Obedience-Oriented Education, Part 4


The Lord pronounced His Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 in urgent, authoritative military terms: “All authority is given me… go therefore and make disciples…” It leaves no room for excuses; it demands simple, direct obedience. We should establish realistic objectives for mobilizing obedient disciples from the very beginning of their Christian life. But often we plan institution and projects which train disciples in the most indirect ways.

We missionary educators are notoriously impractical dreamers. We confuse faith with wishful thinking, vision with ambition. We write educational objectives with stars in our eyes. The prophets of the Bible were also dreamers, but they had a natural control which kept a balance. They were close to the earth. Shepherds and farmers, they knew the reality of nature. They never entered a great library where one can become lost in a philosopher’s world. They were not scholars who specialized more and more in less and less. The problems of pastoral education are of such a nature that, apart from prayer, they yield only to harsh reality. But we begin costly projects justified only by the eloquent presentation of our objectives. Objectives should not be wishes but honest plans. Education plans must be projected with such clarity that their outcome is clear from the start. Educational problems must be identified and faced honestly. In a world where millions are dying without Christ, we must not waste time and money on impractical educational efforts just because their objectives sound good.

How much money has been spent enlarging Bible schools in unresponsive societies with the naive hope that by the size of our institutions we could increase the number of God’s elect? Then, when our project falters, we keep it looking alive by pouring in more money, adding classrooms and printing grand objectives in multi-colored brochures. We educators must repent of this commercialism!

An obedience-oriented curriculum does not start with humanly-inspired education objectives, but with Christ’s commands applied to a given field of responsibility. Every profession and student knows his own area of responsibility. He knows exactly what Christ orders His Church to do within that area of responsibility. He knows what specific steps he must take as a Christian worker, to see that the Church fulfills what Christ has ordered.

Each student in the Honduras Extension Bible Institute draws a map of his church’s area of responsibility. He helps the congregation to accept her responsibility before God. Then they make workable plans together to do what Christ orders. They study their field of responsibility to determine which towns best serve as strategic centers to reach the remaining areas. Then they raise up daughter churches. These workable plans bring their vision of God’s unlimited grace into practical focus. Let us abandon education or evangelistic projects which have proven impractical, regardless of how much money and time has already been invested! We must start extension centers where God is working. We observe which men are taking on responsibility. What are their needs?

What curriculum will enable them, whoever and wherever they are, to guide their churches in doing what Christ has ordered? Maybe these men who present themselves to the church for service have little or no previous education; but they are the men whom God has given us. We mobilize them immediately for whatever God has given them to do, and adapt our course to it. Their education experience must follow their church experience. Their education orients them intellectually at each step as they take on more responsibility.

It is a crime to commit an unproven man to several years of study for the pastorate when neither he nor the church knows if that is God’s gift for him. this gift can be discerned only as one practices it in a local church. To assume that three year’s study will automatically make a pastor contradicts the biblical doctrine of gifts. We must provide a graceful way out for the beginning student who finds he cannot apply his studies in a local church situation.

Our education objectives become more realistic when they go hand in hand with their corresponding pastoral or evangelistic objectives. Evangelism and education, integrated, reinforce each other. Every experienced pastor should participate in the pastoral training course in three ways:

1) Train his own Timothies (if need be, in cooperation with a formal theological institution).

2) Communicate needs and progress reports from his field to those who are writing texts and training men for his field.

3.) Continue his own study to keep his mind sharp and stay ahead of his Timothies.

The resident professor must share his student’s time with his pastor-teacher in the field. The better the communication between the professor and pastor, the easier the student’s application of theory.

Objectives printed in some seminary catalogues have small relationship to the ministry of their students and graduates. How can we be sure that our objectives are met? How can we be assured of the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we project new extension centers and new churches? We cannot make plans which will cause a spontaneous movement (or it would not be spontaneous). We cannot say that the Spirit of God will begin working at 7:30 P.M. next Friday as we inaugurate a new education program. But we can make plans which permit a spontaneous movement. Figure 10 shows how strategic plans for a flexible pastoral course permit a spontaneous movement.


In II Timothy 2:2 we find four links in the chain of extension:

And that which thou has heard of me (Paul) among many witnesses, the same commit thou (Timothy) to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.

The wise pastor multiplies his ministry in others; he prepares Timothies who imitate him (I Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17: etc). Every pastoral student needs to observe and imitate a good pastor. In some churches everything revolves around a poor pastor. Others cannot imitate him because he gives them no responsibility in the work. They listen to him passively, occasionally doing what he says. The educational process ends with his teaching (Figure 11).

To permit a spontaneous movement in the churches the theological curriculum itself forms part of the multiplying process. The students become teachers of others; their assignments aim to develop new leaders in an atmosphere of freedom to work for Christ. Every man in a church should learn to share the ministry in some way; our students must be trained to train them (Figure 12).

To mobilize new leadership by the extension principle of II Tim. 2:2 requires small, tightly disciplined classes taught by student-workers (Figure 13).

This extension class should be limited to one, two or three. If others want to study, one of the student-workers should teach them in another class. This use of the student-worker to teach the others has five advantages:

1) The new student-worker becomes a responsible leader.

2) The outside teacher does not weaken the local leaders when he works through them; an extension program weakens the local ministry if it takes over pastoral responsibility with the people, by-passing the local leaders to teach a larger class.

3) The outside teacher conserves his time; his students take most of the responsibility for their own churches, he can deal with several churches in the same time that he would otherwise spend with one.

4) The class can deal with details of the work which could not be discussed in a large, unrestricted group which, because of its size, becomes simply another Sunday School class.

5) The educational structure is already set up for reproduction; they do not need to change a thing to start a daughter church or a new nucleous of leaders within the same church. The student-worker simply repeats the same steps in another area (Figure 14).

Pastors and teachers who tend to be dictators impede this free extension of the education process. They do not delegate responsibility nor recognize their own students as colleagues in the educational process. They enjoy teaching but fail to trust their students to reteach the same things to others. We do not enjoy it when others impede the practice of our own spiritual gift. The ordained pastor should accept the Biblical authority of the lay ministers or elders and encourage their participation (Titus 1:5).

A pastor’s own biblical authority lies in that he is an elder, with a special gift (I Pet. 5:1-4; Eph. 4:11-12). The experienced pastor should encourage, train and trust his Timothies. In order for a Timothy to imitate his “Paul”, an an apprentice, the latter must use only equipment and methods which are within the student’s reach. Everything which the teacher does is to be imitated. Christ never ordered his disciples to do anything which they had not observed him doing.

Paul the Apostle left new churches organized under new elders (Acts 14:23). Following his example, a church planter enters an unevangelized community, wins several men to Christ and, after baptism, enrolls them in an extension class to let them raise up their own church. New churches result from an education program rather than an evangelistic crusade. Such churches are stronger from the beginning and more evangelistic: their local laymen have taken the responsibility. The extension teacher only gives them the studies which they need, at every step, to keep progressing with their own congregation. New believers should not preach. Many of our fastest growing churches in Honduras have no preaching as such; their new leaders reteach simple studies and serve the Lord’s Supper; other members participate with hymns, testimonies and Scripture readings.

In the resulting multiplication of daughter and granddaughter churches, the link in the chain of spiritual reproduction is not the individual witness but the local church. Reproducing a daughter church requires a team effort. The student-worker goes and witnesses as an arm of the mother church; the Holy Spirit reproduces the church through him. This is why daughter churches resemble their mothers, regardless of the personality of the individual worker.

The free extension of the educational process requires flexibility in the Church. The Old Testament legal system was too rigid to contain the dynamic gospel. The old wineskins lacked elasticity for the new wine. Theological institutions likewise help or hinder the extension of the gospel according to their elasticity. In whatever culture or community the Church grows rapidly, a coordinated educational effort must provide leadership for the expanding work. In unevangelized countries church planting may be almost synonymous with self-extending pastoral training programs.

Rigid plans and church traditions replace faith with machinery and institutions. We must educate our people for spiritual liberty. This requires a toughness, a continual struggle with Christians of tradition who impede simple, direct obedience to Christ. Rules and customs have evolved into hundreds of evangelical traditions. Conservative theology often confuses itself with evangelical traditions and institutions. If we insist more on the rules of our institution or denomination than on the commandments of Christ, we are not really conservative in theology; we have embraced innovations of man. Institutionalism paralyzes spontaneous development of the Church. The desire to control men reinforces educational traditions and the institutional mentality. The obedient education must detect and correct traditions which deny liberty for the Church’s free self-extension.

Traditional textbooks do not lend themselves to a spontaneous movement. For a program of self-extension, each textbook should require practical work related to each week’s (or two weeks’) study, and be reteachable, enabling the student-worker to reteach it to his own students in another center.

Traditional entrance requirements for some seminaries make no allowance for a man’s demonstration of the pastoral gift. They deny theological training to anyone who lacks certain education. Many Latin American evangelical churches, as a result, are pastored by men with little or no formal theological training. They are considered unqualified as pastoral material: they have not finished grade school. But they are the men who do the pastoral work in their churches. Do we have the authority under God to deny these men, to whom He has given pastoral responsibility, the education which they need? We must train men on all academic levels. Some pastors will work among well educated people; the Church needs scholars and administrators, like the Apostle Paul, with the highest qualifications. But she also needs a much larger army of humble pastors for the multitudes with limited education.

Tradition also prohibits that some congregations celebrate the Lord’s Supper unless an ordained pastor is present. Do disciples of Christ in a remote village need an ordained pastor in order to be obedient? Preaching causes a new worker to become proud: it requires restrictions. But serving the Lord’s Supper requires no special priestly qualifications unless one, indeed, turns the bread and wine into God. The educator must take education to those servants who are in a position to lead their people in obedience.

Traditional patterns of church government often serve as fronts for hidden power structures within a church. Older believers, jealous of their position, tend to deny new believers the liberty to develop their own ministries. A clique dominates the congregation; new workers cannot freely exercise their gifts.

Traditional also denies liberty for new churches to grow freely, by governing them from the outside. The more responsibility we give them, the better they grow. If a new church is free to draw her leaders from her own community, the less disciplinary problems she will have and the sooner she will reproduce daughter churches. The church planter must not use his position as extension teacher to control the churches from the outside. Let us not confuse education with government.

Tradition cripples spontaneous expansion by limiting evangelism to special meetings or Sunday evening services. Biblically, evangelism is the ordinary, daily work of the members of a church. There is nothing “Special” about it. But some churches leave witnessing for professionals with extraordinary preparation. They confuse evangelism with pulpit eloquence. They often make a sacrament out of the public invitation, implying that one cannot be saved without “going forward”. We must educate our churches for evangelism: witnessing must be a direct result of our teaching. For years the Honduras Extension Bible Institute has taught personal evangelism. But no relationship has been observed between classroom studies in personal evangelism and the number of persons won to Christ in local churches. But when the teacher has taken his students with him to witness, in almost every case the church has won new believers.

Tradition often shackles a new congregation with a ponderous, detailed constitution inherited from a well-meaning mother church. A constitution by itself will not assure adherence to proper doctrine and practice: only education of the congregation will do this. Bylaws are worthless if not followed; they are worse yet if followed when they do not apply to a church’s needs. Constitutions should be brief, supplemented by lean bylaws with job descriptions for elected officers. These bylaws are revised as the church grows.

Traditional also tempts some educators to foster “preaching points”. They send the student somewhere every weekend; the people come listen to him preach the gospel. Some (mostly women and children) go through the ritual of hand raising to “accept” Christ. But they are not made into obedient, baptized disciples. Responsibility for directing the church is not given to the new congregation. The Lord’s Supper is not served and little distinction is made between believers and unbelievers. Christ demands that new converts be baptized and trained to do his commands (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:38-42). The educator must help his students to distinguish between evangelistic services for unbelievers and worship services for the regenerate. An unbeliever cannot worship God in spirit and in trust (John 4:24). Christ wants churches, not preaching points.

Traditional training to preach in an artificial, artistic manner also hinders the free development of the prophetic gift. Our best preachers are those whose preaching has developed gradually. They begin witnessing humbly to their friends, then they teach simple Bible studies already prepared for the; later they prepare their own Bible studies, finally, they find themselves preaching the Word of God to people for whom they already feel responsible. We must train pastors who care, not preachers as such. Graduates from many seminaries frequently fail in their first church, not in the pulpit but in their role as compassionate shepherds.

Another evangelical custom, segregation by age, hinders normal development of young Christians by depriving them of loving relationships with people of different ages. The graded school system isolates young people in age groups. Young people, segregated by age during their secondary and university education, develop an artificial society separated from little children and the elderly. Often they are unable to adjust to normal society. Some churches’ Sunday School and youth programs continue this segregation right over the weekend. They keep teenagers sealed off from their families when they most need them. Young people normally seek friends of their own age; but is abnormal when they can no longer communicate with those of other ages. The church must help its young people to develop normal relationships with their families, their government and society at large. A resident seminary which fails to require a young man’s deep involvement in a local church may prolong his segregation from normal society. He will find it hard to adjust to his first board of elders.

Figures are in the original booklet which can be ordered from the author.

For help with materials or further information write:

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