Training the Untrained to Reach the Unreached — by Darren Carlson

August 13, 2011

Why take the time train people to be faithful teachers of Scripture when untold millions are going to hell? That is a helpful question for me to wrestle through as I spend a good deal of my time training international pastors and church leaders.

When most people recount the Great Commission, they usually say something to the effect of, “We must go to all the nations and share the gospel.”  To that I say amen!  But then something strange happens — we stop. So what about the command in Matthew 28:20 to teach? It is what David Sills has called the Great Omission.

Reached Can Move Backwards to Unreached

If we are not careful, those precious people groups and nations that we have deemed to be reached will be moved back to unreached. Why? Because in our need for speed, we have not helped to deepen the roots of faith, and instead of trees firmly planted by streams of water, the church is blown over with just the slightest amount of false teaching. The supposed explosion of Christian faith around the world has left us with lots of Christians and very few trained pastors.

When I say “trained,” I do not mean “gone to school.” Theological training is just part of a discipleship process, and for a pastor it means learning to rightly handle the Bible. Many pastors have been trained by sitting in jail cells, but they still don’t know their Bible. Or they know a lot of Bible verses, but have no idea how they fit together. So this particular training that is needed is deliberate theological education that is God-centered, Christ-exalting, and Bible-saturated. 

I have met many zealous Christians who are clearly gifted evangelists but who hardly know anything about the Bible. I have heard of pastors who asked my friend, “When was Jesus converted?” I have heard the strangest sermons you can imagine — no where close to anything Christian. I have a good friend from West Africa whose country is no longer on the unreached list, and yet he admits he knows only a handful of churches in the entire nation where the gospel is faithfully preached.

Four Ways to Be Strategically Involved

As someone who is currently giving his life to training pastors internationally, I'm convinced of the strategic role that training plays in reaching the unreached. Here are a few thoughts about how the Western Church can be involved:

  1. As we are deeply concerned in going to the unreached peoples of the earth, we should recognize the unique impact of non-Western missionaries and seek to train them. These untrained messengers of the gospel often know at least five languages — they just need theological grounding. What is the main point of the text? How does the whole Bible fit together? They need to see where they fit in God’s story of redeeming the nations and we should be committed to serving them.

  2. Send unemployed PhD-holders to the international classroom. Our seminaries and graduate schools stock Starbucks and UPS with highly competent minds. Might instead we consider our brothers overseas and ask, "How will they teach faithfully if they are not trained? And how will they be trained without someone teaching? And how are we to teach unless we go?"

  3. Send your pastor overseas twice a year to work with another organization that is providing theological education to international pastors and church leaders. 

  4. Send your pastor overseas for good and free up pastoral positions for seminary graduates. We need men who have been in pastoral ministry to go. Guys in seminary need a place to land. Makes sense to me!

The end goal is to strengthen the existing church internationally with deep truth that will sustain them and equip them to reach the unreached people groups we long to see worship Jesus. 

Darren Carlson is the founder and president of Training Leaders International, a ministry that mentors and sends graduate students and pastors to bring theological education around the world.

6 Theses for Saturating the Nations With Sound Doctrine — By Tony Merida

NOVEMBER 13, 2018

I recently returned from a week in Uganda and Kenya, where I was helping to train pastors and church planters. I was in Africa as part of Acts 29’s Emerging Regions Network, a team that works in various parts of the world where we want to see churches planted.

I had the privilege of serving with some other Acts 29 pastors, and the trip left quite an impression on us. Here are six personal reflections about theological and pastoral training in underdeveloped regions of the world.

1. Join the fight against theological poverty.

There are many good, global causes that one can be part of today. I’m part of many, from orphan care to fighting gendercide. But I would love to see an increased excitement and commitment to fighting theological poverty.

There are many good, global causes that one can be part of today. But I would love to see an increased excitement and commitment to fighting theological poverty.

As I’ve traveled the world the past 15 years, teaching church planters and other church leaders, it has become clear to me why many false gospels abound. People simply haven’t been taught the true gospel. What I found in Uganda and Kenya is a real hunger and openness to historical Christian orthodoxy. The only problem is, certain truths have never been well articulated and distinguished from false teaching. Consequently, people tend to believe what they hear.

It has been said that humanity is incurably religious, that we are religious beings who will believe something. And if we don’t saturate the nations with sound doctrine, then people will believe something else.

Whatever means of influence you have in this world, would you consider leveraging some of it to help make robust theological training available to such hungry students?

2. Realize that online training is insufficient for much of the world.

During the course of our teaching, the subject of online learning came up periodically. While a few students said they have decent internet access, most don’t. So online learning simply isn’t an option. These students need life-on-life teaching, and they need printed materials. (By the way, even if online training is an option, it’s no replacement for embodied, communal learning.)

As I’ve traveled, I’ve become increasingly grateful for resources like the little 9Marks books. These are so important and beneficial. A big thank you to Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman, and others who contribute to that series.

On this particular trip, I gave out a copy of my commentary on Acts, and the response was remarkable. You’d have thought I’d handed the students gold. They thanked me endlessly. We need to get more good resources in their hands.

3. We need context-sensitive theological training.

I gave one talk called “Church Planting 101.” Along the way, I encouraged the students to “plant the church that fits you and your community.” I encouraged them not to do an American church model, but to plant a church that fits their context. That is, to consider their city when they think about music, discipleship programs, outreach events, and so on.

So much training from the West has failed to make the distinction between timeless, biblical principles for the church and the flexibility for doing church in our context. There was an audible affirmation from the students (some even clapped) when I said, “Do church for Uganda or Kenya, not America.”

When we train people, we must give them biblical ecclesiology.

Now, these students, as in every other country, must start with Scripture when it comes to ecclesiology, preaching, eldership, and so on. When we train people, we must give them biblical ecclesiology. But as we provide training for pastors in other countries, let’s not mistake our Western practices for biblical principles.

4. The majority of the world needs basic-level training; they’re not ready for an MDiv.

Thanks to our friends at Church in Hard Places, our team was able to use the two-year program for mentoring our students. Church in Hard Places has broken down the (rigorous) Acts 29 assessment into monthly learning models, which includes reading, writing, and meetings.

We’ve found over the years that most of the guys we train in emerging regions are not ready for an MDiv degree or a thorough theological/pastoral assessment. They can get there if we will walk with them, which we plan on doing. But most haven’t had the basic training many assessments often assume.

Most seminaries cater to educated people with undergraduate degrees. I’m not throwing stones, just pointing out the fact that we’re overlooking millions of people when we don’t have a plan for bringing basic training to theologically hungry students.

5. To increase theological depth for generations, we need churches planted and pastored by trained leaders.

Part of the problem of rapid multiplication efforts in missions is that they are not taking the long-view of ministry. We need to be thinking in terms of 50-plus years, not five weeks (or even five years).

To see the theological landscape change in a country for the long haul, we need to identify, train, and resource faithful pastors who will serve their churches for years to come.

To see the theological landscape change in a country for the long haul, we must identify, train, and resource faithful pastors who will serve their churches for years to come. And we need them to plant churches that will plant churches for generations to come. So let’s give ourselves to this task.

6. Let’s challenge people who have access to resources and training to recognize this privilege, and take advantage of it.

There really is no excuse for people in various parts of the world not to engage in serious study of the Bible, theology, missiology, church history, and spiritual disciplines. From books to blogs, seminars to seminaries, conferences to computer software, the resources in the Western world are vast. Yet many don’t take advantage of this precious privilege.

Our worldliness is evident when we prefer endless entertainment, and the pursuit of more possessions and comforts, over soul-nourishing education. If many would substitute learning God’s Word for even half the time they spend on Netflix, maybe we’d see a spiritual awakening.

One Goal

The goal of training leaders—who will lead and plant churches in the neediest places in the world—is the glory of Christ. That’s what’s at stake. Robust theological training is for his glory in his church throughout his world. And there are brothers and sisters who are hungry—and I mean really hungry—to be trained for this task.

Robust theological training is for his glory in his church throughout his world.

So for those of us in privileged positions with resources galore: will we spend ourselves for the glory of Christ and the good of his people in the neediest parts of the world? How I pray that we will.

Tony Merida is pastor for preaching and vision of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s also the content director for Acts 29, producing blogs, podcasts, and other resources on church planting. Tony has an extensive itinerant ministry and has written several books, including The Christ-Centered Expositor, Ordinary, Orphanology, and eight volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series, of which he also serves as a general editor, along with Danny Akin and David Platt. He is happily married to Kimberly, and they have five adopted children. 

Two Ways Missions Should Focus on the Local Church — By Andy Johnson

SEPTEMBER 11, 2017

Usually, the most strategic mission work we can support is work that aims to establish healthy local churches. This can mean two things.

It may mean pioneer evangelism and church planting among a group of people largely unreached by the gospel. Or it may mean laboring to strengthen local churches in places where they exist but are weak, poorly taught, and vulnerable.

We find examples in the pages of Scripture of both presented as strategic missionary work.

Plant New Churches 

Pioneer church planting was the heartbeat of the apostle Paul. It was his passion when he wrote:

Thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” (Rom. 15:20–21)

Such work remains critically strategic today. While statistics vary widely, most agree that only a tiny portion (maybe 20 percent or less) of Protestant missionaries labor in the least-reached half of the world’s peoples. The remaining 80 percent or more work among peoples with significant gospel access and established Christian churches.

What this means for your own missionary support seems clear. Suppose you have funds to support only one worker and must choose between two—both competently engaged in evangelism and church planting. One is working among a people with hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians. The other is laboring in a highly restricted nation with only a few Christians and hardly any churches.

All other things being equal, you should generally fund the work among the unreached. I know there are extenuating circumstances, and strategies to reach the unreached from a more reached place do exist. Yet the general leaning of the New Testament seems to be toward churches spreading the gospel to “those who have never been told of him.”

It’s vital to note that missionary evangelism should aim to establish local churches. That’s what we see throughout the Bible. Granted, there’s no verse that says, “Go and plant churches.” But we know all Christians should gather into local churches, “not neglecting to meet together” (Heb. 10:25). Everywhere the missionaries in Acts saw a harvest of souls, a church was soon gathered (Acts 14:1–23; 18:8; 19; 20). The goal of missions is to gather churches that plant other churches.

Strengthen Established Churches

But pioneer work isn’t the only missionary work we see commended in Scripture as strategic. At the beginning of his letter to Titus, Paul writes: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). Putting churches into better biblical order was also high on Paul’s agenda, and it should probably be higher on our agenda too.

It can be exciting to send and support workers who are pushing back the boundary of darkness in an unreached place. But Paul also demonstrates that it’s worth investing some of our best people in church strengthening where the gospel is already known and churches already exist. In a similar way, Paul reminds his young co-missionary Timothy: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:3–4).

Along with helping churches to be biblically structured, Paul wants to establish sound, robust biblical doctrine and to guard new churches against error and false teaching. He’s willing to invest perhaps his most valued associate not in his pioneering work in Macedonia, but in the ongoing work of building healthy churches in Ephesus. Perhaps we who love new vistas and greater speed should more readily heed Scripture’s instruction in this regard.

Many of us can imagine what pioneer mission work looks like, but strengthening ongoing church work may be harder to picture. It doesn’t mean encouraging missionaries to hold on to the reins of leadership in a church long after capable local leaders have emerged. That has been done, and the fruit is generally quite poor.

Rather, it means purposefully empowering and equipping leaders for emerging local churches. It may mean working for church health in communities where the churches have long been established but are neglected and weak. In a more formal and traditional sense, it may mean teaching in a Bible college or training local church planters in an established local church. Less formally, it may mean discipling and training church leaders in a worker’s home in a more restricted-access country.

The point is that once churches are organized, there will still be strategic work to do by outside missionaries. We shouldn’t let our good passion to find lost sheep in new pastures fool us into neglecting flocks that have already been gathered, purchased by Christ’s precious blood.

Andy Johnson (PhD, Texas A&M) serves as an associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He’s the author of Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global.    


July 20, 2018

Francisco Medina had been preaching for three decades in the rural Dominican Republic when he first came to a training event for pastors in 2013. He arrived as a skeptic. “Francisco very respectfully said, ‘I’m here mostly out of respect for the person who invited me,’” recalls Cris Garrido, Spanish publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources, who was leading part of the training.

“He said, ‘I have the Bible. I have the Holy Spirit. I’ve been a pastor for 30 years—longer than you’ve been alive. And I really don’t think all this theology and all this study is necessary.’” By the end of the first week of training, Medina was weeping.

The training, he told Garrido, had changed his life. And he planned to come back for more. “I quickly learned that I’d been teaching a false gospel,” Medina says. “I had wrongly believed that salvation required works. “I was broken by the reality that I had been teaching a false gospel for so long.”

The training that transformed Medina’s life is part of a new movement aimed at developing local pastors on the mission field with programs that are accessible, practical, and low-tech. Ministry leaders who work with untrained pastors in unreached parts of the world say the need is great. After missionaries start churches among unreached people groups, their pastors are hungry to learn more. But in parts of the world where there are few or no indigenous Christians, trustworthy information can be scarce.

Few of the training programs and seminaries for pastors overseas are equipped to serve pastors from these new people groups. Most training programs are in bigger cities, where it’s too costly for these new pastors-in-training to live. Some pastors don’t speak the same language or have the educational background to attend seminary. Others can’t read, making seminary all but impossible.

Without trained—or even spiritually mature—pastors, new churches often collapse. Or inexperienced leaders try to combine their old beliefs with their new faith in Jesus. Medina says he and other untrained pastors had absorbed misconceptions about God’s truth. “I thought that people must earn their salvation,” he says. “But this seminar helped me to see that my thinking was wrong.”

The onetime skeptic has become a strong advocate for pastor training. “He said, ‘I’m going to be in every session. I’m going to be in every class. I’m going to invite everybody I can,” says Garrido. “And he did. He brought his son. He brought leaders of his church. “Today he’s leading studies like these for others in his area.”

By sharing with others, Medina says, he multiplies what he has learned. “I’m grateful for this seminar,” he says. “It has helped me in my understanding of the Scriptures and has taught me to preach the gospel in a comprehensive way. “Our community has benefited greatly. I have benefited greatly—and so can the rest of the world.”


Melvin Ardon knows from personal experience the importance of getting the right training as a pastor. Ardon spent years as a volunteer minister and preacher at Hispanic churches in California. But he always felt something was missing. Ardon had never had any formal biblical training—and he feared he didn’t understand what he was preaching.

“Every time I went up to preach, I felt like a thief, almost,” he says. “I felt like somehow I was cheating people of a bigger blessing.” That feeling came to a head about a decade ago, when Ardon was helping lead a revival meeting while on a mission trip to Kenya. The revival had gone well. On the last day, Ardon says he felt God speaking to him—telling him he needed more training and study as a pastor.

As Ardon thanked God for all that had happened at the revival, he felt as though God was asking him, “Do you see what I have done? Now imagine what I could do if you would only prepare.” He eventually enrolled at the Los Angeles-based Centro Hispano De Estudios Teológicos (CHET), which has been training evangelical Hispanic pastors since the 1980s. During his studies, he returned to Kenya, befriending a number of pastors there. On one trip, he asked his new friends what their biggest needs were. Along with buildings for the churches to meet, the pastors needed training. “That’s when a light bulb went on,” Ardon says. “I said, ‘We can help with that.’”

He pulled out his cellphone and soon was on the phone with CHET’s president, who gave the go-ahead to use the school’s materials in Kenya. After working through the details, Ardon and two friends led a two-year pastoral training program for 14 pastors from Kenya. The Kenyan pastors were able to stay at their churches while studying—a huge benefit, Ardon says. Many would leave the classes, then go home and teach their church the same material the next week.

At the end of one class, Ardon says, a pastor told him it had transformed the way he saw the Bible. “He said, ‘I have to go back to my church and ask for forgiveness—because I haven’t been teaching the way the Bible asks you to teach.’” Those feelings sounded familiar to Ardon. He’d felt the same way before coming to CHET—that he wasn’t teaching the Word of God rightly, because he didn’t rightly know the Word of God. “Without training”, he says, “you are teaching from what’s in your heart. And that’s dangerous.”

These days, Ardon has a sense of urgency to return to Kenya to train more pastors. That’s in part because he and his friends are grateful for the people who made it possible for them to be trained as pastors. “We want to give back from what we have received,” he says.

Lisa Green is a senior editor and Bob Smietana is a senior writer at LifeWay for “Facts & Trends”.