My junior year in High School we lost the championship basketball game to our archrivals. It was a brutal letdown for a 16-year-old with NBA aspirations. But we also lost our coach, which in hindsight turned out to be fortuitous. The new coach that came in was a retired Army Special Forces operator and his manner of conducting practice was new to me and to the other twelve guys who made the team.
Gone were the days of ten-minute layup drills, zone defense, and “atta boys.” We sprinted till we threw up, we had three versions of the press, and we ran one of them all the time, but most of all we practiced every second as if it were the last second of the championship game. We didn’t lose a game that year and blew out the same team in the finals by thirty-seven points. I attribute the victories of that whole season to the practice sessions that Coach Dunn put us through.
For the modern missionary who is attempting to get to the last language groups on the face of the earth (roughly 3,200 left with no gospel, no disciples, and no church), training is of paramount importance. Without adequate training, how do you get a sense of what the battle will be like and how do you know what to do when the “bullets” start flying? The army knows this, and the Apostle Paul knew this as well.
In 2 Corinthians 9:25, Paul makes the point that every athlete (the obvious assumption is that he’s talking about the serious ones, the ones who want to win) goes into strict training. Then Paul applies it to himself when he says that he beats his body and makes it his “slave” (NIV). Why? So that he would not be “disqualified for the prize.” He’s not talking about salvation: he’s talking about what it takes to live a life that will glorify the King, all the way to the end.
Paul knew that good intentions were not enough. A “willing heart” was not enough. The most tender-hearted, best theologically trained individual was not enough. Strict training (mind and body) were in order for the serious follower of Christ who wanted his life to count. Training mattered.
There is a fallacy that exists today that “millennials” will not pay the price to see the gospel go to the last places. They will only last till they get bored or things get too difficult. I would say that charge is accurate, but it’s accurate only as far as they’ve been exposed to one method (manner of training) of conducting ministry. If two to four years overseas is the bar, they will rise to that bar. If a minimal understanding of a language and culture and “trusting the Holy Spirit to work” is the bar, they will rise to that bar. But if the expectation is to get truly worldview fluent (not market fluent) no matter the time frame, to bear the death of a spouse or child and continue, to see an indigenous New Testament church planted though it may take you fifteen to thirty years, they can and will rise to the level of previous generations . . . if they have been trained with those expectations.
How a missionary is trained and how his or her expectations for the life ahead are calibrated is of vital importance. There can be no better place for young people to look for inspiration and the marks a of true gospel ambassador than to those who have gone ahead of us in previous generations. Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, John G. Paton, William Burns, Lottie Moon, Betty Green, and a host of others who gave up careers, fortunes, and families to serve the King of kings with the best of their years do not fail to inspire. I am constantly amazed how the lives of these saints bring our twenty-somethings to tears as it dawns on them the sacrifice that the previous generations joyfully carried to see His name made great among the “nations.” I thank the Lord that Nate Saint, the Apostle Paul, and Gladys Aylward still speak to us today.
Training matters. If we are to see the last of the “nations” reached, it will not be without tears, bloodshed, and sacrifice. That much is clear from Scripture and plain reasoning. But those in their forties, fifties, and older will not be able to accomplish this task; it is the next generation that will carry the message of the cross to far away lands, learn languages, build relationships, and see the gospel of God’s glory brought to a new people. If they are to make it, they must be made aware of the frightening cost; more importantly, they must be made aware of the glory that comes with serving the King with the days of their youth. This won’t happen in six to ten weeks of lectures. It will only come about by practice in an environment that cultivates the sacrifice that will be asked of them in the people group that God takes them too.
– To learn more about Radius and their training for the sake of God’s glory among the unreached, go here.