men to serve as leadership of our local church,” Johnny says. “Sebastian is one such man.”
Since enrolling at ITA, Sebastian has matured from a young athlete and earnest new believer into a gifted preacher and faithful servant of the church. “When he first came to us,” Johnny says, “we had no idea what kind of skills or abilities he might have.” But Sebastian quickly proved to be competent in his studies, in his administrative role on staff at ITA, and his service to the local church where Johnny served as senior pastor. “He gave up all he had to know the Word and to know more about ministry in the local church. Since then, the Lord has matured him—and matured the Bible Church of Messina through him and his faithful service to the body.”
As Sebastian was growing in his ability to understand God’s Word and apply it to the lives of others, he was simultaneously learning to live it out himself. Here’s Sebastian’s own testimony about the training and discipleship he’s received over the last decade:
After the Lord saved me in His grace, He led me to the ministry of the Italian Theological Academy (ITA). I attended my very first class in 2011, and from that moment, I understood that the teaching I was receiving was instrumental to my growth in understanding Scripture. The depth of the Word taught, as well as the integrity of the professors, was an absolute blessing to my spiritual life. The professors gave me a model to follow—both as expositors of the Word and as men of God. I understood that the Word needed to be interpreted within its proper historical context in order to grasp the authorial intent and apply it effectively to my walk with Christ. This was the goal.
Along with the classroom experience at ITA, another important part of my training and spiritual growth was to become a part of the Bible Church of Messina, where Johnny Gravino was pastor. The continual discipleship I received there, the regular exposition of the Scripture I heard, as well as my own service in that local body all began to strengthen me and help me maintain the proper relationship between the classroom and the church. I was able to apply what I was learning in a practical and healthy ministry context. The Lord further convinced me that a sound, biblical philosophy of ministry needed to accompany theological training. I understood my pastoral role very clearly: I was to be faithful—faithful to God’s Word, and faithful to His plan for the church as revealed in His Word.
Today, I have the privilege of serving the Lord as the pastor of the Bible Church of Messina. I also have the responsibility to do this as His under-shepherd according to His will. I am so grateful to the Lord for having given me several years of preparation through ITA and through its practical training ground at the Bible Church of Messina. Shepherding God’s flock is what I want to do with His help, simply continuing to do what others before me have already done—what the Lord has already revealed in His Word.
Not only has Sebastian matured tremendously in his own life and ministry, but his growth has mirrored the trajectory of the ministry of ITA.
“We’re at the edge—if I can say that—of a coming to maturity that we’re very grateful for,” says Johnny. After years of ministry in Messina, Sicily, the Italian Theological Academy is preparing to expand its reach. Because of what the Lord has accomplished through the ministry in Sicily, ITA now has the opportunity to partner with likeminded churches in Rome—a strategic location for serving even more pastors and local churches throughout Italy. And now that men like Sebastian have been carefully discipled to this point of maturity, Johnny is free to pursue those strategic opportunities. ITA will continue to operate an extension campus in Messina under Sebastian’s leadership, while relocating the headquarters of the academy to Rome. This transition will begin a significant new chapter in the training ministry of ITA.
I understood my pastoral role very clearly: I was to be faithful—faithful to God’s Word, and faithful to His plan for the church as revealed in His Word.
“It’s really a coming to maturity for us,” Johnny reiterates. “We’re on the edge of a new beginning.”
As Sebastian reflects on both the joys and the weightiness of the many ministry responsibilities the Lord has now entrusted to him, he has one conclusion: “I need to pray. And I need people to pray for me.” Please do pray for Sebastian—as well as for Johnny and the exciting new ministry opportunities that lie ahead for ITA. Pray that the church in Italy would be greatly blessed by the fruit of ITA: men like Sebastian, equipped for the ministry for the sake of the maturity of the church in Italy. And pray that believers in Italy would continue to be established in truth and love, growing up “in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
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If this approach to fulfilling our Lord’s commission to “make disciples of all nations” resonates with you, we’d invite you to pray about how you might partner with The Master’s Academy International. Whether by interceding for these indigenous church leaders in prayer, giving financially to provide biblical education to pastors-in-training around the world, or even getting your entire church involved, you have the opportunity to make an enduring, kingdom impact.