I have been training men and women for contemporary Word ministry for the last six years for the Evangelical Theological College of Asia in Singapore and I am now starting as Director of the North West Gospel Partnership and would like to reflect on how we should equip and train Christians in our modern, contemporary context.
First, it seems to me that we must be clear about our goal. Our ultimate goal must be to seek the salvation of all nations and races to the glory of God (Matt 28:16-20; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1.) We want the lost of our world, nation, and region to be won for Christ. We live in an increasingly post-Christian world where knowledge of even the basics has been lost. Further, even those who are Christians need to be equipped so that they may obey Christ, mature, and persevere to the ultimate enjoyment of salvation (Matt 28:20; Heb 4:10; 6:1.) That means we need to encourage students to be clear and passionate about the content and nature of the Gospel. After all, in the end, it is the Good News of the Gospel of Christ that is powerful (1 Cor 15:1-11.)
Secondly, this great vision is for all believers. Those in full-time paid ministry must equip “the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12.) Ministry is not something merely for the Vicar and the Pastor, but rather the whole congregation of the local church must do ministry by being trained to witness for Christ and live according to his commands.
Thirdly, the work of all ministries is ultimately a character business. Paul has a character specification for those in full-time ministry in 1 Tim 3:1-16. The surprise in this passage is that the requirements are general and should characterise all Christians. Paul’s wisdom in focusing on a godly character for ministry is needed today. Too many ministries have been destroyed by major character defects to the damage and the hurt of many in the church. Therefore, we who are involved in training must exemplify a godly and Christ-like character and urge our students in the spiritual disciplines of devotional bible reading, prayer, humility, obedience, and resist the temptations to false doctrine and false living (2 Tim 2:1-2.)
Fourthly, we must equip our students to understand the Bible. That means we teach them to become good readers by understanding the various genres of literature of the Bible and its historical context because truth matters. We live in a visual, not a reading culture, so getting the students to read (and write) well is foundational. Importantly we need to train students to focus on the main theme and main purpose of a passage in the context of the whole Bible.
Both understanding the main theme and main purpose is central. To train students to look for the main theme means to understand “the melodic line” of the passage as it contributes to the central theological content of the passage and notice exegetical details like the shocks and surprises in the passage. Further, focusing on the main purpose and intention of the biblical author as he wanted to apply to the original audience is difficult but necessary for good and faithful application. In addition, students must also have a sound theological framework to ensure that their teaching is orthodox, especially given the various theological views on offer.
Fifthly, students should understand the contemporary culture, otherwise, our teaching will not have an impact on lives and society. We live in a pluralistic culture and for the church to witness to Christ means understanding the different worldviews out there. That means having a basic understanding of secular worldviews on life as well as the worldviews of other religions like Islam and Hinduism. Since identity and sexuality are crucial issues in our culture, students must be trained to understand the biblical world of creation and identity in particular.
Sixthly and lastly, students should be equipped to give clear talks whether in formal or informal settings in the context of prayer and dependence on the Spirit. That means teaching the students to give clear and well-structured talks to their particular audiences.
At the end of his life, Paul wants to encourage his younger disciple and student to go on in ministry. Paul reminds Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17). We notice here that the whole Bible and its teaching and application of belief in the “truth”, “reproof” of doctrinal error, “correction” of sinful behaviour, and “training in righteousness” of godly living is wholly adequate to equip the Christian for “every good work” of ministry. That confidence in the power of Scripture to train and equip is the great need of our day because when the Bible is taught, God’s voice is heard.