This is an article from the September - October 2000 issue: A New Day

Further Reflections

Effective Global Training: Does it have to be at odds with gifting?

A few months ago, missionaries that our church has supported for more than 35 years were in town. During their visit, they confided in me about some research they had seen.

A retired missionary they know had returned to Africa to study the impact of Bible training on the teaching and preaching of pastors they trained. He studied 11 "schools" and surveyed more than 600 people in Africa.

The bottom line results: the training made little difference in quality or depth of teaching of the pastors. They taught and preached nearly the same as they had before their training.

Among the survey's lessons was one related to evangelism. Though it was commendable that the African pastors valued it, it seems evangelism was emphasized at the expense of other foundational teachings of the Scriptures.

I know effective training is taking place in parts of Africa. But what happened in the schools that were surveyed? Here are a few ideas I have as to why this happened, add your own and send me your thoughts:

1. Displacement of Leadership

One of the drawbacks of the generally wonderful Student Volunteer Movement was that our young "green" missionaries went out with their esteemed college education--the most you could get back then--and frequently displaced the existing pastors/leader in the churches. They couldn't be teaching and preaching because they were not trained "properly."

What they meant, all too often, is that these workers had not sat in classrooms long enough, listening to lectures and--in typical Western style--giving the information back on exams.

More often than not, these zealous missionaries replaced the natural leaders who were gifted and qualified. Most needed only to be encouraged having their skills honed as they continued to grow in their calling.

2. Using Western Methods

Far too often we have preached a Western message focused on individual decisions for salvation--what Carl Ellis calls a "fire insurance policy" Gospel. This is, or should I say, was foreign to tribal peoples and many other cultures who almost never decide anything on their own. "At least people got saved," we all thought. Never mind that they didn't change, that they didn't grow. If you grew up hearing only evangelistic messages every week at church, you might think that is all that church is about. Is it?

Who knows--perhaps some of our missionaries who were not gifted in evangelism, saw that strength in the Africans. We let them run with that, keeping the training role a bit longer than we should have, using our Western style of teaching and learning.

These are generalizations of course. There are a great many leaders and mature servants of God in Africa. I am actually not commenting on that at all. I am reflecting on what we see as perfect models in any culture. Now, many of those involved in training here no longer believe the old pattern of training works as well. The churches and denominations--if you can call them that--that are growing the fastest here in the U.S. are not growing because their leaders are "properly trained" but because they are gifted--they are the real pastors and leaders, not just the ones with the proper degrees.

When I left my home church to go to seminary in the late 70s that was the pattern churches followed. I left people I knew well, people who loved me deeply. I left years of life and ministry among them. I left the High School and College ministry and all those relationships to go where I knew only a couple of people (people who had been at my church also). I lost a lot. We all knew it would be a sacrifice. I still miss them.

During that time, I got a great education. I gained tools that increased my effectiveness and understanding of Biblical issues and ministry and so many other things. I met my wife and connected with whole new relationships in another church. That experience gives me a broader view of things than I would have if I was at my home church still. But it was hard to start over in ministry at a place where I was unknown. Many never made the transition, or didn't have the ministry at their home church to begin with.

Now, more and more churches--seeing this--are training in the context of the church.

One of the schools surveyed in Africa was an exception. Students--who are in ministry in churches in the area--come for an intensive course and then go back to apply what they've learned. Mentors go out over the next few weeks to the churches and work with them in actual ministry/learning environment. Then they take another course and so on. The pastors and churches they serve in are much more effective in all they do according to the survey.

Let's think out-of-the-box a little. Send me an e-mail of your thoughts.

Greg Parsons is the Executive Director of the U.S. Center for World Mission. He also serves on the boards of the IFMA, EFMA, the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse and a sending agency. [email protected]


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