There are many skills and tools a missionary in China or elsewhere can utilize in the discipling of men for the ministry. When talking about the tools however, its important to acquire the right tools for the job. I recently met a young lady who was genuinely excited about the report I had just given in their church. I explained in the report that one of the tools of ministry in China is using English to make contacts with people that will lead to bible studies, gospel presentations, and one on one discipling relationships. Many young people like her come up to me with joyful expressions telling me how they’ve heard of english being this wonderful tool to use for the Gospel. This young lady and many like her are so enthused about this one tool, they spend four years in college honing the skills and later achieving the proper certifications to teach English as a Second Language.
I admit the idea of using English as an inroad into places for the Gospel seems like the sensible thing to do, but allow me to make some adjustments to this thinking. Let’s say I have just completed my four year degree in ESL and now have been ministering in China for several years. I have seen the beginnings of a Chinese believer’s life and how it forms into maturity even into leadership of a church. Assuming that my efforts has been the primary role in discipling this believer to maturity, how much of a part did ESL play in this young believers life, in his pastoral training? The answer is, it wasn’t worth the four years I spent training in ESL.
The point of using English or any other “platform” is just to make the initial contact. After the contact is made, I never use English with the new contact again. The young man is then trained in his own language, his heart language.
It is said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” This is a true statement in the world of missions. Bringing an ESL degree into a church planting ministry is like bringing a sledge hammer when you only need a tac hammer, or maybe just your shoe. Assuming your understanding of missions is correct, that is making disciples of Christ is your ultimate goal, then you will find the right tools you need for the job. You will find some tools are too heavy or too light, others are just not necessary, but some can’t be done without. I’m afraid the most necessary tools of bible literacy, foreign language, and ability to teach are the most lacking in modern missions especially in China.
Now you could become an astronaut and spend all the years in school and training just for the noble goal of witnessing to the handful of astronauts that live in the space stations that orbit the earth. And after all the hard work you manage to train one of the astronauts to take the leadership of the space station church you’ve spent years and years of schooling, money, and efforts into building. The story would be legend, but not because your work was effective or fruitful, but for it’s novelty. Now as absurd as this sounds, this is just want some folks amount to doing with platforms like English.
Pragmatically, anyone with the goal of church planting and discipleship would not go about it this way. Experienced church planters know that the platforms they use are just ways to connect with people, and not means to an end in themselves. Our English clubs were very dispensable, and they served us well when we needed to make a few new fresh contacts. We never signed contracts with schools or entered agreements that would burden us further than the usefulness of the platform.
I am definitely not a survival expert but I do love studying and practicing the skills in wilderness survival. When you are all alone out in the wilderness nearing evening hours, shelter is a priority. If your food source is low then you can’t spend the calories erecting a palace to sleep in for the night, but rather you want to conserve energy by making a simple shelter using what nature has already provided. It may be a over-hanging rock, cave, or fallen tree, but the survivalist knows that the shelter is not the main thing, being rescued is. Spending unnecessary energy on a grand shelter could be a fatal mistake. Over emphasizing a platform in missions is like building a castle out in the wilderness when you are only going to stay a night or two. In China, it is super easy to begin an English corner whenever and wherever you like, no ESL degree necessary. You make contacts very quickly and then can move on to more important things from there. The quality of the English corner that you host is irrelevant, especially if your first a language is English. The English corner becomes no longer necessary after you’ve filled your contact list with people to invite for bible study. It will only become an unnecessary burden if what you really want to do is make disciples.
Experienced church planters and men trainers will give you a much different picture of what to prepare for and what tools are better suited for the job. The majority of the work in missions is not fine tuning the platform, although it is important to have effective platforms, but majority of work is loving the people you are discipling, and teaching them the Bible as well as how to study it. In the case of training leaders for church, they must be taught the doctrines of the Bible and learn the guidelines for the New Testament Church so they can continue to protect it from heresies after the missionary is gone. My recent trip revealed the fault of many past well-meaning missionaries that failed to pass on the leadership and doctrinal grounding. Many of the churches left behind have now been infiltrated by cults and “another” gospel.
For serious church planters who pattern missions after the works of Paul, the tools they would say to bring with you are the most practical ones intended for teaching, training, and loving disciples until they are mature and able to make disciples of their own. The platforms we use are often so over emphasized, they steal the spotlight of missions for their novelty and romanticism. They make a good story a lot of times, but lack any fruit that remains. For church planters, fruit isn’t seen immediately and people like seeing fast results. Persecution can often be a catalyst for maturity in believers as we have experienced, but either way, a young disciple needs time of mentoring in the Word of God before they bear true spiritual fruit.
My advice to young people or anyone praying about serving as missionaries is to speak with experience church planting missionaries before making decisions that will affect the next few years of your life. You may find in their wisdom a more direct and practical route to the joy of serving Jesus Christ in missions.