Anything in the name of missions is to be applauded. How often have you heard that idea expressed in one way or another? It’s ironic that almost nothing else is shielded from critical thought in the same way. Imagine the government or a business operating under that principle. Without clear goals and objectives, it’s doubtful that much would be accomplished, more likely a smattering of half-hearted, half-finished endeavors would emerge with little by way of results.
This is an all too common pattern today. It’s a little scary that missions has been treated this way, the task Jesus entrusted those of us who are his followers. Is there hope? Can Biblical benchmarks reverse the pattern and meet the challenge?
A group of us gathered together at the DGC20 conference in Texas earlier this year with the goal of coming up with benchmarks for equipping believers to cross cultures with the Gospel. We believe that the Bible itself offers a powerful pattern for discipleship, and we used the WILD framework (Word, Identity, Life, Discipleship; an outline developed by church planters to describe 4 areas of church growth) to guide our discussion.
We arrived with questions, like “What does it mean for the local church to take on a greater role in equipping and sending cross-cultural workers? And how can we use modern technology to enhance training and provide flexibility without losing sight of Biblical discipleship?”
This summary of the conclusions at the DGC20 conference provides open minded leaders with a possible benchmark for training the next generation of great commission workers.
A good training program first introduces students to the Biblical narrative and helps them develop the skill of teaching the Narrative to others. Students should get excited about following Jesus further into his Story, and gain a fresh view of the Bible as one story.
This is something we see modelled for us in Scripture. For example, when the apostle Paul was speaking to a congregation who had not heard him speak before, he would present the Gospel in a comprehensive way suitable for an audience hearing it for the first time, as we see in Romans 1. We can think of Romans 1 as a model to follow. It provides a way to share the Narrative in a way that makes sense both in ancient times and in our day.
And what better context for students to learn to teach the Narrative than in their sending church? Teaching and discipling others in a familiar home context is important before travelling across the world to do it in a foreign language and culture.
Both trainers and students need to have a Biblical understanding of their identity, in particular their relationship to God and to each other. To know we are all owned by God, as He has graciously adopted us into His family, means that we are all learning together; no one has “arrived”. The students belong to God, not to the trainers or their program; a conviction that will greatly help the students when someday they are discipling new believers elsewhere. As life-long, humble learners, teachers can model the expectation that growth takes time, and that failure is part of the life of a Follower. If we can model this in our training programs, then our new church planters can approach the ones they will be discipling with that same patient humility.
Training students to do church planting elsewhere requires that the students themselves be first concerned with their own progress in walking with Christ. Training must help students become aware of their own journey in following Christ, so that they’ll be able to more humbly and skillfully coach others in that same journey.
Trainers, again, must model this by sharing their own journey of growth (that they are currently in) with those they are trying to train. An effective training experience should help students develop skills in sharing their lives with others (both the saved and the unsaved around them). Again, the local church is the ideal place for this as students observe the life of the church and put their learning into practise. For example, church is a great context for them to learn to handle interpersonal conflict, among other things, as preparation for handling team issues on the field.
And finally, training should include instruction about the role of God’s people in each other’s lives in promoting growth and learning. Students should be developing clarity about Jesus as the true Master of their own lives, and of all others that are being discipled. In a very real sense, people are disciples of Christ, more than they are “my disciples”. Training programs should work hard to establish the Word of God as the only reliable touchstone for the life and growth of a disciple (as opposed to unhelpful perspectives that esteem other human beings as ultimate sources of Truth and answers).
We must conclude that the task of equipping believers to spread the Good News should be taken seriously. It can seem daunting at every turn. Numerous ideas and rapid mission strategies are clamoring for our allegiance. Is it possible to come up with Biblical benchmarks that we can apply to all these ideas? The answer is a resounding yes. We believe that the Bible itself offers a powerful pattern and clear goals for church planting and discipleship.
This is goodbye to the idea that anything under the guise of missions is applaudable. To be a good church planter is to build according to the plan laid out in Scripture. It is no less important for a training provider, whether a formal training center or more informal in a church setting, to have clear, Biblically derived goals.
We hope that these conclusions provide leaders with a possible benchmark for training the next generation of great commission workers, so that they, in turn, can build according to the pattern laid out in Scripture.
The DGC20 talks are available for you to watch here.