I remember being in tee-ball as a little boy. If you’re not sure what “tee-ball” is, it’s essentially baseball for 3-5 year olds. It’s cute. Your parents pay a fee and you get a t-shirt with your team’s logo and name on it. You are assigned to a specific team to participate with kids you’ve never met. There are raving “fans” on the sidelines cheering each of their kids on as you swing at the “T” twenty or more times to hit the ball. Then at the end of the season, win or lose, everyone gets a trophy. All of this is in an effort to exemplify the giant men on television who have big muscles and effortlessly play in the Major Leagues.
On one hand, this is meant to be fun, time well spent for you and your family. On the other hand, it couldn’t further away from reality. The truth is, putting a heavy wooden bat in my hands as a child didn’t make me a baseball star and putting on the gigantic 90s sunglasses didn’t put me on a collectable baseball card.
Getting your trophy does not make you a professional baseball player. In this same way, getting on a plane does not make me an equipped missionary. What is the value of missionary training? Let’s just make a few observations from Paul (a missionary) and Timothy’s (a younger missionary) relationship.
“Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy… Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him…” (Acts 16:1, 3).
“And what you have heard from me… entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14).
Trevor Holloway, on Home-based Staff with To Every Tribe’s Center for Pioneer Church Planting, has made the observation that even though 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are typically called the “pastoral epistles,” we could actually call them “missionary epistles.” Paul is writing to these young men for their instruction in local church ministry (1 Timothy 3:15, Titus 1:5) as the gospel is advancing forth.
1 & 2 Timothy and Titus show us what it takes to minister in missions. If we go straight to those letters without assuming the role of a learner underneath gospel pioneers for Christ, we will not have what it takes to bare the burden of what those letters lay out. We will just be picking up the tee-ball bat without any real preparation and training.
There lies a context of over a decade of what we might call training that Timothy experienced as Paul’s protege before he was ever entrusted the ministry in Ephesus. Paul said to him, “What you have heard from me…” (2 Tim 2:2). How much did Timothy hear over the years from Paul? “Follow the pattern of sound doctrine you have heard from me…” (2 Tim 1:13). And also how could Paul “entrust” (2 Tim 1:14) Timothy to this work if Timothy had not experienced it himself? What would Timothy know what to “guard” (2 Tim 1:14)?
We learn that Timothy actually followed Paul’s “teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to [Paul] in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra” (2 Tim 3:10-11). This was not just seminary but rather it was a lifestyle modeled and participated in by Timothy. Therefore, Paul tells him to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you…” (2 Tim 3:14). Indeed, many Christians today don’t even have a platform to obey certain commands (such as the imperatives of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) without such modeling for them in discipleship.
The value, then, for mission training really comes down to the value of being a disciple of Christ and a value of being discipled by godly saints in our lives through the context of missions in the local church. The value is that Christ has given His Bride, the church, with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers for to build up Christians towards one unified goal: Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). Jesus revealed Himself and the Father most clearly to His people when He took on flesh (Heb 1:1-2), and He continues to express Himself through godly brothers and sisters radically seeking after Christ. Timothy got to touch, taste, feel, hear, and experience all of the life of a minister of the gospel. And as my time in tee-ball could never prepare me for the big leagues, so getting on a plane immediately following my conversion does not make me a prepared missionary.
Let us get as prepared as possible for the sake of our future Timothy’s in the world.
One year ago today we arrived in our new city in our new country on our new hemisphere.
It’s been a year of joy and learning, disappointment and growth, of seeing that Jesus is our Rock when everything else is seemingly spinning out of control, that He really is the only thing we can count on. And there have been times when we’ve forgotten that and despaired.
We’ve seen laughter and tears from our children, been through sickness and health, experienced a new culture and learned a new language. We’ve had successes and failures.
And now it’s Advent.
As we decorated our Christmas tree last night (pictured above), I kept being drawn to the idea of waiting, which is what the season is all about. Here we all are, in this already-not-yet place, and it hurts, and it’s difficult, and we want to move on. But Jesus is whispering to us, “Just a little while longer. You’ll see. My father is good, and I love you so much more than you know. I’m here, even when it’s dark, even when you forget what it is you’re waiting for, even when you don’t love me. This world is not your home, so cling to me. There is hope. I will not leave you. Only remember this.”
What a year it’s been. How thankful we are for God’s unfailing love toward us and for his mighty hand of providence which takes us places we never would have chosen to go, but holds us fast in a beautiful embrace.