by Paul Kaak
Churches and agencies should consider taking a closer look at the track record of the people they send to plant churches or train national church planters.
Our church took a stand that has received some pretty heavy resistance. As a matter of policy, "we will only send and support proven disciple-making leaders." Church-planting missionaries who are released from our church must possess basic apostolic skills: the ability to lead people to Christ, disciple them in the context of a Christian community, and raise up leaders from among believers, and they must have multiplied two groups in this way.
Some people have no interest in such a challenge. They are too busy raising support, or don’t feel they need such validation because they have attended seminary, or feel they will get on-the-job training once they get to the field.
I want to offer some reasons why churches and agencies should consider taking a closer look at the track record of the people they send to plant churches or train national church planters.
COMMON SENSE DICTATES IT
We wouldn’t send a doctor into surgery without the proper hands-on training. The teen testing for his driver’s license must show that he is able to keep the car on the road. And yet, we still support missionaries who haven’t (as a way of life) done any of the "stuff" that effective missionaries do. Common sense suggests that we should expect more from those we commission for the Lord’s work.
THE BIBLE CALLS FOR IT
Because our church looks for explicit validation of people’s call to missions before they go, some have accused us of being legalistic and more concerned about doing than being. However, the Scriptures support the need to authenticate a person’s ministry.
Proverbs says, "Like an archer who wounds everyone, so is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by" (Prov. 26:10, NASB). See also Proverbs 20:6 and 20:11.
When Jeremiah questioned his calling, God said, "If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5) That is a profound word to those who presume they are called to run with horses in a thicket-cross-culturally.
Look at how Jesus trained his disciples. He sent them out on ministry trips to do the things that he would one day leave them behind to do. By the time the events in Acts 2 occurred, they were experienced in ministry.
In Acts 6, when the growing early church needed additional leadership for ministries of compassion, the apostles suggested that it select seven men to take this responsibility. According to Chuck Swindoll in The Birth of an Exciting Vision: A Study of Acts 1:1-9:43, "the apostles used the Greek word that means to inspect or examine. They did not want just the first seven volunteers. Instead, they instructed the congregation to thoughtfully evaluate the men of the assembly and then choose seven." They needed seven men who had proven they could carry out the task. When the Spirit called out Paul and Barnabas as church planters in Acts 13, he selected the two most proven, experienced, fruitful disciple makers in the Antioch Church.
In 1 Timothy 3:10, Paul described the type of man who could be a deacon-he "must first be tested." God expects all of us to be faithful. But those who serve in more extensive ministry, especially cross-culturally, must also show themselves to be fruitful.
THE CHURCH’S GIVING BASE EXPECTS IT
James Engel wrote in the September 24, 1990, Christianity Today that "unless radical changes are made… Christian Baby Boomers will not provide the human and financial resources needed for accelerated evangelism in the 1990s." As a pastor in a church of "Gen Xers," I can tell you they have the same attitude. While part of the challenge is to capture the Baby Busters’ imagination for carrying out the Great Commission, their low trust levels call us to be more accountable with the money they give. Because "missions" can be a notorious resource waster and today’s generation refuses to put its hard-earned income into a black hole, we need to show them that the people we send will (with God’s help) have a fruitful ministry.
THE RECEIVING CHURCH ASKS FOR IT
No one listening to Christian leadership in the Two-Thirds World and Europe can ignore the cry articulated in this journal in January,1990, by David Zac Niringiye of Uganda. He said, "The missionary comes to us, feeling that he or she would like to do evangelism and church planting in a different culture. But in some cases, they have never done evangelism and discipleship in their own neighborhood and churches. . . . We need more proven leaders on the mission field. Unfortunately, I have met many missionaries who need more learning and experience." Many leaders in the church outside North America echo Niringiye’s comments.
After a recent trip with Mission 21 India, I felt tremendously humbled. I met scores of national church planters who work, take classes, and care for their families while visiting 1,000 homes in their year of training, starting prayer cells, discipling converts, planting a house church, and training apprentice planters. All for a minimal salary.
Unfortunately, many Americans don’t take the job as seriously. We ask hundreds of people and churches to support us with huge amounts of money despite the fact that we have never started one small group with mostly new believers in it. The receiving church asks for, and deserves, better than mere talk about being a committed "world Christian."
CONFIRMATION OF THE MISSIONARY’S CALLING DEMANDS IT
Mission agencies know that the attrition rate among new missionaries is higher than it should be. Churches don’t know how to respond to the missionary who says he or she is returning home. We are sending people for a wide variety of reasons, but often not on the basis of a proven call. We do them a favor by helping them validate their call to the difficult, lonely, draining work of cross-cultural church planting before they face life in a strange and far away place.
Of course, the questions of call and adequacy will still come. But if we put the bar higher earlier in the ball game, the candidate can process doubts and draw conclusions in the company of wise counselors: "Yes, I am called. I can do it. And I will do it even when it gets tough!" Or, "No. This is not for me. I’m glad I found out now!"
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS OF EXPECTING LOCAL PROVENNESS
First, training future missionaries locally means that strategic disciple-making ministry can happen in the church’s own backyard. Those a local church is preparing for ministry can impact its own Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. These people will gain experience in making disciples and helping form small groups. This practice can even stimulate a church’s interest in cross-cultural ministry.
Second, future church-planting missionaries are converted from the harvest, and discipled and trained right in the harvest. Some of the best missionaries are those who were evangelized, discipled and trained as leaders-correctly-here. How thrilling to think that some of the people our churches will send out have not even come to Christ-yet!
Third, church leaders can address issues of emotional maturity and character before a person gets thousands of miles-and thousands of mission dollars-away from home. Many people today have a lot of "dysfunctional baggage" to work through. It will surface. The question is, where? Once they are far away from their own culture; family, friends and helpful resources, emotional disaster could strike. Wouldn’t it be better to deal with it amid the pressures of ministry stateside rather than on the field?
Fourth, candidates can bond with the local releasing church in the context of training. In doing so, they will discover prayer and financial supporters who know them and their work. The church must know its missionaries. Pastors, board members, key leaders, and friends must be aware of who they are and what kind of ministry they are doing.
Asking candidates to get experience making disciples now allows the local church to see them in action and decide if it can approve them before they board the plane. This can lead to more fervent and intentional prayer (and giving) once they head out.
Fifth, mission agencies who connect with churches that take provenness seriously can know what they are getting. Many mission agencies still accept appointees who seem to have promise, but aren’t proven. When a church follows these recommendations and then proposes a candidate to an agency, it will, as one agency representative said, "allow me to sleep well at night."
Finally, candidates can learn to be tentmakers by doing. Since tentmakers (or "kingdom professionals") are more and more in demand in restricted access nations, we are wise to train all of our candidates how to do ministry as they work or go to school. Yes, it makes life busy here in the U.S, but no busier than it will be in another, more unfamiliar location. The truth is, every Christian should learn how to make disciples while making a living.
We must take care, however, to build in our candidates a commitment to universal principles, not a specific disciple-making methodology. For example, our church, committed as it is to "cell-based" disciple-making and church planting, must recognize this approach may have to be adapted in some cultures. Our emphasis should be teaching our people the principles of culturally appropriate evangelism and biblically functioning community, not a set of "how to’s" done in preparatory work.
Provenness training must balance obedience and effectiveness with issues of character, teamwork, and biblical expertise. Ignoring the fruits of the Spirit and the beatitudes is as much a disservice as ignoring the issues of faithfulness and fruitfulness to the Great Commission. Improvement in one area does not mean we falter in another. While a Master of Divinity may or may not be necessary, a functioning knowledge of the Bible and theology is!
In Developing the Leaders Around You, John Maxwell quotes Archibald MacLeish’s challenge: "There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience." Maxwell adds, "People without proven track records either haven’t learned from their mistakes or haven’t tried …. Always check a candidate’s past performance. A proven leader always has a proven track record."
My challenge is to both churches and mission agencies, in the hope they can work together to build an effective corps of missionaries. Hold a high commitment to the basics of what makes a missionary truly apostolic: evangelizing lost people, discipling an emerging community of new Christians, and training leaders who emerge from these communities. We need proven leaders in these foundational areas to complete the Great Commission.
For more information, see Raising Leaders from the Harvest by Robert E. Logan and Neil Cole, CRM Publishing, 1996.
Paul Kaak is pastor of global extension at New Song Church and a staff member with The Leadership Institute, both based in Southern California.
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