I've complained about the current trend in missions towards short-cycle church planting.
Actually, I love the focus on church planting. The short-cycle bit concerns me sometimes, it just depends how it's applied. What really gets me is that it sometimes seems that organizations are pursuing multiplication of church planting and shutting down training and education of church leaders. I know for sure that there's a train of thought that says that institutional training and education will slow church multiplication, so we really should shut down our western-style education because it's counter-productive.
It's actually so pervasive that mutiple missions that we've contacted have recently shut down nearly all of the theological training that they were previously doing.
With that in mind, it's a little interesting to be heading overseas in order to train leaders.... in an institutional setting. We're definitely not going with the current flow. Why not?
There's a lot of reasons.
- If you do end up with a multiplying church movement, you will eventually have older churches and a need for leaders to lead the newest, youngest leaders. Church growth eventually necessitates the need for training and education at the top. It's true that we may have it backward sometimes, because you really need to start out with evangelism and then church planting and multiplication, rather than to start out with training as the West has often done in the past. To be reactionary and become anti-training is dangerous.
- Ending up with a church that has spread organically but has few trained leaders leaves you wide open for cults and all kinds of craziness. Incidentally, this is very true in Papua, where the church has grown and cults are a massive problem. It's also true in China. Throughout church history we see that it takes careful shepherding and commitment to orthodoxy to keep the church from drifting away.
- We've seen the anti-intellectualism streak in American evangelicalism (thank you, Mark Noll, for writing about the importance of this issue) and do not wish to propagate this mentality around the world.
- Providing education empowers the local community. Why would we want to grow a church that is dependent on the West to engage on theological and philosophical questions in the world? A growing local church movement needs local leaders that can confidently engage on these levels in their society - you even see that in Acts and the early church.
There are still problems with implementing Western-style education as the way we train around the world. We can work at being innovative and flexible. Training up leaders in scripture and theology, though, is a necessity.