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Missions 101

Engage the Untrained to Reach the Unreached

Aug. 1, 2011By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Why take the time train people to be faithful teachers of Scripture when untold millions are going to hell?  That is a helpful question for me to wrestle through as I spend a good deal of my time training pastors and church leaders and trying to think of ways to train more pastors. 


When most people recount the Great Commission, they usually say something to the effect of, “We must go to all the nations and share the gospel.”  To that I say amen!  But then something strange happens – we stop.  Baptists might add the word “baptizing,” but the recounting of the Great Commission often ends there.  So what about the command in verse 20 to teach?  It is what David Sills has called the Great Omission.


If we are not careful, those precious people groups and nations that we have deemed to be reached will be moved back to unreached.  Why?  Because in our need for speed, we have not helped to deepen the roots of faith, and instead of trees firmed planted by streams of water, the church is blown over with just the slightest amount of false teaching.  The supposed explosion of Christian faith around the world has left us with lots of Christians and very few trained pastors.


When I say “trained,” I do not mean “gone to school.”  Theological training is just part of a discipleship process, and for a pastor it means learning to rightly handle the Bible.  Many pastors have been trained by sitting in jail cells, but they still don’t know their Bible.  Or they know a lot of Bible verses, but have no idea how they fit together.  So this particular training that is needed is deliberate theological education that is God-centered, Christ-exalting and Bible-saturated. 


I have met many zealous Christians who are clearly gifted evangelists who know nothing about the Bible except for the four spiritual laws.  I have heard of pastors who asked my friend, “When was Jesus converted?”  I have heard the strangest sermons you can imagine that are were anywhere close to Christian faith.  I have a good friend from West Africa whose country is no longer on the unreached list who says he only knows of a handful of churches in the whole country that preach a gospel that is in line with apostolic teaching. 


So, how can the Western Church be strategically involved in reaching the unreached?  From my perspective, as someone who is currently giving his life and tears to training pastors and Christian leaders, here are my thoughts:


  1. Get off the frontlines of church planting and spend a significant amount of energy training the untrained pastors of reached people groups.  Americans do not need to lead the way in checking off unreached groups.  There are 1000’s of pastors and evangelists that could make a far greater impact on unreached groups in one week than an American over 10 years.  These untrained leaders often know 4-5 languages (at Gaba Bible Institute in Uganda last year the students in the missions class between 6-8).  They don’t have the baggage an American brings nor do they attract so much negative attention.  They just need theological grounding – help with basic hermeneutic questions.  Help on how to preach the main point of a text.  Help on how to put the Bible together and see the overarching story of God’s redemptive work culminating at the Cross.  They need to see where they fit in God’s story of redeeming the nations. 
  2. Send those unemployed PhD holders on the field.  Our seminaries and graduate schools are putting out some highly competent people who are working at Starbucks and UPS because they have nowhere to go. 
  3. Send your pastor overseas twice a year working with another organization that is aiding to provide theological education.  It’s easy to invest this money.  Just don’t send them by themselves!
  4. Send your pastor overseas for good and free up openings for seminary grads.  We need men who have been in pastoral ministry to go.  Guys in seminary need a place to land.  Makes sense to me.


The end goal is to strengthen the existing church with deep truth that will sustain them and to help those who are trained to reach into those unreached people groups we care about.   This is not just on my heart.  Read the prayer requests of Operation World.  Number one on the list – theological education.  At the Desiring God Conference this year, David Sills, who critiques our abandoning of theological education in favor of church planting in Reaching and Teaching will surely be speaking to this very issue. 

Let’s pray God raises up church planters to reach the unreached, possibly even from amongst our American churches!  Let’s just not think it has to be us planting the churches.

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International.  As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

Tags:  theological education, missions
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