Every Paul Needs an Apollos:
Theological Education as Mission Beyond Evangelism
from a series of three dialogue presentations on theological education,
given during the Lausanne 2010 Cape Town Congress
Langham Partnership International (LPI)
If I were to tell you, ‘The church is growing all over the world!’, what would you assume I was talking about? Almost certainly you would think of growth in numbers, the success of evangelism and church planting. And praise God, that would be true.
However, if you had asked the Apostle Paul, ‘Are your churches growing?’, he would probably have responded rather differently. For Paul, growth in numbers of new believers means that ‘the gospel is growing’.
All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth (Col. 1:6).
But if the church is growing, then for Paul that meant growth in maturity - growing in depth, not just in size. Now of course Paul rejoiced in evangelistic growth - he was a church planter and evangelized a huge area of the eastern Mediterranean. But Paul’s ultimate missionary goal was not merely to multiply converts but to lead them on to maturity. So his teaching work was as much a part of his life’s mission as his evangelism. Here is how he summarizes his missionary goal:
We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (Col. 1:28-29, my italics).
Here is how he prays for just that kind of growth in maturity:
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… (Col. 1:9-11).
This is a wonderfully comprehensive statement of what growth should look like, in our heads (knowledge), hands (practical living), and hearts (commitment and endurance). Paul prays that new believers should know God’s will (which does not just mean ‘his personal will for my life’, but God’s great plan – ‘the whole counsel of God’); that they should live in a way that is pleasing and fruitful in good works; and that they should be able to persevere in the Christian life. Those are marks of growth in maturity. It means that new believers must learn to know God’s story (v. 9), to live by God’s standards (v.10), and to prove God’s strength (v. 11).
That then is what Paul meant by church growth, and he knew it would only happen if those Christians he was praying for would be steeped deeply in the teaching of Scripture in the context of lively biblical worship.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Col. 3:16).
It is vital to understand that Paul had not suspended his work as a missionary when he wrote such letters and prayed such prayers. For Paul, his mission included making sure that his new converts were rooted and grounded in their new faith by the clear teaching of God’s word and will. In other words, there was mission beyond evangelism.
This conviction and practice of Paul was totally in line, of course, with the Great Commission itself. One of the reasons for the damaging shallowness of so much Christian profession and alleged church growth around the world is that the Great Commission has been placarded as an exclusively evangelistic mandate – the task of reaching every people group with the proclaimed gospel – omitting one of the essential elements in Jesus’ actual words: Great Commission Line 3 - ‘teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’. The teaching task of the church is as much a part of the Great Commission (and therefore a part of the mission of the church) as the evangelizing task. Both are integral to biblical mission in obedience to Christ.
Since theological education is essentially the structured delivery of this teaching task of the church (though of course not the only way in which that teaching role takes place), this leads to my first major conviction, that theological education is intrinsically missional.
1. Theological education is intrinsically missional
This is how The Cape Town Commitment, the product of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in October 2010, expresses this point.
The mission of the Church on earth is to serve the mission of God, and the mission of theological education is to strengthen and accompany the mission of the Church. Theological education serves first to train those who lead the Church as pastor-teachers, equipping them to teach the truth of God’s Word with faithfulness, relevance and clarity; and second, to equip all God’s people for the missional task of understanding and relevantly communicating God’s truth in every cultural context. Theological education engages in spiritual warfare, as ‘we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’1
a. Those of us who lead churches and mission agencies need to acknowledge that theological education is intrinsically missional. Those of us who provide theological education need to ensure that it is intentionally missional, since its place within the academy is not an end in itself, but to serve the mission of the Church in the world. 2
Langham Partnership International 3 embodies these principles in its efforts to help the churches grow with depth and maturity through commitment to strengthening theological education and raising the standards of biblical preaching. Founded by John Stott, it still operates according to three biblical convictions that Stott always referred to as ‘the Langham Logic’.
i. God wants his church to grow up, not just to grow bigger
ii. God’s church grows through God’s Word
iii. God’s Word comes to God’s people mainly through preaching and teaching.
If these things are true, which they are, then the logical question to ask is ‘What can we do to raise the standards of biblical preaching and teaching?’ Our Langham commitment to evangelical theological education for the training of church pastors and leaders is one of the fruits of this logic. And we believe it is a fundamentally missional thing to be doing.
Coming back to the Apostle Paul, take a look at his missionary teams. Paul did not operate alone (at least not by choice, though sometimes he felt deserted and alone). Rather, he built around him a whole network of men and women who shared his missional passion and endeavours. Three of these in particular stand out, for me, as embodying the breadth and depth of Paul’s understanding of what mission should include. I have to add, for the sake of honesty of course, that I highlight these three characters because they also happen to reflect the three programmes of the Langham Partnership International. (Well – we all like to be sure that our work has good biblical roots). They are: Timothy, Tertius and Apollos.
a. Timothy – preacher and trainer of preachers
Timothy had the great advantage of having a devout Jewish mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5), who taught him the Scriptures from his childhood. He was, therefore, already well-equipped to be a preacher of God’s Word as a Christian pastor. And that is exactly what Paul urged him to be and do:
…as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim. 3:14-4:2)
For that purpose, Timothy himself would need to study and work hard (2 Tim. 2:15). But then, Paul went on to urge Timothy to pass on his own training to others – to people who could be trusted to train others also.
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Tim. 2:2).
This is the methodology of the Langham Preaching programme, for example, seeking to establish indigenous movements for faithful biblical preaching, with local leadership and built-in ongoing training of trainers. We long to change the culture of preaching from the prevalent fluff and floss, rant and rave, jokes and stories – back to the simple preaching of Bible passages in a way that is clear, faithful to the biblical text, and relevantly applied to the local context. This is something that pastors who have been through theological education ought to have learned to do, but sadly it seems to be very poorly taught or neglected altogether.
For Paul, this preaching and training work of Timothy was an essential part of the continuing work of his missional goal.
b) Tertius – writer
When I mention Tertius as a key companion of Paul’s missionary efforts, I sometimes see the questioning look – ‘Tertius? Who?’ Tertius wrote the letter to the Romans. Well, of course, he wrote it on behalf the Apostle Paul (Rom. 16:22). But the point is, Tertius was a trained writer, which was an important skill and profession in those days. Through his skills, dedicated to the cause of the gospel, Tertius has contributed to the most important piece of literature in world history – the New Testament of the library of books we call the Bible. Peter also made use of Silas for the same purpose, acknowledge his role as a ‘faithful brother’ in producing the letter that was intended to encourage the church and help them stand fast in God’s grace (1 Pet. 5:12). Trained writers were an important part of the establishment of the New Testament church.
It is clear that Paul saw the importance of the written word – alongside the oral preaching and teaching that he himself engaged in with such energy. He took the time and trouble to engage in extensive correspondence with churches and individuals – and his letters have the same aim as his preaching – to establish and build up communities of believers who know who they are in Christ, and who are living accordingly. He believed that the same Holy Spirit who guided his travels also spoke through his writings (1 Cor. 2:6-16), and that what he wrote in his letters was consistent and continuous with what he said in person (2 Cor. 10:10-11). He wanted to make sure that his letters were read and circulated among different churches, so that they would all be built up and instructed (Col. 4:16).
And what was true for Paul was true, of course, for all the other people to whom we owe the books in our New Testament – the writers of the gospels and Acts, John, Peter, James.
So another way in which the church grows up to maturity is through people reading good books – first of all, of course, the Bible itself, and then other books that help them understand it, explain and teach its relevance to their own context, and deepen their faith, obedience and endurance. And those who preach God’s word to others have special need of appropriate books to help them do this well.
Langham Literature is founded on this principle. John Stott has often said, “Pastors can’t preach if they don’t study (or at least they shouldn’t, though sadly many do); and they can’t study if they have no books.” So a major part of Langham Literature’s work for years has been getting books (commentaries, study guides, etc) into the hands of pastors and onto the shelves of seminary libraries all around the world – often as gifts, or at affordable prices. Increasingly, however, Langham has been investing in indigenous writing and publishing, through hosting training programmes for writers and editors, supporting the growth of viable evangelical publishing houses in many countries, and investing in major collaborative projects such as the Africa Bible Commentary and similar volumes in other regions of the world and in many major languages.
c. Apollos – Teacher and defender of the faith
We first meet Apollos in Acts 18 where we read:
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 18:24-28).
This is a wonderfully cross-cultural missionary CV! Here is a man who was converted in Africa, discipled in Asia, and sent as a missionary to Europe.
Apollos was well-taught in the Scriptures of the Old Testament and had come to faith in Jesus the Messiah. He then received some further teaching in the full story of Jesus, in the church home-school of Priscilla and her husband Aquila. Then he went to Corinth where he had a public ministry of systematic theological teaching of the young church there that had been founded by Paul, engaging in what we would call biblical apologetics. God used all his background, his intellect, his education, and his spiritual gifts, as a teacher of the church. It was mission - yes, but it was mission beyond evangelism; church nurture following church planting. He is similar in some ways to Timothy, who also had a thorough Jewish grounding in the Old Testament Scriptures before coming to faith in Christ, and then was appointed by Paul for a pastoring, preaching, teaching and training ministry in churches of the Ephesus region.
Now here’s the important thing: Paul emphatically affirms that the work of Apollos was equally important to his own. He would allow no differentiation that might treat either of them as superior to the other. He was the church planter; Apollos was the church teacher - but both shared the same mission. Or as Paul puts it:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose (1 Cor. 3:5-9; my italics).
Notice that last sentence - the planter and the teacher have “one purpose” - or one mission we might say - namely to see living churches planted and growing and bearing fruit for God in the world.
That is why The Cape Town Commitment goes on to state:
Theological education stands in partnership with all forms of missional engagement. We will encourage and support all who provide biblically-faithful theological education, formal and non-formal, at local, national, regional and international levels.4
Langham Scholars, the first of the Langham ministries founded by John Stott in 1969, recognizes this key role that theological education plays in the mission of the church and has enabled close to 300 men and women from all over the world to have the funding to complete their doctorates in biblical and theological disciplines and return to teach in seminaries. The church needs pastors who have been trained by teachers who combine academic qualifications with spiritual and evangelical zeal and conviction. And the church also needs those who will be thinkers and writers and defenders of the faith in their own cultural contexts, or (like Apollos) cross-culturally.
2. Theological education should be intentionally missional
More briefly, it seems to follow logically that if theological education is an intrinsic part of the mission of the church, then it ought to be intentionally missional in itself. That is, if the church exists to serve the mission of God, then theological education exists to serve the mission of the church. The absorption of theological education into the academy (even though it has historical roots in the origins of ancient universities themselves as originally a fruit of Christendom) has come at great cost. For theology can easily become just one academic discipline among many, seeking to justify itself according to the prevailing epistemology and worldview (and politics) of local cultures.
But theological education that seeks to serve the church aims to train those who will serve as the churches’ evangelists, pastors and teachers – i.e. those who will in turn ‘equip the saints for works of service’. Theological education enables leaders of the church to reflect deeply on their faith; to act accordingly; to discern truth from error; to read their own culture through the eyes of biblical faith and revelation; to teach and pastor people in grace and truth; to energize the church for mission at every level and in all of society. And other things besides, no doubt.
For this reason The Cape Town Commitment goes on to say:
We urge that institutions and programmes of theological education conduct a ‘missional audit’ of their curricula, structures and ethos, to ensure that they truly serve the needs and opportunities facing the Church in their cultures.5
May this be a call that evangelical theological educators around the world hear and respond to - and may we share the results of what happens when we do.
12 Corinthians 10:4-5
2 The Cape Town Commitment, II.F.4
4 Cape Town Commitment II.F.4b
5 Cape Town Commitment II.F.4c.