In order to save money a friend decided that he would not change the oil filter on his car when he changed the oil. The car ran this way for a while, but then the engine froze because the oil filter got completely clogged. Are we doing the same thing to our missionaries when we do not provide ongoing training, expecting them to keep on running without the input they need?
The training can be on parenting, marriage, cross-cultural, or theological issues. The main question is what priority does your organization put on training those on the field?
I will make my point with one illustration—Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. Here are our missionaries on the field having an effective ministry. But then along comes a training need.
"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question." (Acts 15:1-2 ESV)
It seems pretty clear from this passage and from Galatians 2 that Paul had a good handle on this issue, but some of the other workers were confused, including the Apostle Peter!
The result could be called the first missionary training event:
"Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas…with the following letter…" (Acts 15:22-23a ESV)
Just think if you were a missionary left to figure things out for yourself in some remote part of the Empire. You would form your opinion, your theology, and carry on with ministry, just as Peter was doing.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Gal 2:11-13 ESV)
The point is that everyone needs ongoing, directed training in order to grow spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and, yes, theologically so that they become more effective ministers of the gospel.
The men and women who are serving cross-culturally today do not have access to resources for personal and professional growth like the rest of us. The leadership of mission organizations must take seriously the ongoing, intentional training of their personnel. To ignore this is to endanger the message, as in the case of the men who came down from Judea in Acts 15, or to endanger the servant, as in the case of the arguments that arose among the missionaries in Acts 15.