By Dr. Paul Shotsberger
As I’ve stated before in this column, international missions has been going through a major transition in the past ten years or so. We’ve moved from a western-centric view of missions where the work centers around missionaries from North America or Europe, to a view that values and seeks to grow indigenous missionaries who can more naturally reach the lost in their own country or region. Though in many ways this is a paradigm shift, we need to understand that this strategy is as old as the Church itself. My home church has begun a study of the Book of Colossians, and in reading a commentary on the letter, I was surprised to learn that the Apostle Paul had likely never visited Colossae by the time of its writing. The commentary, from Bible.org, states:
“As far as we know Paul never visited Colossae, at least not at the time he wrote this epistle; he had only “heard” about the church at Colossae (1:4, 9; 2:1). Nevertheless, it was a product of his ministry and beautifully illustrates his commitment to impart his vision of reaching others with the powerful message of the gospel…while on a visit to Ephesus, a young man from Colossae named Epaphras evidently heard the gospel from Paul and was converted. It appears that he was not only saved, but that he was trained and prepared by Paul to go back and plant a church in his hometown of Colossae (1:7; 4:12). The story of the establishment of the church at Colossae illustrates an important truth. “God does not always need an apostle, or a ‘full-time Christian worker’ to get a ministry established.”
We live in an age of professionalization, of teaching (which is my field), and of almost every vocation, including ministry. We believe that only paid professionals can do the real work, while the rest of us are left to be spectators from the sidelines. This couldn’t be farther from the Apostle Paul’s vision in his letter to the Ephesians. He took great pains to make sure his hearers understood he was talking to everyone in the room, not just the leadership. We are familiar with verses 11 and 12, which include the motto of this ministry: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” But we can easily forget that Paul followed up those thoughts with these verses: “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16, emphasis added).
For the Apostle Paul, each part was working properly when he trained Epaphras, sent him back to Colossae, and the Colossian church was birthed. MTEE believes that each part is working properly when students in our theological programs and women and men trained in ministry become pastors, teachers and church planters, many times staying in their own countries, but sometimes going to other countries to carry out that good work. This is a daily occurrence in the ministries we co-labor with in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, and Moldova.
The model works, but not because it is new or different; it works because it is part of the original blueprint of the Church. We ask for your involvement and support in the vision of MTEE and its partner ministries. As Paul states in Colossians 1:11-12, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Would your church be interested in an MTEE representative visiting this summer to speak about the ministry and what is taking place in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and other parts of the world? We would love to! Please contact Paul Shotsberger at: firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a time.