by Paul Long
The center for missions sending agencies is shifting from North America and Western Europe to Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
The center for missions sending agencies is shifting from North America and Western Europe to Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Therefore, the North American and Western European agencies must reassess how they want to participate in this movement. The churches they have established now are reaching the unreached, both within and beyond their national borders. There is some evidence to suggest that some of the unreached groups are more responsive to missionaries from Asia, Latin America, and Africa than they are to missionaries from the traditional sending countries.
The need is critical for Western mission leaders and church leaders in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to get together and thrash out how to equip people for cross-cultural ministries. For while the center for sending is shifting, this new source of missionaries has scarcely been tapped. The potential is far beyond present commitment.
The future lies with those rapidly growing churches in countries where the population is also exploding. The basic question is, How can we harness this vast potential? How can the older established missionary societies help these churches to train their people for cross-cultural ministries? How can the so-called Third World missionaries be better equipped for service?
As is the case with training missionaries in North America and Europe, so it is elsewhere. We must deal with both theological and practical matters. We cannot assume that spiritual priorities are straight, or that theology is correct. So we must begin with the theological concerns, because the underlying issue in mission commitment is theological.
The bedrock issue to be settled is man’s lostness without Christ. If the either-orness of the gospel fades in doctrinal significance, commitment to missions loses its urgency and falls from the top priority among the church’s concerns.
But that doctrinal conviction is not enough, We must be certain that would-be missionaries understand the necessity of living a Spirit-filled life. Without the Holy Spirit’s remodeling, so to speak, there is little likelihood that anyone will have a burning desire to commit himself to sacrificial missionary service. We must spell out the cost of living among non-Christians. We must be clear about the necessity of having a deep desire to lead people to Christ and to train them in Christian living so that they become productive members of the church.
In a nutshell, our training must not skip the crucial principle laid down by the Lord Jesus Christ: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (In, 12:24).
When it comes to living out this principle, the Western missionary himself is on the spot. He cannot hope to inspire missionary motivation among the people he serves without himself reflecting the concern, love, and commitment of the Lord Jesus, While he teaches, he demonstrates concern for the poor, the suffering, the widows and orphans, the outcasts of society.
Modeling Christ in the church and community is costly. It threatens our lifestyle. It scares missionaries to think that they are called upon to say with the apostle Paul, in effect: "Watch me. Be like I am. Do what 1 do." (Cf. Phil. 3:17; I Cor, 4:15, 16, for example.) But that is what we must do, if we are to lay the proper foundation for participation in Christ’s mission.
A word of caution here. One problem we face in modeling for missionary motivation and preparation among Third World believers is that they see Western missionaries in non-missionary roles: scholars, teachers, pastors, technicians of various kinds, doctors, administrators, and soon. While from the Western standpoint these are acceptable mission, roles, what does this say to the young adults and students in the churches? Where do they see the Westerners doing the foot-slogging, infantry-type missionary work, pushing back the frontiers of unbelief?
What do our desk jobs within the comfortable confines of established churches say about our priorities in mission? How do church members see us participating in evangelism and starting new churches? If they see us rubbing shoulders with the crowds, doing street evangelism, holding Bible studies with the unconverted, and going on treks into virgin, hostile territory, that will be our best teaching about missionary commitment.
Before looking for some components of missionary training programs for Third World missionaries, a general comment is in order about what happens when we take people out of their environment for such training. We hope, of course, that along with Bible, theology, and lessons in evangelism and church planting, the student will emerge with an enlarged vision and understanding of the worldwide mission of the church. But along with that often comes, unconsciously to be sure, subtle changes in thinking and even speaking. So while we are teaching our hearts out, some of our students may suffer diminished abilities to minister among their own people.
I have no answer for this. For if we fail to give them adequate training for cross-cultural mission, we limit their effectiveness in training their own people and cut them off from reaching out to others beyond their own borders. Throughout their schooling, we must remind would-be missionaries of this persistent peril.
Part of the fallout from this institutional dilemma is lack of missionary vision in the local church. We all know that generally missionaries come from missions-minded churches led by missions-minded pastors. The same principle applies in African, Asian, and Latin American churches. Yet all too often the typical pattern of our church planting efforts is that after the church is founded and leaders trained, vision for outreach dies. The prime efforts go into church maintenance, rather than to looking for unreached people.
Of course, not all of the blame for this lies with the pastor. The Western missionary himself may have lost his sense of urgency and his cross-cultural, evangelistic, church-planting mobility.
The church that takes the Great Commission seriously will, of course, reach out to people in the community, but it will not stop there. Once this principle is both "taught and caught," we will see participation in worldwide mission. Local churches will recognize the giftedness of their members, some of them for cross-cultural mission. Pastors will instruct their members in the vital support roles of faithful intercession and sacrificial giving.
So, we cannot consider missionary mobilization and training in the Third World apart from the local church context. Where Western missionaries are instrumental in founding and nurturing churches, they must encourage, admonish, and map out practical steps for mission work.
One of the most significant things that happened to me in Brazil was to see this process take place, I had a hand in planting churches in North Goias State. Those churches challenged their young people to go to Bible schools to become missionaries. They supported them while in school. Then they sent them out with me into new pioneer areas to start churches. Meanwhile, the sending churches have grown as they participated in the mission outreach.
Now the time is ripe for churches like these in Brazil and in other countries to band together and organize missionary societies. Western missionaries can help in this effort, so that resources can be pooled for sending missionaries beyond national boundaries. It is to this kind of training that we must give quality investment of funds and personnel.
We come now to the bottom line of this article: How can North American and European missionaries help the churches of Africa, Asia, and Latin America to develop missionary vision, to train, and then to support their own missionaries. Based on my own experiences in this regard, I offer the following ideas.
Foreigners can help the local church by sharing their vision of winning the lost to Jesus Christ, by demonstrating their concern for them, by going to them in company with nationals, witnessing and demonstrating Christian love. They can help to establish leadership training centers through programs like theological education by extension (TEE), Well-written programs are now available in several languages and much new material is being produced.
Missionaries can have key roles in the development of these programs. If they are to succeed, however, we must have nationals participate in planning, production, and administration.
For years, missionaries have established Bible schools, colleges, and professional training institutions to produce teachers, pastors, and other personnel for Christian ministries. The Bible schools have been and remain the most effective instruments in preparing people to move into new areas as missionaries. The graduates are wellqualified for their work, yet not too highly qualified to limit their communication among the people. Bible schools also have developed into TEE centers.
Missionary teachers in theological seminaries have been needed during the formative years of national churches, but they should not accept this as a permanent assignment. The most effective communicators are homegrown. Therefore, foreign teachers must be considered interim substitutes. Even the textbooks written by foreigners are substitutes that should be replaced as quickly as possible with texts written by nationals.
The most serious problem in training Third World missionaries is, How can missions be modeled? Where can the churches find missions professors who can model the missionary role and both inspire and instruct students?
I talked with Paulo Breda, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, about this. His insights as a layman and educator are helpful. He said, "The professor of missions must be practical, because to teach missions only in theory is a total frustration for him and for the students. He should consider a field, prepare a strategy for it, then try his theory in that field with his students."
Theory must be field-tested. The teacher must have field experience and academic training. But there’s more, according to Dr. Breda:
"The missions professor must really understand the man to be reached, understand his habitat, and he must know the best way to reach him. Processes and methods should be adapted to the need of the people sought in each type and region."
From my standpoint, I would like to add that the requisite field experience should have been both fruitful and satisfying. Not all missionaries are happy and fulfilled in their work. We don’t need them to teach others. We want the other kind, because happy memories of field work add gumption to the missionary-teacher as he inspires others.
Perhaps this may seem unnecessary, but we cannot overlook the fact that the model of future missionaries should have the gift of teaching. Along with the gift, he should have some training in missiology.
In recent conversations with seminary students overseas, I asked, "What is your greatest need here?" Several students said, "Spiritual professors who model what they teach."
I asked the professors at the same school what they saw as the greatest need. Several said, "Spiritual students who know why they are here and who really want to grow." "What are you doing about this need?" I asked. "We are praying together, students and faculty, for God to work his will in our lives," they said.
These comments show how hard it is to build the work of God into any training program, but no program can be effective without it. Perhaps part of the answer, in addition to prayer, is to choose more mature students. This is what the Pentecostals in Brazil do. They pick only seasoned Christian leaders for further training. This is in contrast to what other churches do. They take young people, send them away for training, and then put them in leadership positions without their having had any on-the-job training.
Waldir Luz has been a seminary professor in Brazil for 26 years. I asked him to list the qualifications for one who would teach Third World missionaries. This is what he said they should have: (l) piety that is real and transforming; (2) understanding of the Bible and its application in life; (3) an ability to communicate his biblical understanding of the faith; (4) humility to lower his living standards to suffer with and for the people, in order to communicate with them; (5) an evangelistic spirit that constantly seeks others for Christ. Larry Keyes, president of Overseas Crusades and author of The Last Age of Missions, a study of Third World missionary agencies, finds that Brazil has at least 30 sending agencies with at least 660 missionaries serving both in Brazil and in other countries. Yet, he says, in light of Brazil’s protential, it is only a beginning. The same could be said of other countries as well.
Surely the time is ripe for equipping nationals for cross-cultural ministry. It is not easy. It is a complicated process that must be done under the leadership and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
God usually works through human instruments whom he enlightens, enables, and aids. He will work through both North American and European missionary-teacher models and the growing ranks of candidates and leaders from the churches in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
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