Education and Training for Missions and Evangelism

There is a clear difference between missions and evangelism. Missions includes evangelism but is not limited to evangelism. Evangelism could be defined as the sharing of good news of Christ with those who do not believe and calling them to faith and repentance. Missions (which is different from “Mission”) has been defined by George Peters as “the total biblical assignment of the church of Jesus Christ.”1 The final purpose of all this activity is the transformation of society so that God will be known and glorified.

Prayer is indispensable in our training for the mission field and in evangelizing the lost. Take prayer out and evangelism and mission becomes a work of the flesh devoid of God, his grace and his favor. The best curriculum should be prepared with the most qualified trainers. However, training is ultimately directed by God. Surprises are always a part of any training program.

Looking at the Example of Jesus
While on earth, Jesus constantly turned situations into opportunities for training. When there was a storm, it gave him the opportunity to teach about faith (Matthew 8:26). In John 6:5-6, when there was no food, we read that Jesus “said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” When the disciples could not cast out a demon, “the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn't we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:19-20). After Peter almost drowned, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

Like Jesus, the wise trainer will not protect trainees from tough situations by providing quick solutions to problems that are faced. There will be many such situations that will arise especially in the hands-on, practicum part of the training. These are ideal times for trainees to pray, listen to God, unite to talk and determine what God is trying to say. As the trainer progresses through training, he or she should always keep in the back of his or her mind issues to be covered. When the class has not experienced a certain issue, the trainer can also discuss it verbally.

Training should be held in careful balance in the following three areas: character, knowledge and skills.

I. Character
Those desiring to be missionaries need to have a fruitful devotional life, a healthy marriage (if married) and a prayerful and caring church support base. The missionary should also be part of a mission agency that holds its missionaries accountable.

A missionary carries the formidable stress of adjusting to culture, learning a language and relating not just to nationals but to expatriates as well. Missionary cross-cultural skills are vital, along with a willingness to be a servant of the national Church. There is no room for feeling racially superior. Probably the most humbling role on earth is being placed in a foreign culture with no rights to claim. Often, expatriate missionaries stay with their own countrymen in their “missionary hideouts” to help avoid this pain. Learning a simple lifestyle will help immensely in preparation: a disciplined Hudson Taylor submitted himself to this lifestyle in his teens. John Wesley points to character as the primary qualification of church leaders:

Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be trifling employed. Never while away time. Be serious. . . Avoid all lightness, jesting and foolish talking. Converse sparingly and cautiously with women, particularly with young women. Take no step toward marriage without solemn prayer to God and consulting your brethren. Believe evil of no one unless fully proved…Speak evil of no one…Tell everyone what you think wrong in him, lovingly and plainly, and as soon as may be, else it will fester in your own heart. Do not affect the gentleman…Be ashamed of nothing but sin; no, not of cleaning your own shoes when necessary. Be punctual. . .Do not mend our rules, but keep them . . .You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore, spend and be spent in this work.2 

II. Knowledge
The Apostle Mark records that Jesus “appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they may be with him” (Mark 3:14; Luke 8:1). It is from this verse that we get the “with him” principle. The disciples had to first be “with him” before they could be “sent out to preach” or do ministry. Leroy Eims discovered in his experience the very significant difference between “with him” training and mere classroom type instruction. In his words,

I have made mistakes in this regard. I have tried to train men by gathering them together in a quiet basement once a week to discuss the Christian life and then supplement this with occasional seminars or special meetings. It didn’t work. But men who have ministered with me in the push and shove of life, out where we face victory and defeat daily, out in the world of real living, are today productive for Christ. I have watched them bear fruit that remains.3

For Jesus, life was the classroom. As situations developed, it was an opportunity to teach theology, display and teach character or demonstrate a skill. Then after some time, he gave them instruction on evangelism, and they were ready to go (Matthew 10:5-20; Luke 9:2-6). How did Jesus achieve his goals of evangelism so fast? He was training his disciples right alongside himself. Every moment of being “with him” was an opportunity to observe how he ministered to a myriad of needs. Because he associated with the disciples, they observed all his methods. According to Robert Coleman, “Evangelism was lived before them in spirit and in technique…His training classes were never dismissed.”4

Jesus is what we might term a “playing coach.”

With the presence of the Holy Spirit and with the equipping they had received, the early disciples turned their “world upside down” in one generation. The Church today, on the other hand, has taken many generations to reach the nations and peoples around her even with thousands of educational institutions to help do the training. The disciples’ professor, Jesus, was willing to show them how, even though he knew “all” the theologies one could know. Bruce Larson says,

Years ago, before seminaries existed, future ministers were trained by sitting under the mentorship of pastors, studying the scriptures with them and working alongside them. Now this process is available to lay people through the mentoring relationship. I believe that there is no more significant ministry for gifted pastors and strong churches than to mentor younger Christians in their daily walk.5

It is not involvement in programs that matters, but involvement with people, qualifying us to know who our audience is. Making time for people is costly. The “with him” method of training is very slow and can seem to be tedious; however, it can have amazing results. Michael Green states it like this:

These are believed to be vital elements in this “hands-on” training. First, do the ministry yourself, learning as you go and reflecting on how others can be involved. Second, draw others into doing the ministry with you. Third, let them do the ministry as you stay alongside, supervise and encourage. Then comes the transfer of the responsibility for the ministry to them: They report back to you on how they got along. And finally, the responsibility for training others is passed on to them.6

Here are some suggestions for your own personal study and reading:

  1. Missions reading. Missionary biographies such as Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson and William Carey. Resources such as Operation World and Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Books such as David Bosch’s Transforming Mission (1996, Orbis Books). Books about the culture you will be entering.

  2. Evangelism reading. Biographies of Billy Graham, Luis Palau, D. L. Moody, George Whitefield, Alvin Reid7 and Michael Green.8
  3. Classroom missions topics. Intercultural Communication, Foundations and History of Christian Mission, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Urban Ministry, Theology of Mission, Contextualization, Mission Internship, Introduction to Church Planting, Religious Pluralism, Biblical Theology of Mission, Foundations of Church Growth, Anthropology for Christian Mission and Intro to World Religions.
  4. Classroom evangelism topics. Foundations of Evangelism, The Content of the Gospel, Evangelism in the Local Church, Theology of Evangelism, Evangelism Internship, Discipleship and Evangelism, Witnessing to the Cults, Evangelism Methodology and Evangelizing the Secularists.

III. Skills
This is an aspect that is “more caught than taught.” Training should be on the job and missionaries should be trained by those who have apostolic gifts.

Ministry Exposure—Mission
Every missions student must have a map of the world and a copy of Operation World. Before short-term mission trips are undertaken overseas, trainees should be encouraged to (1) learn about other religions; (2) observe other religious practices and forms of worship, cultures and how to relate the gospel to those who practice other religions; and (3) learn another language, if possible. Churches or mission groups who wish to take a short-term team overseas to reach a particular ethnic group also should not ignore the same group in their own city. They should first be exposed to this ethnic group in their own country before proceeding overseas.

Ministry Exposure—Evangelism
Every student of evangelism should have an extensive list of unbelievers for whom he or she is praying. This will include friends, relatives and acquaintances. In addition to the list, there should be a plan to build a relationship, praying everyday for the people on the list, that God will give you opportunities to share his love with them and cultivate friendships. Along with friendship evangelism, the trainee should be exposed to various methods of evangelism so they can gain broad knowledge about other appropriate ways to share their faith.

Evangelism trainers should ideally be evangelists who are gifted teachers who can help their trainees grow in character, knowledge and skills. In the early Church, it was not education but character that was considered the primary qualification to be a leader over others. However, all three components are essential to a well-trained missionary or evangelist.

Endnotes

1. Peters, George W. 1972. A Biblical Theology of Missions. Chicago, Illinois, USA: Moody Press, 11.

2. Ayling, Stanley. 1984. John Wesley. Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Abingdon Press, 176.

3. Eims, Leroy. 1981. The Lost Art of Disciple Making. Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA: NAVPress, 36.

4. Coleman, Robert. 1983. Master Plan of Evangelism. Old Tappan, New Jersey, USA: Spire Books, Fleming H. Revell Company, 78 and 80.

5. Cited in Davis, Ron Lee. 1991. Mentoring: The Strategy of the Master. Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 220.

6. Green, Michael. 1992. Evangelism Through The Local Church. Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Oliver-Nelson, 96-97.

7. Reid, Alvin. 1998. Introduction to Evangelism. Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

8. Green, Michael. 1992. Evangelism Now & Then. London, UK: Darton, Longman and Todd.


Dr. Kumar Abraham is a Sri Lankan national living in Melbourne, Australia and has served as a missionary in the Philippines for twenty-one years. He is an evangelist, a trainer of evangelists, equipper of Christ-followers in evangelism and a Bible school lecturer. He can be reached at: kumarabraham@bigpond.com.