Monday, December 30, 2013

Lesson 4: Discipleship, Equipping and Training

The theme of the January 2014 issue of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ) emphasizes the importance of training, equipping, discipling (you choose your term) of nationals.  It’s a theme that most cross-cultural workers are keenly aware.  Even when I was living in Kenya thirty years ago, I understood that planting a church (evangelism, preaching) is only one step in the process of our Lord’s commission, and equally important was the admonishment to baptize and teach the new converts “all things which I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20).  Why is discipling so important? 

First, because in many places of the world the church is truly “a mile wide and an inch deep.”  Statistically most of the Christians in the world now live in what is described as the “majority south” (Africa and Latin America).  In terms of sheer numbers this is encouraging as it is a testimony of God’s blessings on the work of early pioneer missionaries.  The faithfulness of those men and women who forged into areas of the then unknown world to take the Gospel is now revealed in a harvest of people who claim to be followers of Christ.  However, perhaps a weakness of those early missionaries, and what is being repeated in today’s missionary effort, is the lack of discipleship and especially pastoral, theological, biblical training.

I have visited and worked in ten African countries.  In some places where the Gospel has been well received a vast number of Christians know little about the Scriptures.  Africans are emotional and expressive and it is reflected throughout their culture, including the church.  While the music and dance is colorful and entertaining, it is possible to sit through a two-hour service without hearing God’s Word read one time.  A church that is mile wide and inch deep results in false doctrine, heresy and one wonders if they truly know Christ as their Lord.  Discipling must be coupled with evangelism.

Second, because historically the mission effort has been on evangelism and not equipping the saints for the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), there is a gaping hole in national leadership.  As was cited in EMQ, one of the largest evangelical denominations in Ethiopia, seven million members with eight thousand congregations, report only seven percent of the pastors in those churches have had any theological training at all.  The evidence of why biblical training is important can be ratified by such statistics. 

What can the church do about this need for training/discipleship national leaders?  First, we need more teachers to go to the field.  The Western church needs to put a priority on equipping the saints.  Second, churches in America can help in discipling by supporting national seminaries and colleges.   

As your missions team assembles to map out your local church world outreach, pay attention to those who are going out with a focus on “teaching them to observe all things which I have commanded you.”

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