Think of the way that Jesus planned to impact the world after he accomplished his work. It's incredibly simple, and he devoted his whole ministry to it. The way Jesus planned to keep the work going is through specific, called men that he spent years equipping and preparing. That is amazing to me. Jesus spent time with his disciples, preparing them to be able to carry on his work once he eventually left earth to be with the Father. It wasn't trendy or super creative. It was simple and was able to be replicated. Train men to care for the people. Train men to train men. Equip pastors who can equip the saints. I would suggest that nothing has changed. That is still the plan. The question is what does that look like today?
First, it means that the leaders in the church are responsible to raise up the next generation of leaders. Paul trained Timothy and Titus. Think of how Paul did this? Doesn't it look remarkably similar to the way Jesus did it? He spent time with them, took them with as he did ministry, let them do ministry with him, and then sent them off to do that on their own. Timothy is urged to stay in Ephesus and train faithful men (2 Tim 2:2). In other words, care for the flock and train leaders to care for the flock in the same way I did for you. Sadly, too many local churches farm out the training of men for ministry. They see it as someone else's job. Maybe the seminary, maybe a bigger church. The simple fact is that the local church and the leadership of the local church is still the plan for multiplying leaders, and in turn growing the church. We need to train men who are called to serve as lay elders that care for the flock. We need to train men who are called to serve as vocational elders who pastor full time. We need to train men who are called to plant churches. We need to train men who are called to revitalize churches. The local church is the schoolhouse of experience that God designed to be the PRIMARY way that leaders are developed and churches are cared for.
Second, I think it means that we invest in leaders as a means of investing in the church and missions. Let me explain what I mean. Think of a culture that is completely foreign to you. Non western. Tribal rather than national. Working in a system of honor and shame. A culture where people have changed little over the last thousand years. A culture that you and I don't understand. Now, how long would it take for us to understand and adapt to that culture? How long would it take for us to earn the trust and respect of people who grew up in that culture and perhaps value different things than we do? How hard would it be to communicate when there are different cultural norms and values that need to be dealt with? What you begin to see is that in many cases, you and I might not be the best option for reaching people. But what if there was someone who was raised in that culture. Someone who knows and understand it and the values and traditions of that culture. What if that person were to go take the gospel to their own people? I think in many cases, many of the barriers that would be there for you and I would be gone. All of that to say we cannot think of missions only in the sense of us sending people to go, live with, and reach a people. Missions includes equipping men who can do that more effectively than you or I ever could. Perhaps one of the best way to invest in expanding the Kingdom is by investing in leaders that already exist but need to be better equipped.
The fact is that we aren't great at everything. We aren't the best at everything. The same is true when we think of the great commission and missions efforts. As Americans, we have strengths as well as weaknesses. The key is to look and see how God has uniquely equipped the American church, and begin to leverage that toward Kingdom goals. In the same way each local church is different and God gives them different strengths, so also the American church has been given certain strengths. We need to learn to play to these strengths. Tomorrow, I will suggest two particular strengths that I think the American church has and how we can leverage that toward advancing the Kingdom, but for now, let's marvel at the simplicity and effectiveness of Christ's plan to continue his work. It's so simple and reproducible. Train men who will care for the church and train other men to care for the church. The result is the local church is healthier and more effective on mission and as calls men to ministry, there are people to train and equip them to fulfill God's calling on their lives. The church works as an organism that reproduces itself over and over. Therefore, the local church is essential to God's plan to continue the work and expand the Kingdom. The local church is THE plan and we all work together toward a common mission.
As part of that effort to train leaders, I'm partnering with Training Leaders International to help equip pastors around the world that don't have access to formal theological training. You can find out more and how you can help with that effort here.
Jon is husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh and Ainsley, a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne, and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast