Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Author: Ken G Page 1 of 23

Director of SEND U

follow-up and reinforcement of training

I don’t really know if the training went well

How can we know if it is effective?

I have spent the last 10 years of my life in training missionaries. Training events have taken me to more than a dozen countries. Through online courses, workers from at least twice that number have participated in training that I have led. Furthermore, I head up our organization’s training department and so have the privilege of leading a great team of trainers and facilitators. But despite my experience and travels, the question does not go away. How can we know if our training is effective?

Recently I saw that the parable of the sower sheds some light on this question.

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. – Matthew 13:20–21

Biblical understanding

Jesus’s explanation of the seed falling on the stony ground shows us that a joyful response to the hearing of truth is no indication that people have understood the Word. As is clear from Matt. 13:15, a biblical sense of understanding is to understand with the heart, resulting in a change of behavior. We can only say that there is true understanding when the person repents and turns from their previous behavior to adopt new behaviors or habits.

Wheat field

Making sure the roots go deep

Deep roots are essential in times of drought

Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan taught me the importance of roots going deep. In the Prairies, rain is very unpredictable and with dryland farming, rain is also an absolute necessity in summer. If during those hot, dry, dusty summer months, weeks went by without rain, the concern became palpable. Farmers would mention rain as a prayer request at every prayer meeting. My grandfather would call us early in the morning to find out if the latest rainshower had hit our farm or not.

But if the crop had developed deep roots in the early part of the growing season, it could survive even a month or longer without rain. Roots grow toward the water. Even if the top few inches of the ground are dry, the crop can survive by drawing on those resources well below the surface. The roots of wheat can grow to a depth of 1.5 meters, but they can’t grow through bone-dry dirt and their growth is impeded by compacted soil. So during spring seeding, the soil must have sufficient moisture and be loose enough to allow those seeds to germinate and to send their roots down to the level of the moisture.

Shallow roots

A few days ago in my NT Bible reading in Mark 4, I read about the seed that is sown on rocky soil.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. – Mark 4:16–17, NIV

If the seed of the Word of God falls on rocky soil, the roots will not go deep. Lack of deep roots evidently means that a person does not have the faith that sustains them through times of hardship, distress, or opposition. When times become difficult and they are criticized for their faith, their commitment to following Jesus quickly wanes.

What is God doing through the COVID-19 crisis?

Disruption will be followed by sowing

What is God doing?

When we face a major disruption to our lives and ministries, we often ask ourselves what God might be intending to do through this disruption. I am sure that many of you have been asking yourselves that question over the past few weeks. We have seen the COVID-19 virus spread throughout the world, infecting hundreds of thousands and severely disrupting our day-to-day lives. After a few weeks of dealing with travel bans, we are now seeing country after country implementing lock-downs, closing schools, and telling churches that they can no longer meet in person. What is God doing through all this? How is this an answer to our prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”?

A parable from farming

A few days ago, I was reading a short parable in chapter 28 of the book of Isaiah.

When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.  Is 28:24-26.

a challenging climb

Both invitation and challenge needed

A disciple-making culture?

In the past few years, we have talked a lot about changing our organizational culture. Back when SEND U (our training department) was being launched, we wanted to establish a coaching culture in our organization, meaning coaching will become a pervasive method of supervision, leadership development, and membership development. I think we have made a lot of progress in establishing that culture. In more recent years, we have talked about creating a culture of collaboration, intentionality, and accountability. Many missionaries long to break away from a highly individualistic orientation and work on stronger teams. But we are an organization that describes itself as a global movement of Jesus followers making disciples among the unreached.1https://send.org/about. If this is to be true, then we need to have a disciple-making culture within the organization. What does it take to create a disciple-making culture?

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to train indigenous workers?

Why do we raise thousands of dollars of monthly support, move ourselves and our families to foreign cities, learn their languages and cultures, and seek to plant churches or establishing disciple-making movements within those cultures?

Because Christ tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. Matt 28:19-20.

But the response we often get from those who have thought about the human and financial resources being expended in this effort:

Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more effective to train and support indigenous believers to reach their own people?

How should you and I respond to this pushback?

Can we put too much emphasis on healthy teams?

Sometimes it seems as if most of my conversations with other missionaries are about teaming. To some extent that might be because I am facilitating two training courses for team leaders right now, and am preparing again to teach on teaming in our upcoming pre-field training. But the conversations go beyond interactions with my students. Missionaries tell me about their frustrations and joys with their previous and current teams. They share their dreams and desires for future teams. They compare their teams with teams of which they have heard in our areas. Particularly for our first-term missionaries, the quality of the teaming experience seems to be a major criterion for deciding where they will serve and whether they will continue to serve in a particular location.

As mission leaders, we can easily come to the conclusion that forming and nurturing healthy teams should be one of our top priorities to attract new workers and help current workers to flourish. There is no question that there is much that we can learn and improve in our mission teams. I am passionate about strengthening our mission teams and training team leaders.

But we also need to recognize that too much emphasis on teaming can be unhealthy. Dick Brogden in his Global Trends presentation at a recent Leadership Connexion workshop noted that teams can become the new missionary compounds.

Who spurs on the missionary to love and good deeds?

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking about what it means for missionaries to be both disciples and disciple-makers. I recognized that we can easily make the mistake of assuming that at some point in our Christian life, we graduate from being disciples to become disciple-makers. But through an in-depth study of the Gospel of Matthew, it became clear to me that we never stop being a disciple of Jesus. We never graduate from his school of discipleship.

In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard said

First of all, it is clear that, if we would make disciples, we should be disciples. … To plan on making disciples, we need to know what one is and how people become disciples. We need to know these things by personal experience, as did the first generation of Jesus’ people. They had been made disciples. And we need to be standing in the position of Jesus’ students and co-workers, so that our efforts in making disciples will be appropriately guided and strengthened by him. They are, after all, to be his disciples, not ours. So we are, then, disciples in disciple making. We learn from Jesus how to make disciples as he did.”

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (p. 328). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

So what we can do practically to help one another continue to learn from Jesus? How do help one another be diligent students in Jesus’ discipleship school? Does each disciple just have to figure this out on their own? Or can we learn together in some way?

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