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Risks and Rewards in Training Indigenous Pastors: Interview with Brad Klassen

klassen-230x300■ Brad Klassen served with Grace Ministries International in Russia for twelve years. He is currently a professor of biblical exposition at The Master’s Seminary.

You spent twelve years at the TMAI training center in Samara, Russia. Can you speak a little about the risks and rewards in training indigenous pastors?

The risks of indigenization are massive because the work demands such a significant investment before any lasting results are visible. One must put his whole life into it, including his personal time, material resources, and even his family. It is a long-term commitment, and there are always varying degrees of failure, painful moments, and tears. Even the Apostle Paul saw this in the course of his ministry, when he wrote to Timothy that “all who are in Asia turned away from me” (2 Tim 1:15). There is no fail-proof secret that we unlock. Disappointments are inescapable. But we walk by faith, realizing that these are just part of the hard work that must be endured for the sake of Christ.

But there are also great rewards when the Lord grants success. One of the greatest blessings for any missionary is the joy of seeing the nationals he’s discipled transition into roles of leadership. There is a special excitement in seeing the local believers begin to respect them as their own leaders and begin following them. When this happens, there is no longer any dependency on the western missionary. The nationals begin to see that biblical ministry is not dependent on a specific nationality or Western theological degree, but is possible in their own context, and with their own men. How exciting it is to see the nationals begin to prefer the teaching and leadership of their own men over your own, for the right reasons!

It sounds like the only profession where one wants to work himself out of the job.

There is a strong temptation for a missionary to want to hold on to the respect and responsibilities that accompany a leadership position. You go from being in the center of the spotlight to sharing the spotlight to having to step out of it. The flesh does not like that kind of progression. It can be very hard at times. But if you care more about the glory of Christ and the health of His church, you remember that it’s not about being in the spotlight. It’s about the treasure of the gospel. You go somewhere as a missionary because you are compelled by the love of Christ. You go because others aren’t there. You may be the only one in the beginning. But you go to become increasingly dispensable. So when you maintain the same level of indispensability as time goes on, you are not doing the work of a missionary.

Thanks for the challenging word. Is there any personal story you’d like to share before we conclude?

Early on in our time in Samara a young man entered the program. We saw quickly that he had tremendous aptitude in the biblical languages and preaching, and loved his family and local church. I began building a special friendship with him, spending time together and talking through various theological, ministry, and personal issues. During his last year of training, he would come to my home every Monday morning at 7:00 am to read through a Greek grammar together. My wife would make us breakfast (he loved waffles), and he and I would sit around the table for hours reading and fellowshipping together. Those were some of the best memories I have of the ministry in Samara. Six years later, I handed him the keys to my office. I rejoice today to see him leading the ministry better than I ever could have.

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Paul exhorted Timothy to identify faithful men and entrust to them the biblical truths that he (and the other apostles) taught. This transference of the truth has been God’s method of missions from the birth of the church until today. At the heart of TMAI’s mission is training indigenous men and then, as Brad put it, “handing them the keys” to go and do the same.

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