My wife and I were at one time missionaries to Germany. We served the English speaking community there where we had the privilege of starting a church with another couple. It was a very wonderful time in our lives as a very young couple with a young family serving English speakers in Heidelberg Germany. It was during our time as missionaries that we experienced the up and downs of living life on mission in a foreign country. We learned so much about culture, humanity, the necessity and urgency of discipleship, and the function of the church both in the sending aspects and in the going aspects. One of the realities of missions both “at home” and “global” is the mess that is missions. By mess, I’m simply stating that like everything else man touches, it usually ends up a bit messy by the simple fact it involves people who are a mess. There are never enough workers, which we know will always be the case. There is always too much to do, which we know will always be the case too. The people God choses are really never adequate for the job. This is all part of the mess. Just look at the very first “missionaries” called “disciples” whom Jesus “sent” to do His Kingdom work. They too were a mess.
While it is very true to say God has chosen the “weak things to confound the wise” (1Cor 1:27), I think there are some rudimental things that could be addressed systemically in leadership development that could prayerfully spawn a new generation of laborers for the Gospel both globally and here at home in the local church.
My take is that a proper methodology must come from a healthy understanding of the church’s function in carrying out the great commission on the lowest level possible within the framework of the church. At the epicenter of ministry, the people of Christ’s church must be people who are disciple makers. That is, they are so convinced of the Gospel in their own lives they live with urgency to both be a disciple of Jesus and purposefully make disciples of Jesus. The leadership of the church and the “followship” of the church lock arms and walk in step with one another to reproduce more and more people who are both convinced of the Gospel and transformed by the Gospel. This kind of reproduction happens organically through relational living with love for one another and pastoral care of one another. It is out of the pool of discipleship where future elders and deacons arise and serve the body of believers called the church. It is out of this pool of disciples where global missions gets its best laborers.
These future leaders and future servants need to be:
Identified with discernment! While this is not particularly difficult theoretically, it is amazing to see how often this is not done in the church. In the book of Acts, there is this a thread of existing leadership selecting others who can do ministry (see Acts 6:3; Acts 13:2,3). Accompanied with the choosing, there is a need for discernment concerning the ones they chose. This discernment is really quite necessary for doing the work of Christ. The implication is clearly there would be some who could be chosen and some, for lack of qualification, would not be chosen. The Apostle Paul and Peter would later articulate with more clarity the qualifications for church leadership that cannot be dismissed. So, it seemed very necessary that there would be in place some mechanism of identifying men who have the character and live out the necessary qualifications. The application is very appropriate especially in our world. Elders and deacons who are leading and serving must identify others not by their personality, their giftedness, their likability, or their creativity. The existing leadership must have spiritually discerning eyes to see the men God has His hand on for the purpose of future ministry. Identification is only the first step.
Trained with care! God has designed things in a way where discipleship is functionally fundamental in the framework of the church. Disciples need, well, discipling! They did with Jesus and they do in the church. Qualification is not all that is necessary. There needs to be certain competencies as well. It is very important to take time with him to instruct him on the spiritual health of his own soul, the spiritual health of the church collectively as God’s people and individually as disciples. Care should be given to sound doctrine and grasping the multiple tensions God’s Word brings into life and ministry. He should be competent to teach and to manage his family. Nothing should be assumed with these disciples and instruction should be clear, to the point, and even personal with a goal of shaping the heart for leadership. Jesus took important time with His disciples and His instruction of these men was life changing for them and stuck with them all throughout their ministry.
Assessed with courage! Perhaps there is no greater need in our structure than this area of assessment. There are two key areas where assessment is needed. The first area is what the man believes. There certainly is an intellectual component to this part of assessing, but he should reflect in his answers a pastoral reflection in his knowledge. This intellectual assessment sadly is where it often ends. The second area must be in place. It is the area of assessing the life of the candidate. Usually one or two questions are asked in the counsel meeting of a quasi assessment about his life and then all else is assumed if he answers “correctly.” There should be so much more than this. There should be an investigation over an extended period of time that would assess the man’s spiritual fruit, pastoral giftedness, personal people skills, and an ability to actually lead, shepherd, and love people. It’s important to observe the man’s work ethic, reputation in the community, how he handles pressure, how he handles people who are difficult to love, and how he handles the normal ups and downs of daily living. A qualified man must be proven (not a novice) and there seems to be little in place to prove that he is proven. Assessment of a potential leader should be done over time and observation. Courage is needed to address weaknesses in an individual and reproof or correction is necessary even if it is difficult. Genuine respect for the office of elder or deacon demands a courage that will risk the relationship for the purpose of growth in the life of the potential leader. This should not be over looked.
Sent with accountability! This one is a no-brainer, but because of our present structures in ministry, few people understand how it should work and thus always think that someone else is holding the person in ministry accountable. In the world of missions it can be a bit of a mess. There are three legs on the stool of accountability! The first leg is the person himself. Is he living a life where accountability is sought and easily received. In other words, does he see his need for it, pursue it, and gladly submit himself to it and allow it to be a conduit for change for his own life personally? The second leg is the sending church. Will the sending church be intricately involved with holding the person accountable. Is there good communication and follow-up by the sending church and will they ask the hard questions. Will they then follow up to see growth in his life? Finally, there is the sending agency. Are there clear lines or boundaries for the sent one and are there marked paths each missionary should follow? Is there careful and meaningful follow up? Is the follow up personal and intentional? Is there intentional inspection of what is expected? There is often real turmoil in team missions and this area of accountability becomes so very crucial in effective disciple making. Accountability in the realm of the local church is often neglected as well. The paid pastor or pastoral staff often do their work and rarely will have anyone sit down with them and ask probing questions that would ascertain just how that man is functioning at life at home, life in his job, and how his spiritual walk with the Lord is doing. Often, there is no safe place for the leader to land so superficial answers are given and everyone goes on their way with no real sense of accountability . Lots of assumptions go on while underneath it all may be some real areas of concern that never get addressed. Over time, it can be a ministry killer.
We live in a fallen world and quite frankly, there is no perfect system that I know of that will perfectly harness these four areas perfectly. So, often the imperfections exist and over time only continue to grow because the ball is dropped in one or more of these. Only Jesus did it perfectly. And while Jesus is our ultimate hope, we can and should address what we can do in each of these areas to promote godly leadership in our churches that will spill over to a more God-glorifying structure for global missions. If healthy discipleship isn’t happening within the framework of the local church it will not happen effectively in global missions either. Our hope is Christ’s perfect work on our behalf in us that makes it possible for all involved to live in constant repentance and faith through Christ and for His glory.