Why take the time train people to be faithful teachers of Scripture when untold millions are going to hell? That is a helpful question for me to wrestle through as I spend a good deal of my time training international pastors and church leaders.
When most people recount the Great Commission, they usually say something to the effect of, “We must go to all the nations and share the gospel.” To that I say amen! But then something strange happens — we stop. So what about the command in Matthew 28:20 to teach?
Reached Can Move Backwards to Unreached
If we are not careful, those precious people groups and nations that we have deemed to be reached will be moved back to unreached. Why? Because in our need for speed, we have not helped to deepen the roots of faith, and instead of trees firmly planted by streams of water, the church is blown over with just the slightest amount of false teaching. The supposed explosion of Christian faith around the world has left us with lots of Christians and very few trained pastors.
When I say “trained,” I do not mean “gone to school.” Theological training is just part of a discipleship process, and for a pastor it means learning to rightly handle the Bible. Many pastors have been trained by sitting in jail cells, but they still don’t know their Bible. Or they know a lot of Bible verses, but have no idea how they fit together. So this particular training that is needed is deliberate theological education that is God-centered, Christ-exalting, and Bible-saturated.
I have met many zealous Christians who are clearly gifted evangelists but who hardly know anything about the Bible. I have heard of pastors who asked my friend, “When was Jesus converted?” I have heard the strangest sermons you can imagine — no where close to anything Christian. I have a good friend from West Africa whose country is no longer on the unreached list, and yet he admits he knows only a handful of churches in the entire nation where the gospel is faithfully preached.
Four Ways to Be Strategically Involved
As someone who is currently giving his life to training pastors internationally, I'm convinced of the strategic role that training plays in reaching the unreached. Here are a few thoughts about how the Western Church can be involved:
- As we are deeply concerned in going to the unreached peoples of the earth, we should recognize the unique impact of non-Western missionaries and seek to train them. These untrained messengers of the gospel often know at least five languages — they just need theological grounding. What is the main point of the text? How does the whole Bible fit together? They need to see where they fit in God’s story of redeeming the nations and we should be committed to serving them.
- Send unemployed PhD-holders to the international classroom. Our seminaries and graduate schools stock Starbucks and UPS with highly competent minds. Might instead we consider our brothers overseas and ask, "How will they teach faithfully if they are not trained? And how will they be trained without someone teaching? And how are we to teach unless we go?"
- Send your pastor overseas twice a year to work with another organization that is providing theological education to international pastors and church leaders.
- Send your pastor overseas for good and free up pastoral positions for seminary graduates. We need men who have been in pastoral ministry to go. Guys in seminary need a place to land. Makes sense to me!
The end goal is to strengthen the existing church internationally with deep truth that will sustain them and equip them to reach the unreached people groups we long to see worship Jesus.
Darren Carlson is the founder and president of Training Leaders International, a ministry that mentors and sends graduate students and pastors to bring theological education around the world.