The Essential Role of Training in Missionary Work
By Rod and Sherry Boyd
So what does a missionary do anyway? Traditionally, the missionary has been portrayed as a white man donning Bermuda shorts and a pith helmet, wielding a machete to clear a path through the jungle, taking the Good News to a remote African tribe. More recently, with the rising emphasis on short-term trips, missions has come to mean a group of young people doing mime in a city park, building a home for a needy family, or holding babies in an orphanage.
Nevertheless, we who are involved intimately in the work as missionaries understand that Assemblies of God World Missions has always followed a basic, four-fold strategy that describes the essence of what a missionary does: Reach, plant, teach and serve (care).
Missionary work starts with evangelism, preaching the gospel, reaching people for Christ. In the early days of missions, the missionary almost always was planting new churches as the fruit of evangelism. The smart missionary realized he could not do all the work. Teaching and training new believers for service, ministry and leadership was an important part of his work. The missionary would choose a Timothy, discipling him to eventually become pastor of the new work. The missionary helped the new congregation to understand the importance of being light in the world, serving and loving its community… “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
Believers over 50 tend to identify more with the Evangelism task, but easily see the Planting task as the logical extension of evangelism. In contrast, those under 50 tend to identify more with the Serving task. Unfortunately, very few identify with how important the Teaching task is in missionary work. The purpose of this short article is to explain and illustrate why the teaching-training task must remain an essential part in missionary work.
Teaching may be used to capture the generic task of discipling people to grow in their relationship with Christ. When training could describe the more specific task of preparing God’s people to take their place of service in the body of Christ and world. The teaching-training task may be summarized using the following five outcomes: Incorporation, formation, qualification, multiplication and propagation. We’ll consider a biblical base for each term and in some cases illustrate each one from our own missionary experiences.
It is impossible to do true evangelism without discipleship. Jesus gave his church marching orders in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20, NIV). One of my good missionary friends recently reminded me that we are called to make disciples, not just see people make decisions.
There is an important relationship between baptism and the phrase teaching them to obey. Water baptism is an outward act that declares the inward work of salvation. Obedience is the observable evidence of successful teaching and discipleship. Both are necessary if the new believer is to be incorporated into the local church.
In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes the harmonious function of the body of Christ and defines the purpose of the ministry gifts given to the church:
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:11-16).
The ministry gift “missionary” doesn’t appear on the list in Ephesians 4:11. Many consider that missionaries are closely identified with apostles. Others would suggest that the Apostle Paul was functioning in all of the ministry gift areas as a missionary. Whatever ministry gift missionary may be, the purpose of all of the ministry gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4 is to prepare God’s people for works of service. As a ministry gift, the missionary must be involved in formation! Effective formation will result in the body of Christ becoming Christ-like, a growing body that functions efficiently and effectively.
The first two outcomes, incorporation and formation, are closely associated with the first two missionary tasks of evangelism and church planting. It is the local church that has the principle role to incorporate and form new believers. Missionary involvement in these two tasks has changed considerably from the early days. We are grateful to those first missionaries who evangelized and planted churches. Because of their sacrificial work and God’s blessing, today all 20 Spanish-speaking countries in the Latin America / Caribbean region have fully-functioning national church structures, with more than 20,000 churches pastored by nationals.
Today’s missionaries support the work of national churches to evangelize and plant churches. Some missionaries are still directly involved in these tasks, often in a strategic way that impacts hundreds or thousands of nationals doing the same. Many missionaries are involved in new frontiers of evangelism among unreached people groups (many of whom are indigenous), student and university students and children. As such, as they evangelize and plant churches, they are actively involved in teaching for incorporation and formation. The Latin America / Caribbean (LAC) Region of Assemblies of God World Missions has identified six initiatives, work priorities for our missionaries:
- Missions Mobilization – Prepare and send nationals as missionaries to the world
- Church Planting – Prepare and facilitate church planters
- Unreached People Groups – Prepare and facilitate efforts to reach unreached peoples
- University Students – Prepare and facilitate efforts to reach university students
- Children – Prepare and facilitate efforts to reach children
- Compassion Ministries – Prepare and reach out to the marginalized
Many missionaries are involved in the training task, in preparing God’s people to take their place of service in the church and world. Without effective training, it would be impossible to prepare the pastors needed for the 20,000 churches in Spanish-Speaking Latin America. Training is required to prepare those who will be involved in the six initiatives for our region. Training is the task that builds the infrastructure of ministry.
This brings us to the three training outcomes: Qualification, Multiplication and Propagation. All three of these outcomes are included in the “training formula” found in Paul’s words to Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). This verse has been the North Star of both our pastoral and missionary ministry for nearly 40 years!
The Ephesians 4 passage cited earlier suggests that there are degrees of preparedness. We’re all in process until we reach “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The training task implies that there is qualification in ministry. In essence, Paul told Timothy to pick good people and teach them to be better!
Our ministerial training program in LAC does the same. Those with a recognized call to serve God in ministry, who demonstrate basic proficiency in Bible, theology and ministry (gained at the local church level), are invited to enter the ministerial level of Bible school. A total of 96 credits of study are required to graduate from this level. Each credit represents 16 classroom hours and 32 additional hours of homework, reading and practical activity. This education is the norm for 99% who become ordained ministers in LAC.
We have the privilege of working with an army of volunteer teachers who are training even a larger army of Timothies. In 2008 we began a teacher certification program called PROCEPA for Bible school teachers. Most of these teachers are themselves only graduates of Bible school. We are encouraging them to continue in their education and become certified as teachers through PROCEPA and other advance study. Challenging our teachers with this new qualification has motivated them to continue learning and is helping them to be better Timothy trainers.
Many years ago,when faced with what seemed to be the impossible task of learning a new language, someone asked me, “How do you eat an elephant?” He told me, “One bite at a time.” This principle works whenever we’re faced with what seems to be an impossible task. Break it down into smaller, possible tasks. The principle and outcome of multiplication makes possible what seem to be impossible.
The Latin America Resource and Training Center (www.lartc.net) exists to enable leaders, train educators and develop resources. It works closely with about 75 key national and international leaders. These key leaders represent more than 1,000 directors of Bible schools and Christian schools that involve more than 6,000 Bible school teachers and 2,000 Christian school teachers in preparation of 43,000 Bible school students and ministry to and discipleship of 80,000 children and youth. How could we possibly impact all these people?
Our strategy relies upon the principle of multiplication. If we as missionaries are able to inspire, equip, somehow enable key leaders and some directors and teachers, we can then leverage our influence to multiply ministry to thousands of directors and teachers! Through international events such as the Educators Summits and Educational Leaders Dialogues, and national events such as the National PROCEPA Seminars and National Strategic Dialogues, in many of which our entire family of LAC missionaries is welcome to participate, we are now reaching the majority of our leaders and teachers.
This last outcome speaks of continuity. Effective training must include this survival component. It is passing on the important to future generations. Paul’s training formula emphasizes the generational nature of training:
“And the things
YOU (2nd Generation) have heard
ME (1st Generation) say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to
RELIABLE MEN (3rd Generation) who will also be qualified to teach
OTHERS (4th Generation).”
For Paul, it was ensuring that the doctrine and traditions would live on in future generations. Our basic teaching plan covers the entire Bible and both biblical and practical theology (how to do ministry). This message needs to be passed on. However, we also realize that how this is done needs to be constantly updated to keep it fresh and relevant. This is all a part of propagation.
So what does a missionary do anyway? These missionaries are committed to raising up Christian leaders throughout Latin America. We are committed to training that qualifies, training that multiplies ministry, and training that will live on for generations to come. We hope that this article has helped you to appreciate what we do as missionary trainers and why we believe it is important.