Training Christian Workers

By Leroy Elms

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put into practice (Phil. 4:9),

In late 1971 , Loran Sanny, president of The Navigators, asked me to form a team of men and women to represent our organization at Campus Crusade’s “Explo ’72” in Dallas, Texas. We designed a
display booth and prepared some materials to give away to interested people. We also obtained a British Broadcasting Company film that told the story of the conversion of James Fox, a rising, talented, and popular British motion picture actor.

I had written to James and asked if he could prepare a trailer to tack on to the end of the film that would explain the follow-up he had received after he had come to Christ. He was growing in his Christian life and was well on his way to becoming a fruitful, mature, and committed disciple of Christ. I wanted to show the film and the trailer to the delegates at “Explo ’72” to paint a real-life picture of what goes into the discipling ministry.

James wrote back to say that BBC had agreed to shoot it, and that we would have it in time. We received the film right on schedule, and after viewing it I wrote a note of thanks to James. Here is the letter I received in return:

Dear LeRoy:
Thank you for your letter stating that you had received the film and were happy with it. I would like to relate an incident connected with the making of the trailer that demonstrates the kind of walk and sense of purpose in fulfilling their ministry that Doug and Leila have [Doug Sparks was the Navigator director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and his wife, Leila, was ill with
cancer at the time].

As Doug met me the night before at the station, he told me that Leila and he had been to the doctor and that the growth had been analyzed and was malignant. The following day Doug prepared the script with Chuck and myself. I saw Leila, who spoke of her interest in what I was doing and in the film. Then she cared for the whole family all day as usual.

The following day there were five of us making the film and Doug spent the whole day helping me by holding up cards on which the script was written. Leila saw to it that the crew had all they required.

But as I left the house that night, I thought, what a lot it costs to be in this ministry, where they had both been giving themselves to this film and to those who were making it, at a time when naturally their hearts might have longed to be alone with the Lord and with each other.

When I visited the home, on a trip to London, three weeks ago, Doug was in Finland, but Leila spent 45 minutes encouraging me and teaching her children to have a real interest in what other people are doing.

I believe I have seen a living example of Philippians 2:3-4 and so have been brought closer to the Lord.

Yours in Him,
James Fox

Two prime means of developing a worker for the cause of Christ, one who will be a maker of disciples and an effective and productive member of your disciple-making team, are transmission by example and spending “man-to-man, personal time with him.

Transmission by Example

The letter from James Fox clearly illustrates what transmission by example is all about. The Spirit of God could have used Doug Sparks in a number of ways to get Philippians 2:3-4 into the
life of James Fox. That passage states, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Doug could have met James at the railroad station and the two of them could have discussed that passage. Doug could have said, “ALL right, James, let’s do a little study on this passage. Open your Bible and tell me in your own words what Philippians 2:1-4 says.

James would have done it.

“Very good. Now how about Philippians 2:5-8?” James might list two or three thoughts.

“Fine. Now try to state again in your own words what these verses say to you.

James would do so.

“OK, now let’s talk a moment about application. What do you see in these verses that needs expression in your own life?”

In other words, Doug could have led James in a verse analysis study of that passage, and James would have caught something of what Paul was teaching. But that’s not what happened. Doug was not even thinking of this passage; he was living it. He was transmitting its truths by his life. The Holy Spirit was infusing that passage into the heart and life of James Fox as he watched the lives of Doug and Leila Sparks. They were not trying to teach Philippians 2:3-4; they were Philippians 2:3-4. (Leila Sparks died in June 1972, shortly after I received James’s letter.)

Paul was an example to the Thessalonians. “Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake” (l Thess. 1:5). He also wrote to Philemon, I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philem. 6).

Think of what the apostles must have learned about their own racial prejudices when they observed Jesus with the woman of Samaria (see John 4). Think of what they must have learned about
concern for the needy as they saw Jesus minister to the sinners, the blind, and the lepers. Think of what they must have learned about dedication and faithfulness as they saw Jesus resolutely
set out for Jerusalem (Luke9:5l)to go to the cross to die for the sins of men.

Jesus message was personalized in the everyday affairs of life. His classrooms were the events of the day. He was what He taught. He transmitted His message by His life. For your life to transmit effectively, two things are required: availability and transparency.

Availability. Availability is a two-way street. You cannot train people who are not available, and by the same token, you cannot carry on a meaningful training program if you limit yourself to the formality of the classroom. Jesus and His men were immersed in life together.

John, in reflecting on that incredible experience, spoke of Jesus as the one whom the apostles had looked at and their hands had touched (see 1 John 1:1). You cannot allow yourself to fall into the cuckoo clock routine where, at the appointed hour, you pop out of hiding and speak your piece and then disappear back into seclusion till it is time for another appearance.

If your objective is to impart to your worker some intellectual, theological, or philosophical idea for his consideration, it might work. But if you are out to communicate clearly the insights God has given you on discipleship and making disciples so that he might become a spiritually qualified worker, then it will not work. You must be available to your potential worker constantly. You must be deep in your own fellowship with Jesus Christ so that your life might be a focal point for the energizing power of the Holy Spirit to use as a means of being an example to him.

Transparency. The second quality for effective transmission by example is transparency. Cecil and Thelma Davidson are two of the most effective makers of disciples I have ever met. Their lives are open books. Their home has an open door. Their dinner table has been a meeting place for hundreds of young men and women through the years. These men and women who today are carrying on their own discipling ministry around the world consider themselves part of the Davidson family.

We should exercise great caution in with others. It may be dangerous to take off our masks, demolish the barriers, and tear down the walls. People then see us as we are, and often some are disappointed. They expected us to be some combination of St. Theresa and John Calvin, but there we stand, ordinary sinners saved by grace. Still, disciples can learn from our mistakes and failures as well as from our Successes.

Too much transparency too soon in the development of a new worker may cause harm. Jesus knew that and so told His disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can
now bear’ (John 16:12). On another occasion earlier in His ministry it was recorded of Him, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the Word to them, as much as they could understand”
(Mark 4:33).

So open your life to those who can handle what they see. Share your heart with that inner core as Jesus did. Often the seventy and even the Twelve were not exposed to certain events in the life of Jesus. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shown like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (Matt. 17: 1-2).

He shared His heart with the same three at Gethsemane. Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray. ‘ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt. 26:36-38).

Nevertheless, the fact remains that no one can really know you unless you open yourself to him. So we need balance in being transparent with others. I saw this demonstrated at a missionary
convention sponsored by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Urbana Illinois. A missionary spoke to us and freely admitted his inability to accomplish some of the goals he had set for himself years earlier. He openly confessed his lack of answers for some of the major problems facing his field in the nation where he served. He spoke candidly of his failures as well as his successes.

He contrasted vividly with another man on the program who seemed to be standing on a high ivory pedestal, talking down to us from the vantage point of perfection. The first man seemed to be down there with us, slogging along the same difficult path in which many of us found ourselves, and we identified with him.

At first, being transparent may take the form of sharing with the new worker some of the things you have experienced in your fellowship with the Lord. It may involve your sharing with him some of the victories and defeats, successes and struggles involved in Scripture memory. As you become more involved in the life of this potential worker and he in yours, you will be able to share deeper things, such as the temptations you face, how you handle them, and your battles with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to be effective in the life of a potential worker unless you are transparent with him. Spiritually qualified workers emerge from the life and ministry of a transparent trainer. Dawson Trotman used to share with us a poem by Edgar Guest that bears on this:

I’d rather see a sermon
Than hear one any day.

I’d rather one would walk with me Than merely tell the way.

Training on a Personal Basis

The second prime means of developing a team of workers is to give each person individual and personal attention. It means meeting with each one on a man-to-man basis and having clearly in mind what your training objectives are for that person. A ministry of multiplication does not come from an attempt to mass produce disciples. There must be individual, personal time with each
person with whom you are working and whom you are training. If you want others to disciple individually, you must work with your potential workers in the same way.

This brings us to some important questions.
What do you do in these one-on-one sessions ? How often should you have them? Where should you meet?

Where? Anywhere that is convenient. A friend of mine meets the man with whom he is working for lunch in his car in the parking lot near where the man works. Each takes a sack lunch and they meet once a week. What do they do? They share with one another what God has been showing them in their quiet times. They spend some time in the Word together. They usually check each other out on their newly memorized Scriptures. They discuss the ministry God has given them. The man is usually full  of questions regarding the ministry of discipleship in the lives of people with whom he is working. Then they pray together.

No hard and fast rule dictates how their time is spent. Occasionally they will spend most of their time praying. On other occasions, the man will bring along a friend from the office to whom he has been witnessing. The three of them meet at a restaurant and the trainer helps his friend in evangelism. He gives his testimony and shares the gospel with the non-Christian.

So they accomplish two things: they present the gospel, and the trainee learns something in the process.

The willingness to invest time with a few implies an unwillingness to allow yourself to be spread too thin. Paul spoke of pressing toward the mark and of finishing the course (see Phil. 3:13-14; 2 Tim. 4:7), just as Jesus had finished the work the Father had given Him to do (see John 17:4).

A commitment to working with a few people will mean a single-minded approach to life and the ability to sidestep many opportunities that might present themselves. You could do many things, but there is one thing you must do if you are to be used of God to fulfill this ministry: you must concentrate on a few.

Once you have determined this to be your course, you will have to learn how to say “no graciously. If God has given you the vision for a ministry in depth, it does not necessarily mean that you will have no ministry in breadth. In fact, if your potential workers become men and women who can effectively lead and meet the needs of others, your ministry will multiply much faster than you could do it yourself. So perseverance and patience are cardinal virtues in the life of the trainer.

Does this mean that you cannot have a public ministry?

That someone else will preach all your sermons? That you will have to turn down all invitations to speak at special meetings and conferences? Of course not. Did Jesus have a public ministry?

Yes, and quite a broad one at that. He preached in houses, synagogues, on the hillside, at the seaside (Mark 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; Matt. 5:1). He included His example of preaching in the training of the Twelve. He said, “Let’s go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come (Mark 1:38).

You must discipline yourself to think in terms of training, to look on the various facets of your ministry as opportunities to build in depth into the lives of your potential workers. This will enable you to keep your priorities straight, and you will be able to gauge what you do by how it contributes to your prime objective of developing spiritually qualified workers. Your ministry will have meaning only as it contributes to the maturing of these men.

What was the ministry of the apostle Paul? Evangelist, theologian, missionary strategist, church planter, teacher, and apostle. But always there were a few key men around him. On one
occasion, “he was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and from the province of Asia Tychicus and
Trophimus” (Acts 20:4). He used his broad ministry to concentrate on a few.

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them that he was their spiritual father and challenged them to imitate him. He then informed them that he was sending Timothy to minister to them (see 1 Cor. 4:15-17). Now the question is, If Paul wanted them to imitate him, what good would it do to send Timothy? As we read Paul’s explanation for sending Timothy, we discover a startling truth. When Timothy came to Corinth, it would be exactly the same as though Paul had come to them. Timothy was more than just an “instructor”; he was actually an extension of the life and ministry of Paul.

Paul could do that because he had confidence in the men he had trained. He later told the Philippians:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.

I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me (Phil. 2:19-23).

Like-minded, trustworthy, competent men are not made on a production line like automobiles in an assembly plant. They are carefully and prayerfully developed under the loving guidance of a wise trainer who spends much time on his knees praying for them. In an age of nearly instant everything, we must discipline ourselves to think in terms of quality.

It takes time. It takes effort. It means times of joy and times of tears. It means your life. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3: 16).

Dealing with Some Problems
In working with men in this sort of personal and intensive way, some problems may develop in the life of the trainer.

A possessive attitude. The trainer is in danger of developing a possessive attitude. This usually manifests itself in his using terms such as “My man, “My team, “My trainees.”In the New
Testament though Paul and the other apostles felt close to the people to whom they ministered and referred to them at times as their “little children,” they were also quick to remind them
that they actually belonged to Jesus Christ. They were Christ’s men and women, not the apostles’ followers. Peter had learned this lesson well. Jesus had told him, “Feed my sheep” (John
21:17). Later Peter admonished the elders to, “Feed the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2, KJV). Not “your flock,” but “the flock of God.”

This unscriptural possessive attitude can stunt the growth of the people involved if the trainer is hesitant to expose them to other men of God who can have an impact on their lives. He can become concerned that his own ministry might lose some of its luster in the eyes of his men if they see others who are equally gifted, perhaps with strengths and abilities that he does not have. Or he can try to build a protective wall around his men to try to keep them exclusively to himself and his ministry.

Dawson Trotman used to do two things that deeply impressed me. He was always bringing in other men to minister to our needs, and he was always willing to let any of his staff go to work for other organizations on loan or permanently if the Spirit of God led them to do so. Workers are needed everywhere.

A blindness to weakness. Another problem is what I call the “rose-colored glasses danger. As you see disciples develop, realize how far they have come, and watch their growing effectiveness for Christ, it is easy to become blind to their weakness. You begin seeing them through “rose-colored glasses – my boy can do no wrong!” So you miss whole areas of need in their lives with which you should deal. Again, exposing them to the influence and scrutiny of other godly men will help you evaluate their strengths and weakness objectively.

A reproducing of weakness. Jesus in His ministry pointed out another potential problem. “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). People with whom we are working pick up our strengths as well as our weakness. If I have the exclusive input into a man’s life, it can lead to that person picking up my weak points, thereby doing him harm as well as good.

As already suggested, the solution to these three potential problems lies in the areas of cross-training and cross evaluation. We expose our men deliberately to other trainers of disciples who can broaden their horizons and deepen their lives. These will be men who can spot some of their weak points that you overlook or are unable to see because of your close proximity to them. These outside evaluations can help you have a realistic picture of the progress of your men.

In your training you can expect occasional setbacks. It is interesting to note that setbacks occurred in the lives of even the men in Jesus inner circle-Peter, James, and John. On one occasion James and John displayed a very hateful and destructive attitude-they wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy an unreceptive Samaritan village (see Luke 9:51-55).

Peter denied his Lord three times (see Luke 22:54- 62). In the Garden of Gethsemane the inner three were all asleep while Jesus underwent His agony (see Luke 22:45-46). But His confidence in
them was rewarded, for His training had not been in vain. They went on to carry out His ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The harvest truly is plentiful, but the workers-the “harvest workers” are still few. As you give your life to this ministry of training makers of disciples, pray that God will enable you to be an example, work with your men on an individual basis, and correct any problems that might arise.