What Would It Take?

Americans constantly go to other countries to teach. They are appreciated and provide training not easy to obtain in other countries. Recent conversations, however, have reminded me of something dissidens said about Evangelicalism being about a maximum of effort for a minimum of results. Here is what I mean, from what I know happens in Reformed circles:

A like-minded effort in another country will be targeted for or obtain funding (the hard part) and volunteers (the easy part) and the thing will begin. Foreign teachers will come in periodically, serve the Lord sacrificially, give reports received with admiration and gratitude at the funding source, and the foreign effort will be helped. And it is a help, no question. Often, the volunteers pay their own travel and the only expense at the receiving end is the facility, lodging and food, that sort of thing.

It is usually offered to the students for free, and what materials can be made available are made available. What materials cannot be made available, are not, on the other hand, and these tend to be the not inconsiderable materials a theological library represents. So the academic quality is considerably diminished. Also, if the work is presented in a language the teacher is unable to teach in, it is likely that the work will be presented in a language the teacher is unable to grade in. So the academic quality . . .

After a while, those in the likeminded work hosting the effort will have gone through the full extent of the training offered. The training continues because, by this time, not so like-minded persons are available, and there is always a need for training, isn’t there? At this point, in Reformed circles, reports can return with the announcement that a lot of Pentecostals and non-Reformed students are enrolling. What a great opportunity to give them good, Biblical training that will influence them in a Reformed direction.

By this time, however, you do not exactly have trained pastors coming out of these programs. That is worth thinking about. People in the target country notice that the low standards and low expectation are raising the level of understanding somewhat, but there is still a lot of work to do on these graduates if indeed anybody is really going to consider ordaining them. In other words, at best, workers are being prepared, but not ministers. What you also notice is that some of the Pentecostals and charismatics attending have been won over, but not that many. It is worth asking: What is happening with them?

They are coming because they have no, or very few, standards for training and ordination, and what they want is some kind of credential. They can use it to further their career, and they do. It is sincerely to be hoped they will do good, will influence their circles, will use the teaching they transmit to reach hearts disposed to seek more.

Would they did that without also appropriating the name Reformed Baptist; while they have some understanding, it is not such as can distinguish Mark Driscoll, for example, and a sabbatarian Reformed Baptist. And the question is raised, besides all the good that is being done—which it is not my intention to deny—is there some harm being accomplished? And more answerable for us who are not there, what is the relation of the effort to the outcome of the effort?

The question is not: is good training not otherwise available being made available? It is. But I think we overestimate this in thinking that the draw is the superior training: in some cases it is the Americanness of the training that attracts, it provides a kind of glamor, it maintains a certain level of activity. The question instead is, why are we doing this training? Is the point to provide ministry into which we can invest and spend our time raising Christian workers, or is the point in each place to provide churches with a source of training from which ministers can be drawn? Because if the goal is men trained to a certain ministerial standard, then the efforts I have witnessed and inquire about do not measure up. The resources are going toward different ends.

And I’m not just coming up with this on my own. I’ve seen it, I discuss it rather regularly with a friend in Colombia who knows all about that end of it, and I have also talked to a guy whose job it is to travel all over the world and understand what is going on. He put the question clearly, and to me, that is the real question. What is the desired outcome? And if it is training for competent pastors, then the question still needs to be answered: What would it take?

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