by Jeff Gulleson
Every missionary is called to invest his life in the lives of others. Teaching and training are the fulfillment of this calling.
In a day of specialization we speak of the missionary printer, the missionary doctor, the missionary pilot, the missionary journalist, and so on. Often we hear these specialists say, "I’m not called to teach, but to…"
I believe that regardless of a missionary’s specialization, he can have a personal teaching ministry. We cannot really separate teaching from any kind of missionary speciality. A missionary who doesn’t teach can easily become just a cog in a religious machine.
Every missionary is called to invest his life in the lives of others. Teaching and training are the fulfillment of this calling. As a general missionary/church planter in Madura, Indonesia, I’ve found at least six ways that every missionary can teach. He doesn’t have to set up a Bible school, a seminary, or an extension program. These ideas are simple, so simple that they’re used unconsciously by many missionaries, they’re efficient and surprisingly effective.
1. Encourage consistent Bible reading. Begin by guiding all converts in a program of consistent Bible reading. The Bible, after all, is great on evangelism, church government, doctrine, false teaching, and Christian education. The few believers we have in Madura listen to me teach the Bible twice a week for half an hour. How much better it is for them to read and study the Bible themselves regularly, so that the Holy Spirit can teach them every day for half an hour.
A young Chinese- Madurese has read the Bible through three times in twenty-seven months. His constant spiritual growth is understandable. Emphasize Bible reading. Use charts with slogans, like "Through the Bible in ’75." Encourage Scripture memorization. Almost every time I meet the Christians I ask them, "Have you read the Bible this morning?" Asking that regularly helps them to become consistent in their own Bible reading.
2. Start a library. What about a library? Through books your people can study the life of Augustine, read Whitefield on the new birth, and travel with Sadhu Sundar Singh to innermost Tibet. Doctrine, the Christian home, personal evangelism -almost any subject can be investigated in detail through books. Every missionary should have a personal lending library.
Some missionaries think they don’t have enough books in the language of the country to start a library. Well, how many books do you need? Two—one to lend and one on the shelf.
Take your books with you when you visit. Leave a book (or two or three) after your call. Keep a 3×5 card file record and next time around bring another book. A good book will do your teaching for you while you’re doing something else. It usually turns out that the readers in the church are the leaders also.
3. Use correspondence courses. Correspondence courses can be used effectively on a local scale. I have limited my outreach through this method to the island of Madura, 100 miles long by 25 miles wide. Using the courses available from several missions in Indonesia, I have developed a study program of 122 lessons. It begins with six lessons on the way of salvation and continues with the life of Christ, Acts, Christian living, the Gospel of John and Ephesians. Surprisingly, this takes little of my time; a few high school girls do the grading.
These courses help me sort out those to whom I should minister personally. The serious students complete their courses. They are the ones we should concentrate on; they are the future leaders. As John Wesley said, "Go to all and mostly to those who want you. "
Depending on how well your people grasp English as a second language, you can also use correspondence courses from U.S. schools (Moody Bible Institute, Emmaus Bible Institute, Fort Wayne Bible College, for example). I have helped three students complete Moody’s "Teaching for Results" course and they all did better than 89 percent. One young fellow spent 200 hours in Old Testament and 200 hours in New Testament survey courses.
Serious students don’t need to be sent overseas to understand theology. We can bring Bible institute and college courses right into their own homes.
4. Go on field trips and demonstrations. Some communications experts say that words are the hardest way to communicate, but that such things as field trips and demonstrations, among others, are more effective. Any missionary can teach in this category simply by taking believers along with him. For example, personal witnessing falls into this category.
Say you are calling on. an unbeliever. Invite a Christian to go with you. Besides the witnessing you are doing, you are also taking the Christian on a field trip and demonstration. He will see how you introduce yourself, what Scriptures you use, how you answer questions and objections, and how you lead a person to make a decision for Christ. Perhaps the very next day he will find himself in a similar situation at work. He will be able to fall back on what he learned as he watched you.
Someone has said that new Christians learn to witness the way they see the missionary witnessing, not the way he tells them how to do it. The reason is simple. People learn more by observing than by listening to lectures.
5. Evaluate on the spot. It’s obvious that the sooner we correct a mistake after it’s been made, the more effective our correction will be. However, it seems that in Christian teaching and training there is very little opportunity to apply this principle. Perhaps homiletics class is the only place we do this. Yet evaluation sessions are tremendous teaching opportunities.
Christians will make mistakes in their service for Christ, and missionaries can be helpful teachers if they use the opportunity for evaluation and counsel. I have found that evaluation immediately after each meeting increases a person’s effectiveness. For instance, we talk about everything from the seating arrangement to the offering to the outline of the message. Sometimes it takes only five minutes after the service to do this, but it has proved very helpful. At other times I write out a critique and circulate it. Whatever way it’s done, it must not be only negative. Giving honest praise helps people receive correction.
6. Take advantage of everyday conversation. Conversation for the missionary should be more than just "shooting the breeze" or "chewing the rag." Every conversation can have some teaching significance, if it is centered on helpful subjects that strengthen the other person.
I asked one of my colleagues who had served several years in Thailand how he had trained the elders in the local church. He said that every time he visited in the villages he would go on walks with the elders. During these walks he guided the conversation to subjects he felt were important to discuss. He could even give a short course on the importance of illustrations in sermons, if he chose to do so.
Of course, guiding a conversation isn’t easy. Some people will not carry on a conversation about something you feel is important. It takes practice to develop the skill of conversation. Asking the right kind of questions is important, "how" and why" questions rather than questions that can be answered yes or no. As you keep trying you will find conversations becoming more enriching. You can teach anyone anywhere by this means.
All missionaries are called to teach in some way. We don’t need a classroom with twenty students, a school and recreational facilities. Start now where you are with what you have, and you can make a meaningful investment of your life in others.
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