Why Teaching English Is Such an Important Ministry

Missions is about making Christian disciples of the nations and teaching them God’s ways. This should be the primary focus of any missional ministry. On the mission field, all ministries should either directly make disciples for Christ, or point the lost to a disciple-making ministry. Teaching English in a foreign context can greatly enhance the disciple-making efforts in missions work. 

Teaching English is a natural and purposeful way to gain access, show mercy, and build relationships with God’s diverse creation. Used wisely English instruction can be a great foundational ministry and help missionaries expand the impact of their labors. 

God’s purpose
Before the Tower of Babel the earth had one language (Gen. 11:1). Mankind had similar cultures and lived in close proximity to each another. Because of man’s sinful heart and his desire to exalt himself above God, our Lord complicated man’s plans to build the Tower of Babel. God gave man multiple languages and dispersed him throughout the globe (Gen. 11:7-8). God separated the nations of man by distance, culture, and language. 

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) is Christ’s mandate and plan for His Church to make disciples of the nations. The Tower of Babel was certainly one of God’s earliest actions toward implementing that plan. The creation of varying tribes, while being a result of man’s sin, was part of God’s will to use man to call the elect to Himself. In God’s salvific mercy toward man, there is a straight line connecting the origin of languages to missions. 

Access
Teaching English can help a missionary gain admission he or she may not otherwise have. Entry can be gained at both the bureaucratic and the popular levels. Frequently, governments or universities grant access to English teachers that may not be provided to religious workers. At the popular level teaching English may allow a missionary easy access to a community or group. 

English is the third most popular first language in the world (behind Chinese and Spanish) and the most popular spoken language overall. English is the predominant language of the internet, media, and technology with most resources produced in English. English is the official language of over 50 countries. The most common second language taught in schools around the world is English. In short, much of the world desires to know English. 

Mercy ministry
Teaching English for free in poor communities can help demonstrate the boundless mercy of Jesus Christ. Often formal language study is expensive and out of reach for impoverished groups. By giving for free what a community could not otherwise afford, a missionary could be providing additional employment or education opportunities which would not otherwise be available. Formal English instruction may mean a lifelong pay raise for your students. 

The compassionate and intentional instruction you can provide a group of students is often contrary to the learning environments in developing nations. Many education settings around the world are harsh, passionless, and unproductive. Language lessons could be a wonderful way to show the selfless joy and passion found only in Christ. 

Bible knowledge
Wherever legally permissible, Bible reading is a great foundational resource to use in teaching vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing and listening skills. By using Bibles as the textbook for your English class, and then providing the skills needed to comprehend the text, an English teacher is placing the saving gospel into the homes of all his or her students. 

Bible studies and Bible lessons are a great way to simultaneously teach English and the Scriptures. The Bible is full of diverse vocabulary, and contains poetry, history, dialogue, and narrative. The Bible was used for generations to teach English in U.S. public schools and it can be used as a teaching aid around the world. 

Relational ministry
English classes are wonderful and structured vehicles for building deeper relationships with groups of people. The organizational mechanism of meeting regularly, several times a week, is a natural way to get to know people and for the students and the teachers to develop substantive bonds. 

Outings, home visits, and other special events can be used as rewards and further educational opportunities. Shopping, eating out, and taking public transportation are all great ways to escape the classroom and teach useful vocabulary. 

Just do it!
If a missionary promises a student or a government they will be teaching English, by all means, quality instruction of English should be provided. Don’t deceive or misrepresent your intentions. Sufficient preparation should be made by the English instructor to guarantee God is glorified by your labors. No Christian missionary should ever invite the accusations of being dishonest.

Much of the world wants it and you’ve got it. Teaching English is a wonderful way to gain access to people with whom you may not otherwise be able to interact. Languages were created by man’s sin. How glorious to imagine they can also lead to his salvation. God’s mercy and the saving words of Scripture can be passed on. In the end, if you can speak it, many people desire to learn it and it can be a wonderful gateway for discipleship and the teaching of God’s ways.

Interested in teaching on the mission field? Check out our teaching opportunities at mtw.org/serve

Mike Pettengill is an MTW missionary serving in Equatorial Guinea.

Mike Pettengill in Reflection on Jan 24, 2017

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