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Seven ways doctrine shapes training

CMS missionaries Martin & Julie Field train students in Córdoba, Argentina, to understand the Bible for themselves and live enthusiastically for Christ. Read on to find out how their student movement’s doctrine influences how they train these students for the work of the gospel.

Over the past five or six years I [Martin] have had the privilege of being involved at a national level within ABUA (a student movement associated with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). In the last year we have begun to work on a Plan de Formación (training plan) for the students involved in our local groups.

We deliberately chose to use the word Formación (Formation) because it reflects what we are seeking to achieve- not just the acquisition of ‘skills’ or ‘tools’ but also the development of a Christlike character and Christian attitudes.

However, we are conscious that a Plan de Formación shouldn’t be simply a practical document, but rather that it should have a firm theological foundation from which the goals and objectives flow.  Theology needs to shape practice. In this article, we have identified seven key areas, but of course, there are no doubt others.

1. The triune God is relational.

The triune God is relational, and he seeks to be in relationship with us. Relationships are at the heart of the universe.

Therefore, training always needs to be placed within the context of discipleship. It is more than knowledge, skills or values, although it includes each one of those.

 This is important in the Argentine context, which, although a highly relational culture, also highly values courses and titles, where the word of the expert carries great weight.

2. God has spoken to us in the Bible

God has spoken to us in the Bible and in it he has given us all that we need for life in relationship with him, with others and with creation.

A fundamental part of training is to grow in knowledge of the Bible, although (as we have seen in point 1) always within the framework of a relationship with the Lord of the Bible.

One of our challenges is to help students grow, not just in their knowledge of the Bible, but also in confidence in the sufficiency of the Scriptures in ministry and especially in evangelism. It seems like for some in Argentina they hold the maxim: ‘If it’s not big, it’s not worth doing’ — often trusting in the big event with all the bells and whistles.

3. We are all sinners

We are all sinners deserving of God’s judgment and can only be justified by the work of Christ in his death and resurrection.

One of the implications of this doctrine for training is that we seek to walk with others humbly, seeking their growth, but recognising at the same time our own need for forgiveness and change. We don’t look for changes in others that we aren’t willing to make ourselves.

This model of training challenges the culture of the expert, very prevalent in Argentine culture, where the leader is above questioning.

4. The death of Jesus

The death of Jesus not only brings us redemption and forgiveness but also serves as a model of service and sacrifice for our lives and ministries.

We seek to encourage students in a biblical model of leadership. This involves valuing sacrificial service of others above a ministry title which might seem to bring authority over others.

5. The Holy Spirit works

The Holy Spirit works in bringing people to new life and growing them in Christlikeness. Any training needs to be done with a prayerful dependence on God’s sovereign work.

In our context, highlighting that change comes through God’s work is important. Real change at the personal, relational and societal levels only comes through the work of God. For many in our context there is an overdependence on the role of politics to bring about lasting change. ‘If only we had an evangelical president’ or ‘If only we could change the social structures’, they say. This over-confidence also comes from a false belief in the basic goodness of humankind left over from Roman Catholic teaching.

6. We are part of the body of Christ.

We are part of the body of Christ, so training needs to occur in community and with the help of other believers, relying on the gifts of others.

In the student context this is crucial to emphasise, as students can easily become isolated from their community of faith. Sometimes the questions of a thinking student are not appreciated in their local church and are considered signs of rebelliousness. Other times the students themselves develop a critical spirit, and easily sit outside church structures and in judgment upon them.

As a student movement it is also important to value community—not just building community within the movement, but also recognising our role within the wider community of faith—working with local churches, not sitting in judgment upon them. And, for that reason, we value the training that students can receive from other organisations—organisations such as Langham Preaching, MOCLAM, etc.

7. We have the hope of the second coming of Jesus

We have the hope of the second coming of Jesus to bring in the fullness of his kingdom. Therefore, although we look for profound changes in our lives, we don’t expect perfection either in us, nor in our communities, nor in society.

Finding the right balance in our context is very important—between a fatalism that doesn’t think change is possible, and a utopianism, which thinks that everything is moving towards perfection in the here and now. That utopianism finds expression in prosperity gospel teaching, but it is also present amongst those who believe that changing social structures through politics will bring about the kingdom of God in the present.

Under God, the training of students happens as we do life together. One of the blessings (?) we have in the Argentine context is that students will take on average between 8 and 10 years to finish their degrees! May God enable us to use this time well to be faithful in the formation of the next generation of Argentine graduates.

Go:

In countries like Argentina, young believers face the challenge of powerful religious influences that don’t always value a focus on biblical doctrine. For this reason, there is a need for teachers and disciple-makers who can equip a generation passionate about the gospel and evangelism. Could God be moving you to use your skills in discipleship in Latin America? Find out more at cms.org.au/missionary-location/latin-america/