Imagine you arrive in a new country with very few English speakers. You’ve spent time training in cross-cultural settings, learned from experienced missionaries, received extensive theological training, and spent time learning basic language learning habits, but you don’t know the language. Maybe you can buy food in the market or somewhat communicate, but the language barrier is real.
Not only does this hinder you from deep gospel conversations, but it also makes it incredibly difficult for you to build friendships. If you are unable to speak the language, you won’t be able to move past a surface-level relationship with the people that you’re serving which will make it difficult for you to plant churches. While not every missionary will serve as an elder or deacon in a church, the primary responsibility of a missionary is to support and establish biblical churches.
While not every missionary will serve as an elder or deacon in a church, the primary responsibility of a missionary is to support and establish biblical churches.
To be sure, many places around the world are filled with English speakers who can be reached with the gospel and participate in English-speaking churches. I think about college students in northern India that I know. While they grew up in Hindi-speaking homes, many of them prefer to speak English and regularly share the gospel in English with friends at their university.
At the same time, when we are taking the gospel to the unreached, we must recognize that language is one of the main reasons these people remain unreached. God intends for “faith to come from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). But how will they hear and believe if the preacher cannot engage in their language at a level that addresses their hearts?
The Need Among the Nations is Urgent
We often speak of the urgency of reaching the nations, and that’s important because an estimated 3.2 billion people are unreached by the gospel. This means that billions will be born, live, and die without ever hearing the gospel. Some of these people lack access to the gospel. Others lack a sustainable gospel presence in their local communities. For these reasons, the nations need more Christians to move overseas.
In his book Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global, Andy Johnson wrote, “The work of missions is urgent, but it’s not frantic.” Certainly, we need to send more missionaries to the nations, but these missionaries need training. This training will help church members succeed in their task while honoring the role of the local church in the process. So, yes, the missionary task is urgent, but missionaries must take time to prepare well.
The Nations Need Missionaries Who Have Prepared Well
When we’re talking about missionary training, it’s important to remember that we’re not only talking about language learning. When you’re looking for a missionary training program, consider looking for extended training in a cross-cultural context, culture and language learning, coaching from godly veteran missionaries, and biblical content on missions and discipleship.
Unfortunately, many training programs fail to provide an adequate emphasis on language learning. While cross-cultural experience, mentorship, and biblical teaching prepare missionaries for the missionary task, they are incomplete without a focus on language learning for missions.
Language Learning Prepares Missionaries for the Task
In most unreached contexts, it’s not simply that they do not know the gospel message but that they are consciously opposed to it. If we don’t develop the skills to effectively and persuasively compel them to believe in Jesus, these people will remain unreached (Romans 10:14–15).
If we don’t develop the skills to effectively and persuasively compel them to believe in Jesus, these people will remain unreached.
So, it is not enough to go. Without a deep knowledge of the local language, it is extremely difficult to establish churches that will last. No amount of theological training, biblical church planting methods, or ministry experience that we gain can make up for deficient language ability. If you send missionaries with a surface-level understanding of the local language, it will likely mean that their long-term impact will be very limited.
Language Learning is Central to Our Missionary Training
Because language learning is central to our missionary training, we ought to emphasize mentoring students in effective language and culture learning methods. Throughout the Radical training program, instructors will train the students to use an approach that integrates language acquisition and cultural investigation. The students will implement this methodology to begin learning a local language and exploring the local culture.
In this training, instructors aim to help students become as effective as possible in their next language-learning endeavor. Missionaries should not only know how to learn a language but enter with experience learning an actual language. The missionaries you send should invest time learning grammar and vocabulary, and gaining real-life experience communicating with native speakers to obtain written and oral proficiency.
As you’re considering who to partner with to train aspiring missionaries, consider finding a missionary training program that prioritizes language learning. These programs prepare missionaries to stay for the long haul and commit to establishing healthy churches in hard-to-reach places.