BY DIRECTOR OF CONTENT, BRADLEY BELL
None of us are born studs. Just ask 77 year-old Art Sherman, the trainer of the 2014 Kentucky Derby’s champion thoroughbred, California Chrome. He was tasked with training the horse whose $8,000 mother seemed such a waste that his owners called themselves DAP (Dumbass Partners). Who would’ve thought such a long shot would land them with the roses at the world’s greatest horse race? One converted doubter said afterward, “You don’t train a horse like that, a California-bred, and get lucky and win the Kentucky Derby.” Apparently Sherman, with 23 years of jockey experience himself, knew just what it would take.
The Bible doesn’t hide the worst about us, that “together [we] have become worthless” (Romans 3:12). As ones “conceived in sin” (Psalm 51:5), we have no claim to good pedigree. We don’t need a good trainer, we need a Savior who grew up in all the ways we were meant to, “yet did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The kind of development due us starts with quitting all our training regimens, and surrendering to the only one who can bring us to “mature manhood, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
All that to say, the gospel is the church’s greatest tool in developing missionaries. Preach it and apply it and watch lives change. But if churches want missionaries to be truly raised up in their midst, the training ground isn’t just the pews. Really, it’s homes. That means embracing the biblical idea of encouraging parents to be the primary disciplers of their children. Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones write,
The apostles echoed assumptions in their epistles that Spirit-inspired authors had already woven throughout the Old Testament. In synagogues and Christian communities alike, this was not an optional focus for particularly ambitious parents. Training children in the fear of God represented nonnegotiable responsibility…For too many years, churches and parents have encouraged paid professionals to take the primary role in the discipleship of children (16-17).
Earlier in this book we spoke of missions organizations taking a posture of support toward the church. Here, the church itself must take such a posture toward parents. That’s what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4:11-12: “And [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”. “Churches cannot provide what families neglect,” says pastor David Horner. But also, families cannot easily reclaim what churches usurp. Developing missionaries (which is essentially discipleship) happens in the proper partnership of the church equipping parents.
Turning discipleship over to the church’s “paid professionals” is actually just reflective of what sociologist Harold Wilensky called “the professionalization of everyone”. He first made this observation and in the 60’s, noting “that an increasing number of full-time occupations were seeking to become recognized as professions” marked by “autonomous expertise” (137-158).
In other words, every “trade”—from making duck calls to breakup coaching—began developing their own professionals, training, and jargon. Missiologist David Hesselgrave noticed the same effects on global missions. The result? The professionalization of missionaries and organizations who are often attracted to the missionary “trade” in search of self- and career-fulfillment (224).
Now, of course, missions as a career isn’t a bad thing. But it may unknowingly be helping us settle for less. Which is better: the commissioning of a few professionals, or the unleashing of an army of everyday sent ones forged in the church and home?
Yes, it’s best that the church disciples every member as sent ones. And yes, it’s also best that the church develops some to leave to start new works. Yes to both!
And when this happens, what a glorious assembly line of development begins, one that takes the entire church! The Holy Spirit forms missionaries through discipling parents, worshiping pastors, loving counselors, sharpening teachers, encouraging coaches, returning missionaries, edifying small group members, serving administrators, imagining children, admonishing seniors, persevering sufferers, wondering new believers, and a host of other parts of the body of Christ (Allen, 30). And like Paul’s time in Tarsus and Antioch (see Acts 9:30, 11:25-30, 12:25-13:3), missionary candidates are refined most in their Christ-like character by growing in the gospel where they are (Schnabel, 60-63).
What does missionary development practically look like? Well, because there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, it should begin by picking up where assessment left off. What strengths and weaknesses surfaced there? Consider writing out a one-page development plan that corresponds to the same categories used in assessment. Returning to the head (knowledge), heart (character), and hands (skills) model, Nathan Sloan recommends that churches ask three basic questions:
What is most important for candidates to KNOW?
What kind of person do we want candidates to BE?
What is most important for candidates to be able to DO? (99-100)
For example, if a candidate is lacking in theological or missiological knowledge, he or she could be assigned to take a few Bible college or seminary classes, or perhaps enroll in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (if the church does not have their own theological or missiological training resources). If a candidate is struggling with unresolved trauma or emotional instability, he or she could be guided toward pastoral counseling or a licensed Christian counselor. And if a candidate has little cultural or linguistic experience, his or her development plan could include going on a short-term missions trip, getting involved in a local ministry to internationals, or joining a conversation club in their projected language.
One of the most practical resources for developing missionary skills is Upstream’s Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. The accompanying Tradecraft Workbook can serve as a small-group training tool in itself. Along with such resources, it’s wise to bring a “coach” alongside a candidate (Ogne and Roehl). This isn’t necessarily someone with expertise in missions, but a fellow church member who knows the candidate well and is willing to meet regularly for encouragement and accountability in fulfilling the development plan.
This is the sending church’s chance to go for the roses. Identify. Assess. Develop.