Discipleship or recruiting? It is both.
In my last article, I discussed the alignment of the CDI with Village Missions’ purpose of developing spiritually vital churches. One student, evaluating the changes that had taken place in his life after taking the CDI Bibliology course, wrote about his new confidence in ministry.
“I have found that I’m more confident in standing and speaking up in issues of doctrine and scripture in our local church meetings. As a result of this class, I feel like my sermon prep, personal study, and AWANA council time prep, was vastly improved. I feel like I’m able to “pull” more out of Scripture to share with others.”
Another student gained a new appreciation for his pastor and the amount of time necessary to prepare a message.
“I was completely in awe of the vast amount of helps that are available, and for me, I have a new appreciation of the work Pastors and teachers of the Bible go through to present God’s Word.”
Few would argue against the desirability of these changes and the impact they will have on the local church. These changes in the laity will affect the longevity and spiritual productivity of the local Village Missionary. Is equipping the body of Christ, however, the primary purpose of the CDI? Some feel that the sole purpose of the CDI should be to raise up new missionaries. What is the CDI—a recruiting tool or a discipleship tool? A close connection exists, obviously, between effectively equipped believers and spiritually vital churches. In this article, I want to explain how my thinking has developed with regard to the equipping role of the CDI.
An Answer to Difficulties in Recruiting
As Director, I became increasingly frustrated with the difficulties we faced in recruiting. I have been extensively involved in attempts at improving recruiting. Our slow decline in numbers in the U.S. and more dramatic decline in Canada (except until recently through the CDI) continues.
At the same time, we began to see an increased number of applicants from Contenders Bible School in Machias, WA. Some of the students came out of the church and others came from nearby churches served by Village Missions. The District Representative from the Northwest, Vern Wilkinson, was very much involved in interacting with the attendees and even teaching. Although the first graduate of Contenders did not do well, subsequent graduates did. Amazingly, every graduate of Contenders is still serving with Village Missions.
So, of course, I became excited about the potential for Contenders if we could somehow duplicate what was occurring at Machias elsewhere. I began to promote Contenders at staff conferences, which resulted in McKenna Contenders Bible School and Servants Bible School (the work of two churches). Servants Bible School used Ron Sallee’s basic materials and notes and amplified them, and in the case of McKenna, initially Ron Sallee traveled to teach classes. After the first two years, a couple who graduated from Servants Bible School, the Woolbrights, became Village Missionaries. They progressed from wanting to take the courses for their own spiritual development to feeling that God was calling them to ministry with Village Missions. How exciting!
The development of video classes, teacher manuals, student manuals, and a website through the largely volunteer work of two couples at Machias moved the program rapidly into an entirely new level of accessibility for our Village Missionaries. Why was I, however, increasingly emphasizing discipleship?
A Recruiting Tool and a Discipleship Tool
Part of the answer lies in my greater understanding of Contenders Bible School itself. I saw it as a recruiting tool but Ron Sallee has always seen it as a discipleship tool as well as a recruiting tool to produce Village Missionaries. I began to realize that, although extremely challenging, the material was also well designed for church members who wished to be equipped for ministry. I always knew that Contenders involved the equipping of believers for local church ministry but I gained a greater appreciation for this role as my understanding of Ron and his passion for discipleship developed.
Two other factors played an even greater role. First, was my increasing awareness of the challenge faced by many Village Missionaries in leading their churches. Many expressed a sense of isolation and the absence of effective leadership within the church. Some of our churches seemed no further along now than they were when we first started serving them many years ago. I became convinced that too many believers, not just in the churches we serve, but also across the United States and Canada, had little understanding of anything beyond the very basic tenets of Christianity. Research such as the Willow Creek “Reveal” Survey, for example, demonstrated the ineffectiveness of current Christian approaches in discipleship.
The second factor was my deepening awareness of the push against a Christian worldview. I referred to it in my staff conference message last summer as a “Tsunami Wave” coming against the church. That is just what it is and it is impinging upon Christians in a variety of ways. The Supreme Court decision recognizing homosexual marriage will not just change laws but will produce a sea change in attitudes and thinking. I hope that I am wrong, but I believe that Christians in the United States and Canada are completely unprepared for what is here now and what is coming.
I am not against other forms and models of equipping. I believe, however, that any equipping we do must be at a deeper and more comprehensive level than much of what is being done today. I believe to prepare people for ministry within the local church and beyond, they must have an understanding and a depth of knowledge that is much beyond what we have expected in the past.
I am sure at the onset of WWII a debate occurred about the length and nature of basic training. Soldiers were needed right away! The U.S. Naval Academy reduced its training from four years to three years. How dangerous and ineffective it would be, however, to send out inadequately trained soldiers? They needed to discover a balance between the length and intensity of training and sending them into battle.
I am convinced that the church today is sending out soldiers poorly trained for battle! We have intensive training for the pastor and little training for others in the body. This communicates that the real battle and real ministry is the responsibility of the pastor. They will support him as he wages war. No wonder that many within the church are content to let the pastor be what I’ve often heard referred to as the “hired gun!” We act as if we believe that the Bible colleges and seminaries equip the pastors for the “work of the ministry” and the rest of the body gets to watch or at the most, support the pastor in his ministry. That would not have succeeded in WWII and it is not succeeding in the spiritual war today!
Why, however, am I advocating such an intense and demanding form of discipleship as the CDI? Let me stress that a Village Missionary is free to use another type of discipleship training (or none) if he wishes. I would plead with him that whatever discipleship training he uses would enable his Christian soldiers to be victorious!
Nevertheless, why use the CDI? It has been used and tested for over eighteen years. It has been birthed within the context of Village Missions and all of the teachers have long experience with Village Missions. A surprising but heartwarming demand exists within the body for challenging training. We have actually had people move to fields served by Village Missions or start attending our church in order to enroll in CDI. It changes the attitude toward the Village Missionary from the one who does it all to an appreciated co-laborer. The quality of the videos and instructional materials are unsurpassed. In addition, it produces Village Missionaries who stay the course!
Moreover, one more advantage—it requires teamwork! The CDI classes that seem to be doing exceptionally well are the ones where there is mutual support and encouragement. It is not individuals taking the class as much as the group working together to complete the demanding assignments. I have never seen this occur within any Bible study or class that I have been a part of in Christian circles. Increasingly teamwork will have to be part of how we wage spiritual warfare.
When we dropped our son back at his base after completing his basic training, I noticed some striking behavior. Each newly graduated soldier was checking the uniform of the other soldier. These well-trained soldiers were functioning as a team. They learned to function as a team in their basic training. That is what I believe is the potential of CDI. We will develop well-trained Christian soldiers, functioning as a team, advancing toward the enemy and taking back his territory.