Taking our students to Galilee

March 15th, 20133:53 pm @

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          Jordan Family My first opportunity to preach in big church came when I was seventeen years old. I sat with my pastor in his office shaking in an oversized sports coat while leafing through the message notes. My pastor looked at me with a father’s gaze and said, “Son, always preach what you know.” As I stood there in front of the fifteen octogenarians, who had literally known me since the day I was born, and preached from Revelation 3:14-21, I knew that I would never forget my pastor’s sage advice.

I bring that lesson to this article because when I received the invitation to share I thought, “What in the world can I share with this group of expert educators!” So I would like to share with you a little bit of my journey and personal experience toward becoming a missionary educator and how that pilgrimage has shaped my philosophy on teaching.

Context

            When I reflect on my formation as a Christian, missionary and educator, there are three distinct stages: (1) Growth as a Christian in my local church; (2) Undergraduate Bible school studies and (3) Graduate studies combined with experience on the field. We will examine each of these stages through the lens of Pentecost and offer conclusions that hindsight makes easily attainable. I will then relate these stages to the ministry my wife and I are currently directing, CEDI (Centro de Estudio para Desarrollo Internacional), a missionary training program pioneered and developed by missionaries David and Margot Woodworth.

CEDI Contextualized Service

Stage I: The Garden

            My home church was not perfect; however, it was a community. The local church is the cradle where believers develop habits we call disciplines. There are few things in the believers’ formative years that have such long-lasting effects as spiritual and corporate disciplines.[1] The spiritual habits formed in this stage of development are those that will undergird all aspects of Pentecostal leadership.

Most often (if not always) the two most heavily promoted disciplines are prayer and Bible reading. While these habits are irreplaceable in the Christian walk—left unaccompanied by corporate disciplines—they can foster a very isolated formation. Pentecostal leaders, who spend all of their time in the “prayer closet” or “study,” quickly loose touch with one of the defining characteristics of Pentecostalism—community.

Koinonia (community or fellowship) is used in the New Testament to describe the gathering of what today is called “church.”[2] From the traditional Sunday morning service—to small groups and even our classrooms—the Greek word koinonia encompasses these gatherings.[3] In its New Testament interpretation, however, koinonia is not merely a gathering, but rather “…occurs when the Spirit creates within the church the real experiential bond of belonging to one another in God’s inclusive family of equally valued brothers and sisters.”[4]

The community represented by my home church was a garden. It provided a safe environment where I could explore the gifts of the Spirit, learn to intercede for others, and eventually earn the opportunity to lead. The local church is where my missionary call, empowerment, and leadership experience were nurtured. Our classrooms should offer a similar Holy Spirit emancipated koinoniac community.

Application: Building the garden

            Most of the students at our missionary training program come from different parts of Colombia—a country with large cultural differences between the various regions. These students take a great step of faith to leave family, home, friends, and church to come and study cross-cultural missions for ten months.

The majority feel a disconnect from their local community upon arrival—it is a feeling every missionary must face. During the first week of class, we assign each student a local church in which they serve. It is clear that even the most mature need to be nurtured and reassured, they need to return to the garden.

Because of this, the first weeks of CEDI are as much about building community as they are about learning missiology. The picture painted by the earliest account of the New Testament church is that of a community under the direction of the Spirit.[5] We are intentional in our interaction with each student (as individuals). There are also planned times in which they share together outside of class.

CEDI’s long-term goal is that each student fully participates in God’s redemptive mission. We believe the best way to achieve that in the classroom is through the relational dynamic of Spirit-filled believers found in koinonia. [6]  And so at this stage the objective is simple—create a community where each student feels safe to share their experiences and interact with one another as they learn.

Do our classrooms show the marks of Pentecost? Are they communities? Does the Spirit move in-and-through them? Do our students feel encouraged to interact with and apply the topics we teach?

Stage II: The Desert

The gradual empowerment within the local church is an indispensable preparation for full-time ministry, more so than the years I spent away from home at Bible college. Although the formal academic training provided a deeper understanding of God’s Word, the detachment I felt from studying hundreds of miles away from the cozy community was inescapable. Although college did provide some vital aspects of community, it was not the Spirit-empowered social setting my local church had been—many times it was a place for spiritual isolation and/or competition.

Viewed from the perspective of Pentecost—where God took a community who had “all things in common” and “added to their number daily” (Acts 2)—I could not describe the Bible college community at that time in my life as Pentecostal. Pentecost produced an explosion of Christianity onto the world scene that was primarily a result of the Holy Spirit. Second, it was a logical conclusion to the priesthood of every believer—knowing Jesus as Savior translated into hands-on participation in His redemptive mission.[7] Perhaps we had the community but what was lacking was participation in God’s mission.

When hands-on participation is lost, the community ceases to be Pentecostal. Certainly there were groups on campus that searched for opportunities to minister away from school; however, I can say with certainty that a high percentage of those with whom I studied felt disengaged from ministry to a dying world.  Instead of focusing on reaching our world, the emphasis turned inwards on the individual.  I believe this prolonged time without fulfilling the Pentecostal imperative to go created the desert.

Application: Avoiding the desert

            While God most certainly uses the desert experience to teach us, I do not believe it is the place He wants us to spend our lives. As educators, our responsibility is to have our hand on the pulse of our students’ walk with God and recognize when they enter the desert.

As the students at CEDI reach the middle of their studies they start to become restless. Perhaps it is the monotony of the classroom. Or maybe the problem is not yet having the opportunity to apply what they have learned to this point to ministry.

When application does not take place we run the risk of promoting a gnostic philosophy of education where knowledge becomes an end in itself—the antithesis of Pentecostal education.[8] Every course we teach should have a real-life application or outlet that allows the student to connect the information gained (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) to the world in which they live.

The original Pentecost event happened within-and-through community.  The result of Pentecost was Spirit-empowered believers whose life-purpose was to share the message of Jesus Christ.  God’s Spirit worked in them, through them, and for them to create moments for the Gospel to be shared.

Has knowledge become an end in itself? Do our students have times and/or opportunities to interact with a world that needs Jesus?

Stage III: Galilee

            This hands-on participation is the apex of Pentecostal education. It was the model Jesus followed, both as a learner and educator. In fact, it was the preferred model of training in any discipline, field, or skill until civilized man became so “educated.”

Upon appointment in 2005, I began to study at AGTS and continued through the CINCEL extension program lead by missionary educator Delonn Rance. Our one-week intensives were more laboratory than lecture hall—a characteristic that I believe suits Pentecostal education very well. All of the students were missionaries, some with twenty years of experience. Others, like myself, were pollitos. Still, we all gathered around the table, listened to the professors, and applied that to our experiences on the field—we were a community.

Far from the “ivory tower” of higher education, the themes of my term papers were directly related to my experience as a missionary in formation. I consider this time as a first term missionary, combined with graduate studies, as my Galilean experience. Just as Jesus’ disciples’ education and training continued after their commissioning (Matthew 10), so too did mine through continuing education and work alongside veteran missionaries. 

Getting to Galilee

As missionary educators, our most challenging and important task is to help our students have a Galilean experience. This stage does not take place in the classroom; it occurs among the lost.

As previously mentioned, our goal for each student at CEDI is to fulfill God’s call by participating in His redemptive mission. We see in the Bible, with the exception of Paul’s Damascus road experience, that all those who received a specific calling were already in full participation of God’s overarching mission of salvation for all peoples.[9]

Our purpose as missionary educators is not only to teach the material but also guide the student in applying what they have learned. Viewed from a Pentecostal perspective this reality moves from best practices to an imperative.

At CEDI, we attempt to obey the Holy Spirit’s instruction to teach our students to apply their academic studies through a two-month cross-cultural practicum. All of our students (usually in pairs) are sent to learn and apply alongside a missionary in the field. During their time of learning on the field, God’s work in these student’s lives is incredible. The timid return bold, the doubters now believers, and even those who seemed like they slept through some of the classes are invigorated when talking about contextualization and how it was applied during their cross-cultural experience.

Our students finish their practicum and return for a final month of studies. At this point, most begin looking towards the future. They anticipate the moment when the Spirit tells them “go.” Our goal should be to lead our students to Galilee.

What is the Holy Spirit’s role in moving us from academic pursuit to implementation of what we have learned? Are we as concerned with our students application of what they have learned as we are with how much they have learned? Do our students feel empowered to pursue the calling God has given them?

Conclusion

The stages mentioned in this article could easily be considered steps towards empowerment. In the garden stage, the local community must foster the development of individuals through gradual empowerment towards mission fulfillment[10]—it is here that the Pentecostal leader is formed. The Pentecostal local church is one that is missional. Its reason for being is so that the community of believers may come together and be empowered to participate in God’s mission.

Thinking of the classroom as a community rather than an audience enables the gift of the Spirit to endow its koinoniac ministry, “…to be a witnessing community, a counter-community, a moral community, and an anticipatory community.”[11]

The concentric circles of empowerment that flow from the garden to Galilee can be interrupted by a prolonged desert experience. Unlike the times God uses the desert, valley, storm, etc. to teach us, this desert happens when either community is lost or education becomes an end in itself. As Pentecostal missionary educators we must be on constant guard that our classroom does not become an Areopagus where the pursuit of knowledge supersedes the pursuit of souls if we are to avoid sending our students into the desert.

In Hodges’ earlier work on the indigenous church he states, “our training program should aim to put the entire church on the march for God”[12]. The educator who is truly Spirit-driven, will realize his servant role as one who leads others to participate in the fulfillment of God’s Pentecost-driven mission of redemption. Failure to connect what is taught in the classroom to application in the world is a failure to embrace our Pentecostal distinctive.

Article by: Ryan Jordan


[1] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 33.

[2] D. W. B. Robinson, “Communion,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), vol. 1, 753.

[3] Friedrich Hauck, “,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, eds. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), vol. 4, 808.

[4] Murray Dempster, “Evangelism, Social Concern and the Kingdom of God,” in Called and Empowered: Global Mission in Pentecostal Perspective, eds. Murray A. Dempster, Byron Klaus, and Douglas Petersen, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), 28.

[5] G. W. H. Lampe, “Holy Spirit,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, ed. George Arthur Buttrick (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1962), vol. 2, 637.

[6] Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 165.

[7] Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 120.

[8] Augustus Neander, The History of the Christian Religion and the Church during the First Three Centuries (New York: Cosimo, 2007), 88.

[9] Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 39.

[10] Earl Creps, Off-Road Disciplines (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 174.

[11] Dempster, ibid., 32.

[12] Melvin L. Hodges, The Indigenous Church (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1953), 55.