A young man who we mentor in the Arab world wrote us the following from a study he’s doing in the book of John, and with some edits, I am sharing it with his permission.

The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. (John 7:15-16)

I think we are often guilty of putting too heavy a focus on formal training. I have nothing against formal training; indeed, I like it and appreciate its benefits. The problem arises when we think we (and everyone else) need it or we will not be successful. Jesus answered his critics in John 7:15-16 by answering that his message was from above, so the implication is that the Father had made sure that he learned everything he needed to know and be able to do for his, (God’s) assignment. With Jesus as our model, we walk away from such thinking.

Jesus knew His task. It was clear to Him what he was supposed to do, and thus his first 30 years he was readying himself for his public ministry. For some of us, we know the direction the Master is taking us. We should then begin to meet people and do things that will help us to that end. Before we moved abroad, we began hanging out with Arabs and learning their culture. We spent a great deal of our time with them and helped them get settled into life in our city. We look back on that time with fondness because we often reference things we learned through our time with them today. So, too, in my job, I reference the skills and concepts I learned after university, while working back home, which I use almost every week here. Had I focused on formal training (seminary or a training school) before coming here, I would have a gap in my resume that wouldn’t have allowed me to come here. In my field, gaps in experience are detrimental to obtaining a high tech position within any company in the industry, especially overseas postings. If I graduated from university and did something else for several years, getting a job in my field with a global company would have been difficult. If I had taken several years before moving overseas to do formal training, getting a job here would have been a relative impossibility.

My issue isn’t with those who do formal training but with those who think we all must be formally trained if we are to succeed. My position is not that formal training isn’t profitable; I see great benefit in learning from those who have gone before us and can teach what they have learned. The important thing is that we don’t just regurgitate what our leaders and mentors tell us; rather we must learn to apply principles that fit our unique situations as God leads us. I believe that formal training is situational and comes after a reliance on the Master. He alone gives assignments to us, and we follow Him down the road of formal training or on-the-job training depending on what He has for us to do. We need to recognize that Jesus did not send people off for training but had His disciples “be with Him”.  When we discuss training new workers, let’s acknowledge that formal training is beneficial but that on-the-job training is an equally viable option.

Do you agree or disagree with him?



PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.

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