As a former second-generation missionary I can’t help but compare ministry on the foreign field to ministry in the United States. There are so many things that are considered fundamental and assumed in missionary work, but are often neglected in established works “at home.”
One area that comes to mind is that of discipleship and training. On the mission field there are often no Christian bookstores, radio stations, or Bible colleges. If believers are going to be trained and equipped for maturity and ministry, the responsibility falls squarely upon the local church and pastor/missionary. The necessity forces them to do what is already commanded. It is also understood by most that just coming to weekly services doesn’t accomplish the task of making disciples and training them to do the work (Matthew 28:19-20).
A typical missionary will take time outside of regular service times to disciple believers one-on-one (the most effective ratio). Basic topics are covered, but individual needs and challenges are prayed about and Biblical counsel is given. Sometimes a series of lessons are taught in a small group (like a new believers class). But beyond that, in depth, specialized training is needed if that individual is to be prepared to teach, lead, or even pastor. To meet that need, a missionary (or small team of missionaries) frequently organizes classes or Bible courses to train those servants, while they continue serving in their local church.
But discipleship and training are often missing in local churches in America. New believers are encouraged to attend Sunday School and church services, but are often not discipled individually (or in very small groups). When it comes to ministry training, we tend to contract it out to outside institutions or ministries. We pastors often pray for God to send us people who can teach and lead, yet we have no organized method or model to train men and women ourselves. We leave that exclusively up to Bible colleges and conferences (which have their place), but we forget that the burden of equipping believers for the work of the ministry falls upon the local church leadership.
Ephesians 4:11-12 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
We can always debate about whether a seven-lesson Bible study makes a person “discipled” or not. We can discuss the role of Bible colleges and conferences to the local church. But what is clear is that ANY intentional approach within the local church is better than NO approach. It is vital that we take discipleship and training seriously in our churches. We often give in to the mentality that three services a week will automatically lead to discipled and trained believers. But that is a critical mistake.
I do not write as one who has this figured out. But I write as someone with an increasing burden to see our churches become reproducing New Testament congregations that will reach our communities, nation, and world for Jesus Christ. May God give us discernment, direction, and determination as we carry out our role within His Kingdom.