Teaching and Making Disciples

Brenda Jung
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Mar/Apr 2005

What kinds of questions are being asked on the global mission field? The same kinds your neighbors are asking you.

"Was Jesus truly the Son of God? Is the Bible true? How can God be good with so much suffering in the world?"

How do pastors and missionaries address questions like these in a cross-cultural context? By drawing on the theological training they received, and applying biblical principles to meet the given need. But in places where theological training is weak and Christianity is confused with traditional beliefs and practices, who will provide the answers to life's most important questions?

Theological Education

Many missionaries say theological education and training are central to effective mission work. "Theological education plays a very important role in missions, as it is the primary supplement of all missionary efforts. We could also think of theological education as the key agent of discipleship, the main objective of missionary work," says Manuel Kamnkhwani, a professor at African Bible College in Malawi. As men and women study the faith in Bible colleges and training centers, they are compelled by the gospel to join Christ in making disciples of all nations.


One educational institution providing theological training for ministers is Westminster Theological College (WTC) in Uganda. It was founded in 1996 by the Presbyterian Church in Uganda (PCU) and is one of the few places in Africa where one can be equipped for ministry. Dr. Emma Kiwanuka, dean of WTC, reports the success the college is experiencing, including an increase in student enrollment. "Our residential students have grown to twenty-one, and that is the biggest number we have ever had on campus. There is a need for teachers to cater to the growing student population. WTC will not enroll new students this coming year due to the big load that our instructors have," says Kiwanuka. Graduates of WTC have been planting churches, health clinics, and Christian schools that are associated with the PCU.

Another educational institution that serves to train ministers is African Bible College (ABC) in Malawi. "God has provided, through ABC, a means of training African indigenous teachers and preachers who are able to communicate the truths of the gospel in the local language in their own unique cultural setting," says Reverend Jay Stoms, who has been teaching theology at ABC for the past four years. "Our graduates are pastors in city churches and in remote villages. Others are ministering to both the physical and spiritual needs of the growing orphan population due to the AIDS epidemic."

While a student at ABC, Fletcher Matandika was exposed to orphan children whose parents had died of AIDS. The college had offered weekly outreaches, and he was struck by the needs of the children. ABC inspired Matandika to help the orphans in Malawi, which he estimates to be between 800,000 and one million. "One day I was sitting outside a church and I heard a 'voice' that said to me, Where will hope for these children come from if you don't bring it to them? This nudged me to keep persevering in ministry, even though I was a 22-year-old, full-time student with no money and no resources to help the orphans." Alone in his dorm room one night, Matandika prayed and Isaiah 41:10 came to his mind, even though he did not remember having read it before. "I felt it was God's promise to me: 'So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.'"

Matandika took his desire to help the orphan children to his father, a pastor in Matapila. His father's church elders proceeded to gather the names of several orphans from the surrounding villages. "When I met all the children for the first time, I was overwhelmed," says Matandika. "I said to them, 'I have no money, no food, no clothes to give to you, but I have the love of God to give to you.'" On April 11, 1999, the Ministry of Hope (MOH) was launched in Matapila. "It is a great joy to see our students catch a vision for working with Malawi's ever-expanding orphan population. Now we have two ABC graduates and two students that are working for MOH," says Stoms. Since the initial launch, four more MOH locations have opened, in the Mponela, Katondo, Selengo, and Khwamba villages. They are all being supported by churches in Malawi. "You can give these children the best food, the best clothing, the best education; but if you don't give them Jesus, they will still die hopeless," says Matandika.

Not only in Africa, but also in Latin America, the gospel is advancing largely through theological education. A partnership between World Reformed Fellowship (WRF) and Miami International Seminary (MINTS) provides bachelor, master, and doctoral programs, as well as conferences, educational literature, and a theological journal, Reforma Siglo 21. Currently, there are more than 1,300 MINTS students in thirty-five countries. MINTS professors travel throughout Latin America to open "study centers" in cities where discipleship relationships take the form of professor and student.

MINTS offers both bachelor and master's programs which require a well-rounded curriculum of courses, including Systematic Theology, the Doctrines of Grace, and Christology. Dr. Neal Hegeman, Hispanic Program Director for MINTS, says, "Reformed theology is worth preserving and propagating, but its cultural mold needs to be critically reconstructed. The Reformed evangelicals value the biblical, theological, and historical importance of the Reformed ecclesiastical tradition, but do not limit themselves to Reformed ecclesiastical and cultural expressions. The doctrines of grace have grown beyond the Reformed churches." Hegeman reports of a Roman Catholic priest, who after studying the Bible's teaching on the doctrines of grace, "threw away his clerical collar." According to Hegeman, this priest reasoned that Christ's complete sacrifice and fulfilled priesthood left him without a job as a dispenser of grace. He renounced the priesthood and declared he wanted to become a Protestant pastor. Several of last year's MINTS graduates testified to replacing their previous commitments to Roman Catholic, Arminian, and charismatic traditions with a new commitment to the doctrines of grace.

Despite individual victories, the mission field continues to face significant challenges, especially in the efforts to plant self-supporting churches. Dependence on missionaries is a problem for many new ministries. The issues are layered and interwoven with greater needs than many missionaries are equipped to meet.

Challenges to Self-Support

Tim Nickel, a missionary with The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), says dependence on missionaries is the greatest challenge he faces in Kyrgyzstan. "The churches here are dependent on the Mission for everything," says Nickel, "talent, personnel, money, facilities and general support." Helping church plants to become self-sufficient is a long-term goal that takes time to establish. Dr. Tony Curto, professor of evangelism at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in South Carolina, does not believe a church can thrive without a support system. "'Church planting' includes setting up synods, presbyteries, and a general assembly. That is my understanding of 'church,'" says Curto.

"Too many people see the church as just another means to 'get' something and get on with life," says Marcos Kempff, a missionary with the LCMS. Kempff identifies attitudes of indifference and apathy as great challenges on his mission field in Panama City, Panama.

Fred Kabenge also sees self-sufficiency as a great need in his church, Mutungo Community Church in Uganda, planted in 2000. Kabenge says missionaries need to understand the context in which they are working in order to engage the local people in the mission work of planting independent churches. "There has been a tendency for nationals to tell the local people what needs to be done," says Kabenge. "This deprives the people of opportunity to learn what the missionaries are doing. If everything is dictated by the missionaries, it makes people feel incompetent." Kabenge calls this the "dependence syndrome," an unbreakable cycle that can cause tension between indigenous churches and their missionaries. "If the missionaries should leave one day, we need to be able to carry on without them," says Kabenge. "There have been projects that were totally dependent on missionaries, and when they left or their contracts ended, everything fell apart." Kabenge recalls the African Foundation, an orphanage that began in Uganda in 1979. When American and Dutch donors could not continue supporting the orphanage after almost twenty years, the organization folded and hundreds of orphans were scattered. "It was a sad situation," says Kabenge.

Self-sufficiency is especially crucial for low-income congregations like Mutungo Community Church. Most congregation members make their living as peasant farmers or coffee growers. By Ugandan government standards, their income is 70,000 Ugandan shillings per month, or approximately $41. "It is not that the people don't want to give to the church," says Kabenge, "the problem is that they have nothing to give." Kabenge believes the challenge in his community is to help his congregation members find ways to support their own families as well as the church ministry. "There are Christians who are not skilled in teaching theology or in running youth camps, but are skilled in business. We need businessmen and women to come and help us develop small businesses that will enable our congregation members to survive financially."

Low-income communities also face the threat of impermanence. "If you do not own a piece of land, you will be driven out once you cannot pay the bills," says Kabenge. "It doesn't make sense to launch an evangelistic campaign in a place where the people may not continue to meet." According to Kabenge, one of the most effective ways to help plant a church in a low-income community is to help them buy a piece of land that will safeguard the congregation from being relocated and losing members in the transitions. In this way, internal and external financial contributions will remain within the church body.

Purchasing permanent property and starting up small entrepreneurial enterprises to create jobs for congregation members may not be the most intuitive way to contribute to mission work. Yet these are real needs of the global church that await attention.

Next Steps

According to David Okken, a missionary in Uganda with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the church needs to keep proclaiming God's truth faithfully. "The strength of the Reformed church is its high view of the Word," he says. "There is a great temptation today to compromise that word for the sake of reaching the lost." Okken says his mission is to proclaim the gospel of God's sovereign salvation through the work of Christ and the operation of the Holy Spirit, to warn of eternal punishment, and to establish self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating churches who are committed to the Reformed standards.

Other missionaries second Okken's concerns. "What is needed is for the West to get behind the African Church by helping to train African leaders with biblically sound theological education," says Stoms.

"We've lost faith in God's ability to change the hearts and lives of men," adds Curto. "This is evidenced by the lack of missionaries we have to send out. As much as our theology teaches us the power of God, we don't believe it." Curto says the next step we need to take is to revive teaching in the church on understanding its role and function in the missionary enterprise. Again, it comes down to theological education-a biblical doctrine of the church. "The step we need to take is a step backwards," says Curto. "We need to understand our foundation. We need to labor together to reach nations with the gospel. As long as we do this in an individualistic way, we misunderstand the Great Commission that came to us not as individuals, but as a church."

Christ is reigning in the local and global mission field. His word to Peter in Matthew 16:18 is being fulfilled: "[O]n this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The Great Commission continues to call the laborers out, saying, "Go and make disciples of all nations…" It is still the church of Jesus Christ who must give an answer to the asking world.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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