Dr Jonathan King is FDM’s International Pastoral Training Director. He mentors and trains pastors and Christian leaders in the strategy, principles and implementation of Christian discipleship in the church and in the home.
Dr King, what do you teach?
I teach what Christian discipleship is all about according to the Great Commission that Jesus commanded his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20. To be a follower of Jesus is something that must encompass and apply to every area of our life. Anything less than that is not truly worthy of what it means to be called a Christian. So what I emphasize all the time in my teaching is that for the Christian, discipleship is a lifestyle. In a real sense my target audience is all Christians but it has to start with pastors who shepherd God’s people. If pastors do not understand the vital importance of discipleship, then how can they expect the people in their church to ever learn what it means to be a disciple? So I primarily train pastors and other leaders in Christian ministry, all participating via zoom in their own self-organized group or in a school setting. The groups range in number from 5 to 60 or more participants, but I also mentor pastors one-on-one as well. What I’m keen to stress often to all these pastors is that these things must be taught and implemented continuously in their own church, but not confined just to what goes on inside their church. In other words, the principles and practices of discipleship certainly need to be taught in the church but these must also be a vital part of every Christian home. Only in this way can husbands and wives together grow in spiritual maturity and learn how to disciple their children so that they too may grow in spiritual maturity. It’s a simple principle really — spiritually healthy families make for spiritual healthy churches and vice versa. This should never be taken for granted.
For my training material I teach through the FDM workbooks. I always start off training with Discipleship Takes Vision and Strategy (DVS) because as the title says this lays out the overall vision and strategy for Christian discipleship in the church and in the home. After completing DVS, I teach through Christian Foundational Truths (CFT) which goes through in seven chapters the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. In many cases the pastors I take through this material have not been taught these foundational truths or have not really understand them well enough to teach God’s people these things. Once I’ve taught through the CFT material, I move on to Marriage is a Ministry (MIAM), and only after I complete this do I then finish the training with Parenting is a Ministry (PIAM). The pastors I’m training find all FDM material extremely helpful but the teaching on MIAM and PIAM is what they all have the most interest in learning because the idea of discipleship in the context of Christian marriage and parenting is something most of them have never been taught or even given much serious reflection. It’s so great to see the faces of all these pastors light up and the many questions they have as these needs are addressed through the training and materials we offer.
Isn’t marriage and parenting deeply cultural? How is it like teaching across different cultures?
Teaching across different cultures for me has been incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. For a number of the groups I teach I need someone to translate in their own language, which naturally slows down the pace of my teaching, but that’s an easy adjustment to make. Of course, marriage and parenting are culturally embedded aspects of every society, these things cannot be otherwise. But that doesn’t mean that one’s culture should dictate the values, practices, and beliefs that apply in marriage and parenting. What I emphasize is that we must be willing to subject all of our culture’s values, practices and beliefs in obedience to God’s Word. That obviously includes the American culture I was raised in and continue to live in, and so I’m very conscious of not speaking to pastors in other parts of the world from the perspective of my American culture but always from a biblical perspective. Regardless of what culture one lives in, the critical point here is that the principles, commands, and promises of God’s Word are what every Christian husband and Christian wife must base their life together on and strive to live out in faithful obedience to Christ. The same point applies of course to their role as Christian parents.
This is not to say that different cultures all face the same problems in marriage and parenting. The unique challenges specific to each culture still have to be addressed in light of God’s Word, but for Christians the biblical principles apply just the same in any and all cultural contexts, though the application of these might be expressed or carried out differently from one culture to another. The truth is that the vast majority of the pastors I teach are unaware of what God calls husbands and wives to be in a Christian marriage. The idea of husbands and wives taking seriously their own spiritual formation together is overlooked and not made a priority in their life together at home. And unsurprisingly, the spiritual discipleship of children is also ignored. In many African contexts, polygamy is fairly common, so it’s not uncommon for a man to become a Christian while already having more than one wife. Christians in other countries, like India for example, face different challenges. In that context the cultural norm in the home is a kind of patriarchy in which wives are considered as having a lower status than husbands, and generally treated as such. Of course the Bible nowhere paints this kind of picture of the marriage relationship. The cultural norms in other situations can allow one’s extended family way too much say-so over the life that the husband and wife have together. So the specific challenges in the home can vary quite a bit from one cultural context to another, but the fundamental answer for every situation is the same — the Lord calls husbands and wives to love, honor and serve one another in loving obedience to him. For Christian families, this is discipleship practiced at its best. In this way, the principles of marriage and parenting for Christian disciples, being derived from God’s Word, transcends culture.
What are some of the challenges you face in your teaching role?
The pastors and other Christian leaders I’m teaching live in various parts of Africa, India and Bangladesh. In the areas where many of these pastors live, their Internet connectivity can be very unstable. And because I do my discipleship training via zoom, I often have to deal with the Internet connection dropping out and then having to wait for it to come back again. This doesn’t happen every time but it is a common enough challenge and these interruptions of Internet service can be distruptive to classes. Oftentimes the problem is simply technical and could be fixed with better WiFi equipment or because people can only connect via cell phone (laptops too expensive for most) and coverage can be very sketchy in rural areas. In some instances, FDM is able to provide funding to these pastors for upgrading their equipment or pay for cell phone data usage.
On a very different note, the bothersome internet issues I mentioned are nothing compared to the reality that many of the pastors I train (and people in their churches) face real and sometimes brutal persecution for being Christian. In countries such as India and Bangladesh, they face discrimination by their government that can certainly affect them economically or limits school options for their children and other personal freedoms. Sometimes they are physically beat up and harassed or kicked out of their house, or their churches are vandalized by local people persecuting them simply for being Christian. I’ve been asked by some pastors to temporarily suspend my training sessions because of these kinds of things happening to them. What these brothers and sisters deeply recognize, however, is that discipleship is the critical means of growing strong in the Lord. I am truly encouraged to see how they count the things of this world as rubbish, in order that they may gain Christ.
Perhaps the biggest challenge I face is that the FDM workbooks are not yet available in the native languages of some of those I’m teaching. Praise God that someone is normally available to translate my words to the group I’m teaching, and in some cases my words need to be translated in two different languages to accommodate the mix of people participating in the training. But at present some still only have the English version of our workbooks available to them, and this makes it difficult for pastors to go through the FDM workbooks themselves, and even more difficult for the people in their churches to go through the workbooks. God has opened and continues to open many doors in the majority world for FDM to equip and train pastors and other ministry leaders so that they in turn can teach and implement these things in their own churches and throughout their country. A powerful and marvelous move of God is happening in these countries and He has positioned FDM to reach many thousands of people. For this reason, getting the workbooks translated in the languages of these countries is crucially important. Equally important is the huge project we having going to edit the audio portion of the discipleship training webinar we conducted last year in Tanzania (500+ pastors in attendance). Our purpose for this is to translate in to various languages the non-English portion of the webinar videos so they can be utilized widely by pastors in their own country. All these projects take much prayer, much money, and many co-laborers. I want to invite you to join us in prayer for these things and of course we welcome any financial donation you might consider giving to help these endeavors get completed.