Tuesday, July 1, 1997
by Paul Strand
Training missionaries for world evangelization has been done for hundreds of years. But never before have so many leaders of major training institutions from around the world gathered in such great numbers to consider how they might learn from each other with the purpose of improving and partnering.
The motivation that drew over 250 Presidents & Academic Deans of the leading training institutions together in Pretoria, came from the challenge sounded by the AD2000 & Beyond Movement in the slogan, "A church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000." That simple phrase captures the meaning of world evangelization in everyday language and adds a goal for finishing the task that Jesus Christ gave to his followers before His ascension.
"Dangerous People," is the phrase used by Dr. David Kim from Korea in his keynote address to the gathering. Presidents and Academic Deans of training institutions, by virtue of their influential positions, control much of the process and the pace of world evangelization. If Presidents and Deans have no vision or the wrong vision, then world evangelism suffers. They are dangerous. Without a personal vision they will have no vision to transfer to their missionary students. But if they catch a vision, the right vision, that fire will spread rapidly. From the response of the participants to the "Dangerous People" keynote address by Dr. Kim, many were sobered by this fresh realization of the magnitude of the weight of their responsibility. Kim supported his argument with examples of many prestigious universities and famous scholars who started out to train missionaries, but lost their vision and are no longer "dangerous" to the opponents of Christianity. He warned the participants against being diluted, sidetracked and losing vision. The danger is that scholars will see their task as training more scholars rather than training soldiers for the battle of winning souls and planting churches in every people group on earth. As a fellow scholar, Kim challenged his colleagues, "We can ruin the world or save the world. Let us save it. We are dangerous people!"
"Tradition!" Throughout the first day other scholars and missionary trainers addressed the Presidents and Academic Deans on understanding specific issues standing in the way of the spread of the gospel to every segment of the world. Much of our curriculum and training methods are ineffective today. Great political change has completely reshaped our world in the last few decades. The fall of the USSR and the rise of militant Islam, the emergence of China, anti-western sentiment, and the rapid advances in technology have brought total change to the "where" and the "how" that the Christian message can be spread.
Many of our training institutions are stuck in the traditions of the past generation. We have not changed with the times. Many of our institutions do not offer courses or training opportunities that adequately equip missionary students with the knowledge, character, or skills to become successful missionaries in today's world. The participants were reminded that no missionary will be successful with just knowledge and skills. Personal character and faith are often overlooked in the training process.
In the final session of the day, Rev. Lawrence Khong, from Singapore, challenged the Presidents and Deans to train missionaries to use volunteer lay people as the labor force at the grassroots of world evangelization. Khong demonstrated from his own fast growing church in Singapore, that growth in evangelization will be limited if the pastor is not a good leader and manager as well as a shepherd. Khong has built an effective multi-level organizational structure in Singapore by analyzing the needs of his congregation and training lay people and professional staff to catch the vision and meet the needs of his 8000 member congregation. According to Khong, training must be practical and useful or it is wasteful. Training in the context of actual ministry is the most effective and efficient.
By the time the first days' sessions were over the Presidents and Academic Deans of most of the world's leading missionary training institutions were well oriented to the work ahead of them in the remaining two days. Re-think curriculum, delivery systems and partnering strategies to train greater numbers of missionaries for the multi-faceted challenges they will face at the closing of this century.
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