Matt. 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
As we spend time with nationals in Papua New Guinea and with missionaries who have been engaged in the discipleship process for decades, we see the consequences of not completing the task that Jesus gave to his own disciples. We see the results of groups coming to Papua New Guinea as missionaries, but not making disciples. There may be many factors that contribute to this failure, but a few are obvious and easy to identify.
The most egregious error is certainly groups who come to PNG claiming to proclaim the gospel while in reality preaching a salvation based on works. This is evident in many areas. There are plenty of church goers who are relying on their attendance or their good works to save them. This is particularly prevalent where we are now–close to an established town with numerous established churches.
In some cases, whether the gospel was accurately presented or not, it is clear that the truth was not accurately received. This is often do to a teacher’s incomplete knowledge of the culture or language of his audience. In remote areas where most people speak a tribal language in their day to day lives, a teacher using Pidgin is unlikely to be understood clearly (yet this practice is not uncommon.) Additionally, without understanding the cultural context, it would be difficult for a teacher to appropriately explain the truths of the gospel and contrast those truths with current beliefs. It easy for tribal animists who have been trying to appease spirits for generations to add one more spirit to their collection. So, frequently a christian message is mixed in with tribal beliefs.
Just the Gospel
Normally I would agree with someone saying “the gospel is enough,” but in the context of this discussion, things are different. If we assume a missionary avoids the first two pitfalls I have mentioned and preaches the gospel accurately in a way that is clearly understood, what happens if he or she then leaves the very next day? If he leaves a small group of believers without a Bible and without any further teaching, the limited Christian testimony there is will quickly die out. It is likely that traces of Christianity would be mixed in with traditional beliefs.
In Papua New Guinea, we live in the middle of this mess. Near towns we can see plenty of churches filled with people who have no understanding of the gospel and in remote locations we see traditional beliefs oddly coupled with a few Christian practices. For this reason, our goal is to invest the time necessary to fully understand a tribal language and culture before ever preaching the gospel. Then, our hope is to disciple believers and translate the Bible so that a self-sustaining church can survive and thrive after we are gone.