Training the Trainers: The Key to Successful Missions

Abu Daoud, in his reflections on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, makes the following observations:

The name of this strategy that I have heard is "training the trainer," though though are other names. The traditional model in missions was to send out a pastor-missioner or a group of missionaries who would start a church and then run the church. A missioner could easily spend his entire career with one church which he had worked hard to found and then pastor. The drawback was that it just did not make a big impact. That is not to say that effective work will always make a big impact, but certainly it should some times.

So the idea came about: get a handful of solid converts, train them to pastor a church and send them to start their own churches. Build the replication of churches into the DNA of the community so that people at these new churches simply assume that it is normal that, should they move to a new town or should their church grow, that they should start a new church in their front yard or shop. These churches tend to be small, agile, and messy. Because they multiply so quickly it is nearly impossible for the original missionaries to enforce doctrinal orthodoxy on all of them. It is called a church planting movement, and if you want to know more about CPM’s then just Google the term.

There has never been a successful CPM in an Arab Muslim country, though we have seen results in other Muslim regions. In any case, EN does not explicitly outline the CPM, but it does state the basic concept.

This, of course, is very common in Evangelical churches, and especially Pentecostal ones.  It’s one reason why these churches have grown so fast.  In addition to the economics, it puts people in leadership positions who connect best with the people they’re trying to reach.  But Abu Daoud also states the following:

What is particularly fascinating is this question: could there be a Catholic CPM? Given that Holy Orders is a sacrament in the RC tradition is a very weighty matter, it seems risky to ordain someone who has been baptized for all of a few weeks, but that is in fact what happens in a CPM. On the other hand, since only a priest can preside over Communion, it seems like ordination would be needed fairly soon, with the reserved sacrament being used for a period of time. We should also remember that if there is no clergy present, any Christian can baptize a new convert.

Even then, it is difficult to see how a CPM could prosper within a clergy-centered tradition like Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

That’s a central dilemma for Roman Catholicism.  It’s one of the perpetually frustrating things about the RCC: the ideas they come out with are great, but the institution is its own worst enemy.  The role of the clergy is central to Catholicism’s concept of itself as a church, and separating the two is difficult if not impossible.

One thought on “Training the Trainers: The Key to Successful Missions”

  1. I’m not sure if this is a problem of only the RCC or Orthodoxy. Even Pentecostals and Evangelicals can become “clergy” heavy and less lay-driven as the process of institutionalization sets in.

    Obviously the whole Protestant concept of the priesthood of all believers plays a role, too. It would be wrong to dismiss doctrinal issues and how they effect ecclesiology and, more particularly, CPMs. But sometimes it’s simply organizational dynamics that get in the way.

Leave a Reply