The ACLAME ministry began many years ago to help missionaries involved in teaching and training ministries. Several missionaries who we saw involved in such ministries told us that they were not educators. It is true that the title educator can be intimidating and many feel that they do not qualify. It was important and necessary to broaden the definition! Our mission statement declares that ACLAME exists to connect and encourage LAC missionaries as they disciple, teach, mentor and train others for ministry. Teaching takes place in both formal and informal settings, in large or small groups, even with just one other person.
The purpose of this article is to affirm and encourage missionaries in their teaching and educational ministries and to help them understand teaching as part of missionary tradition, missionary function, missionary strategy and missionary legacy.
Teaching and Missionary Tradition
Melvin Hodges established SEC – Servicio de Educación Cristiana (Christian Education Services) in 1960 to coordinate and unify the few Bible schools that existed at that time, at least one in each of the Spanish-speaking countries. Louise Walker, SEC’s first coordinator (1960-1968), worked with key missionaries to develop a unified course plan that later would be called the Plan Básico. They developed individual courses and even wrote needed textbooks, many of which are still used today!
SEC’s ministry has expanded and grown from those humble beginnings, evidenced by the disproportionate number of Bible schools and students that are studying in those classrooms. One of every ten A/G believers lives in Spanish-speaking LAC, yet nearly half of all A/G Bible schools (extensions and study centers) and nearly half of all students studying in those schools live in Spanish-speaking LAC. Thanks to the solid foundation laid by our pioneer missionary educators, our leaders continue to give strong emphasis to Christian education and ministerial training!
Our early missionary pioneers forged the core tasks of evangelizing, planting churches and teaching believers, doing so as loving servants of Jesus Christ. As the Holy Spirit moved across LAC in different countries at different times, rapid growth helped our pioneer missionaries recognize the importance of teaching and training, not just to ground new believers in the faith, but also to prepare new leaders to share the load!
Dick Nicholson, in his ACLAME article Why Is Ministerial Training Important in LAC?, shares about a trip to El Salvador and a conversation with John Bueno about the ministry of Ralph Williams and Melvin Hodges at the beginning of the work in that country. After returning home, he listened to a podcast of an interview with Melvin Hodges, author of the LAC missions manual, The Indigenous Church. Dick writes,
“Melvin Hodges, our Field (now Regional) Director in LAC in the early years, talks about the need for teaching, the missiological (indigenous church) principles that guided the work and the priority of Pentecostalism in missions then and now. Dr. Hodges talks about how chief pastors of the fledgling work in El Salvador wrote a letter to our headquarters asking for missionaries and one of the first ones sent was Ralph Williams, who was in Mexico at the time. Williams found that the great need was for teaching.” [i]
Teaching and Missionary Function
There is still a great need for missionaries to be involved in teaching today! In fact, training should be a priority task for a missionary. In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul names the ministry leadership offices (or gifts) and summarizes their single purpose: “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” (NLT) Where the missionary fits in this gift list is not as important as understanding that it is a ministry leadership position that carries with it the responsibility to equip God’s people.
Many missionaries will serve in the office of teacher (Eph. 4:11, 1 Cor. 12:29). Others will exercise the spiritual gift called teaching (Rom. 12:7). These and others will carry out the function of teaching as a responsibility of their office or assignment. For example, a pastor is a teacher because he serves in the office of pastor[ii]. In addition, Paul includes teaching as a qualification for office (1 Tim. 3:2, 2 Tim. 2:24, Tit. 1:9). Therefore, even if a missionary does not believe he is a teacher or does not feel he has the gift of teaching, it will be very difficult to avoid the responsibility to teach.
Dave Ellis, our LAC Regional Director, includes training as one of the core three missionary functions: Training, Church Planting and Missions Mobilization. These functions align well with what used to be called the four pillars of missions, now referred to as primary tasks: Evangelism, Church Planting, Training and Serving (Compassion). Hard core missionary educators would further suggest that training is foundational to the core! These core functions or tasks are not limited to missionary work, since they also outline the basic strategy of the church to fulfill the Great Commission.
Teaching and Missionary Strategy
REACH, TEACH, MOBILIZE is a simple ministry model that serves well as missions strategy, especially for missionaries with a primary focus in teaching and training. TEACH is the important connector task, extending back into REACH to provide follow-up, orientation and discipleship to new believers, helping to incorporate them into a church family. In addition, TEACH extends forward into MOBILIZE by providing necessary orientation and training. A more detailed description of each will show that all three elements are interconnected.
REACH. Some think of evangelism as an event. The principle action of the evangelist is proclamation: “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:15-16, NLT). The “proclaimer” may or may not have a personal relationship with the hearer or contact. The desired result is belief, a decision one makes for Christ. The Holy Spirit uses the proclaimed Word to convict of sin and convince of the truth of the gospel.
What if, instead, we think of reaching people for Christ as a process, with the focus on disciple-making? “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). In this model, the disciple-maker generally has personal, sustained contact with the “hearer”, who is also observing the life and actions of the disciple-maker. The Holy Spirit uses the Word and the witness of the evangelist in the process of becoming a follower of Jesus.
The model “The Three P’s of Evangelism” [iii] suggests there are three elements to evangelism: Presence, Proclamation and Persuasion. This model supports the concept of evangelism as a process where the Holy Spirit uses the evangelist’s presence (Matthew 5:13-16 – life, testimony, fruit of the Spirit, etc.) to affirm the truth of the gospel message. In addition, the evangelist accepts his or her responsibility to guide and persuade his or her friend in appropriate moments to take the next step in the journey to becoming a follower of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11 – encouragement, guidance, counsel, etc.). Some add a fourth P – Propagation to the model in order to emphasize that all believers are called to be disciple-makers!
James F. Engel, introduced the Engel Evangelism Scale in his book What’s Gone Wrong with the Harvest? [iv] Engel suggests that conversion is a process that begins long before conversion. The steps of the pre-conversion process are identified by negative numbers; conversion is the number 0; and positive numbers represent Christian growth and levels of discipleship. Every person fits somewhere on the Engel Scale! Some have correctly renamed Engel’s Evangelism Scale as the Discipleship Scale, thus introducing the argument that true disciple-making begins before conversion!
TEACH. Where does TEACH begin on the discipleship scale? Does a person need to be converted to receive teaching? Does a person become fully taught at some moment in MOBILIZE? These are rhetorical questions with obvious answers to remind us that TEACH must be broadly defined. TEACH begins pre-conversion and continues for the whole life of a disciple of Jesus. In essence, TEACH is disciple-making!
The SEC Directory Board (national superintendents, directors and international ministry team) meets the end of August for our triennial meeting. We will culminate six years of strategic planning we have called the 20/20 Vision campaign. Individual ministries will present some very innovative proposals. However, the process began by identifying five core values that our member countries and ministries share in common: Comprehensive Teaching/Training, Pentecostal Distinctive, Accessibility, Ownership and Unity.[v] A wise missionary will understand and embrace these values in his or her missionary teaching context.
The first value, comprehensive teaching and training (formación integral), relates to all three aspects of our missionary strategy. Five characteristics illustrate these connections:
- Personal. Discipling new believers (and teaching “pre-believers”) includes spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, Bible reading and obedience, church attendance, giving, growing the fruit of the Spirit, service, etc.
- Pentecostal. Leading believers into the experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Teaching believers to learn to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, commitment to obey that voice, dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Helping believers understand their call to service and the Spirit’s gifts and enablements.
- Practical. Biblical, theological and ministerial training at all levels. Vocational emphasis rather than academic.
- Presence. Whenever and wherever possible, offer teaching and training in community, in a traditional classroom setting where an experienced believer teaches and inspires his or her students (Prov. 27:17).
- Premiere. Teach well (Rom. 12:7). When we teach well, our students will learn well. Strive for life-long learners.
Comprehensive teaching and training begins early and lasts a lifetime. The local church lays the foundation for comprehensive teaching and training. National structures, programs and institutions are vital to MOBILIZE the church. The more missionaries supporting and involved in these structures, programs and institutions, the better!
MOBILIZE. Mobilize is a military term. It is the action of a country or government to prepare and organize troops for active service. Mobilize implies movement and action. The pastor and leaders of a church mobilize inactive members into service, even redeploying active members to new ministries or locations. In missions terms, the church mobilizes or deploys (sends) missionaries out for active service, activating new ministry in new places.
Mobilize also implies preparation. As mentioned earlier, TEACH extends into MOBILIZE by providing very important orientation and training. Perhaps the most important element of mobilization is sustainability. Missionaries are mobilized to mobilize others. This is our legacy!
Teaching and Missionary Legacy
My wife and I have adopted 2 Timothy 2:2 (along with many of our fellow missionary educator friends) as our life ministry verse: “And the things you’ve heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable people who will also be quality to teach others.” (NIV) This transgenerational disciple-making model ensures legacy.
Entrust is the action required to activate transgenerational disciple-making. Entrust is a rich word that suggests that relationship is important in the transaction, that what is being passed on is of great value, and that teaching in its broadest sense is the method.
In conclusion, please consider the following practical suggestions:
If missionary work is starting new ministry in new places, please don’t do it alone! The old African proverb fits here: “If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
From the very beginning, look for a Timothy to disciple and train. Be a mentor. Inspire, guide, encourage and correct. Determine to train your replacement from the start.
Embrace your teaching role even if you are not a teacher. Connect with a community. Look for teaching opportunities. Befriend leaders involved in education and training in your country, especially if no other missionary is doing so. Remember, local church teaching and training is the foundation. Sunday school and discipleship matters!
Don’t stop learning! Read a book. Take a class. Attend national and international training events.
Be an advocate. Support and get involved in the national program. Keep watch over it! (Acts 20:28) Lead from the middle. Use your influence to make it better and stronger.
Finally, I challenge you to not just make disciples; make disciple-makers!
[ii] Many scholars replace “pastors and teachers” of Eph. 4:11 with pastors-teachers, suggesting that it is a single office with two intertwined functions. By nature of the office, a pastor must be a teacher. References for teacher and teaching exist apart from the office of pastor-teacher. Therefore, a teacher does not need to hold the office of pastor. Even so, the best teacher will pastor his or her class!
[iii] Origin unknown. I learned of it as a part of our curriculum as a teacher of Personal Evangelism Seminars sponsored by the International Bible Society during the decade of the 1980s.
[iv] James F. Engel, What’s Gone Wrong with the Harvest?, Zondervan, 1975
[v] The five values are described in Rod Boyd’s Spanish-language article Cinco valores esenciales que definen el ministerio del SEC, October 2017.