Book Review: Reaching & Teaching (by M. David Sills)

Reaching & Teaching“In recent years, mission agencies and missionaries have increasingly shifted away from teaching and discipleship toward an emphasis on evangelism and church planting—some to the exclusion of any other field activity.  While evangelism and church planting are essential components of a missions program, deep discipleship, pastoral preparation, and leadership training must be priorities as well.  Jesus explicitly called the church to make disciples of the nations and to teach them to observe all He commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20).  However, it seems that today many well-intentioned missionaries believe their task is merely to evangelize and then group willing participants into new ‘churches.’”[1]

David Sills lays out the unfortunate scenario that he addresses in his book, Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience.  The book is comprised of ten chapters, accompanied by a thorough conclusion and an appendix (“Southern Baptist IMB Statement on Ecclesiology”).  Following is a list of the Chapters:

1. Teaching Them: The Great Omission of the Great Commission

2. Missionaries Training Nationals: How Much Is Enough?

3. The Bare Minimum: What Must We Teach?

4. Missionaries and Nationals: Who Should Teach?

5. Learning from Paul: Missiological Methods of the Apostle to the Gentiles

6. Search Versus Harvest Theology: Reaching or Teaching?

7. Techniques and Tools: The Greater Good, CPM, and What Only God Can Do

8. Equipping Disciples: Theological Education and the Missionary Task

9. Primary Oral Learners: How Shall They Hear?

10. Critical Contextualization: The Balance Between Too Far and Not Far Enough

As I prepare for future missionary endeavors myself, I have found this book to be very informative and encouraging.  You see, I too have a strong desire to not only reach the unreached with the gospel, but to subsequently disciple the new believers through biblical teaching, mentoring, and especially to train potential national leaders to carry on the work (Acts 11:19-30; 14:21-23; 2 Tim. 2:2).  Sills provides a treasure-trove of biblical insight, personal wisdom, and various scenarios for faithful missionary engagement.

Sills notes that there exists an increasing agenda of missionary organizations and missionaries themselves to reach as many unreached people groups as fast as possible, and then once they are “reached,” move on to the next group.  Such a need for speed incurs long-term problems once the missionaries leave.  Perhaps most notable is the fact that these new churches remain biblically illiterate, and as a result, often times lapse into syncretism according to their traditional/cultural worldview and religion.  The Corinthian church faced such tendencies (e.g. 1 Cor. 1, 5), and yet this occurred after Paul had spent over a year-and-a-half in Corinth, teaching them the word of God (Acts 18:11,18).  How much more do these tendencies exist when a new church is given no biblical instruction and has no trained leaders?  Sills remarks, “Having a Bible and the Holy Spirit is not adequate without someone teaching them.  It is obvious that they still need to be trained to interpret the Word of God accurately [Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:5-9].”[2]  This here is the overarching point of his book—we must not only reach people with the gospel and then gather them together in churches, we must teach them the word of God and establish trained leaders among them.

Many other aspects of missionary work are discussed throughout, such as the tendencies to over-contextualize, as to leave no discerning features from the newly formed church(es) and their traditional religion (this is currently taking place in middle eastern societies with regard to Islam).  The essence of this book, however, is in the name: Reaching and Teaching.  Such is a wonderful summary of the missionary call.  We must not merely reach people with the gospel and then leave them to fend for themselves, we must subsequently teach them in the fundamentals of the faith, and endeavor to establish qualified leadership to carry on the work.  I highly recommend this book to current missionaries and anyone considering full-time missionary work.  Save yourself the trouble of discovering these things the hard way; know before you go!

[1] Sills, M. David. Reaching and Teach: A Call to Great Commission Obedience (IL: Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2010), 11.

[2] 21.


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