My Life in Jewish Evangelism Training
Karol Joseph, Jews for Jesus, New York City

I. Introduction

As most of you already know, missionary life isn't always easy, especially if you're a missionary in a ministry like Jews for Jesus, which has as our primary focus the proclamation of the gospel to unbelieving Jewish people. Our mission statement is that we exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide. Carrying the gospel message to a people who don't always want to hear takes courage, perseverance and determination, initiative and creativity. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world!"(John 16:33). He told us to expect a life of trouble and trials, of rejection and bearing the reproach of the cross. He continually told His disciples what to expect so that when it happened they wouldn't be surprised. Yet He also told us that in the midst of it He would be right there with us and would bless us.

Preparing our missionaries for that kind of life - a life of rejection, hardship, doing things (often very boring things!) we don't naturally want to do - while through all of it maintaining a spiritual connection that draws on Jesus and the fellowship of believers for our strength and joy is what our training hopes to be all about. In my experience, I have found that helping people develop right expectations makes all the difference in the world.

What I'm hoping to do in this article is give you a brief overview of what we do at Jews for Jesus (and why), and then to discuss some general observations and lessons that we've learned that might be applicable to your own situations, whatever they might be. I certainly realize that every Jewish mission has its own unique aspects and Jews for Jesus is no different. Therefore, not all that we do will apply to others. And I hope you realize that we're still learning.

II. Overview of our program

Training has always been an integral part of Jews for Jesus. Moishe Rosen initially prepared many of the lectures based on his experience training missionaries with ABMJ, and over the years they've been revised and updated to reflect the changing needs of our missionaries and the community we seek to reach. Today the training material is the collective wisdom of our staff over thirty years of ministry.

Since the late 1980's our missionary training program has been based in our New York City branch, a city with nearly 2 million Jewish people - where better to train missionaries to the Jews! But that also means that we have some unique resources to bring to bear on our program that many others don't:

We have a building in midtown Manhattan that can house several families and singles that come for their first semester of training. That means that we are able to train in the context of community, and spouses are able to audit the training if they like as well. Having the building also enables us, on occasion, to allow missionaries from other Jewish missions to join us for the training).

We also have missionaries and programs based in NYC that enable those in training to observe and be exposed to things that they otherwise wouldn't (e.g. our East Coast Youth Programs are based out of NYC, our annual summer campaign).

In 1994, after his retirement from Moody Bible Institute, Dr. Louis Goldberg moved to New York to be our scholar-in-residence. He pioneered the formal Jewish studies and theological classes that our new missionaries receive. Some of our new missionaries come to Jews for Jesus with Bible College or even seminary backgrounds, others do not. Dr. Goldberg's classes ensured that all of our missionaries would have a standardized body of knowledge. Today Dr. Jack Meadows, Ph.D. serves as our Jewish Studies teacher as well as our ministry chaplain.

The program is designed to be a 12-18 month long practical, hands-on training and mentoring program. It includes:

  • A 5 month semester of intensive classroom training at our Missionary Training Center in New York City. This involves about 30 hours a week: 15 hours of group training and another 15 hours of study. During this time our new missionaries attend lectures and classes, and then they are sent out to accompany the branch missionaries on their visits so they can observe and learn from seeing how it all works in real life situations, they try it out themselves and then gather again as a group to discuss what they've learned.

  • A 2-week course in Jewish evangelism and street witnessing techniques at Moody Bible Institute followed by a month long NYC summer witnessing campaign. Through the training and campaign they all receive some basic training in street witnessing techniques and have gotten a taste of what to expect in Jewish evangelism.

  • A second semester of field training and seasoning in one of the Jews for Jesus branches. The second semester is designed to let the new missionary gain experience by putting into practice what they learned in New York, and hones their skills under the mentoring of their local branch leader. It requires about 15 hours a week of study, mostly to complete their inductive bible studies and some final lectures. Students have up to 8 months to complete their requirements for the second semester. At the end of the 18 months, a decision is made by the missionary, and by the ministry, as to whether they'll enter a second term of service.

    The following is a description of the areas of training and skill-building included in the training:

    1. Understanding Jews for Jesus: our history, philosophy, culture, ministry strategies and administrative policies and systems. Missionary training begins with a two week overview of our ministry and our policies and procedures. It takes place at our San Francisco headquarters though lectures and discussions are also given during the extended training period.

    2. Spiritual formation. In the first semester we have group Bible reading and prayer 5 mornings a week. We also read through and discuss Jerry Bridges' book, The Pursuit of Holiness together in their first semester (they study another book in their second semester), and in all things we seek to instill habits of prayer and keeping our focus on the spiritual aspects of ministry.

    3. Street Evangelism. The new missionaries get this training and experience through our campaign, but we're on the streets every week in New York.

    4. Time Management. One of the first things we teach our new missionaries is how to manage their time so that they can be good stewards of that precious resource which has been entrusted to us by God, giving quality time to their caseload as well as ensuring that they have adequate time for rest and refreshment, family and personal relationships. In recent years we've focused even more on the importance of living a balanced life so that our missionaries can go the distance: we hope to train distance runners and not sprinters.

    5. Knowledge of Bible and Jewish Culture and Practice. The students currently take 6 classes (generally containing 12-15 hours of lecture each): Overview of the Hebrew Bible, Jewish History and Culture, Theology, The Book of Romans, a study through Hebrews/Leviticus, and Jewish Apologetics. They also visit a variety of synagogues to see the differences in Jewish observances and because we're in New York, they can be exposed to a myriad of Jewish historical and cultural experiences.

    6. Cultivating and maintaining a one-on-one ministry to our Jewish people. One-on-one visitation is at the very core of a Jews for Jesus missionary's daily life. So we train our new missionaries in a variety of skills, ranging from how to keep finding new people to visit and encourage them to meet with you (e.g. through street evangelism, evangelistic phoning, following-up on responses to media ads and referrals), to how to conduct evangelistic and instructional visits, to how to care for and disciple a new Jewish believer and help them to find and get settled into a good Bible teaching church or messianic congregation and to serve God with the gifts and talents He has given them.

    7. Bible Teaching and Communication Skills. These skills are essential, so we ground our new missionaries in the Inductive Bible Study method, so that they'll develop the skills needed to take any passage of the Bible and turn it into a lesson they can teach or a message they can deliver. Over the course of their training they will seek to master this skill by developing 10 studies from the Gospel of John that they can teach those they disciple (mostly during their second semester), and two sermon messages they can preach. Most of the trainees tell me that learning the Inductive Bible Study method is one of the most difficult parts of the training, though most say at the end it's also the most rewarding.

    They are also exposed to other evangelistic and discipleship tools that they can use with people they visit and are encouraged to keep their ears and eyes open as they observe missionaries doing visits so that they can be constantly adding to their cache of teaching resources. We use role-playing both give the new missionaries practice in teaching, as well as to learn from observing each other.

    8. Church Relations and Deputation. We view ourselves at Jews for Jesus as an arm of the church, the body of Messiah. We rely on the body of Messiah (both collectively and individually) for our support, and we need them to care for Jewish believers and help them grow so that we can keep our attention focused mostly on reaching the unsaved. Therefore, we train our new missionaries to speak effectively in churches and to understand how to build relationships with churches and congregations.

    In the first semester of training, one of the most 'stretching' tasks our missionaries undertake is to learn our "Christ in the Passover" presentation and then go on a three-week speaking tour, where they see first hand the many ways that we are a mutual blessing to one another, and to experience the diversity and richness of the different denominations. It's not uncommon for those who have come from a single denominational experience be amazed at what God shows them through this experience.

    But learning this presentation teaches our new missionaries much more than merely how to speak. Tracy Rapp is currently in training half-time (her husband Bruce co-leads the work with me in New York). She shared with our training class just last week, "I had never taken a test more than once in my life; I've always passed every test the first time. This was my first time, and I had to take it three times before I passed! The second time Karol said to me, 'You're 98% there, but I want to hear it one more time.' And I wasn't happy. I was complaining to God asking why Karol was being so tough on me, and I heard God saying "It's not Karol who is making you do it again, it's me." I was so convicted. It's a holy message, and there was a lot more to this process than just memorizing this script."

    9. Cultivating and building a community of witness. Finally, through some lectures, but mostly through working together in the local branches, our new missionaries also learn the process of planning and executing public meetings and events (e.g. high holiday services, Hanukkah parties, our annual Ingathering, etc.) leading evangelistic outreaches, recruiting and training volunteers for our local witnessing activities, and living in such a way as to be inviting to Jewish people so that they might come alongside to learn about Jesus and how to serve Him.

    III. Reflections on some lessons we've learned

    Creating a culture of learning. Education and curiosity is important to any missionary, so our ministry tries to create a 'culture of learning' The initial training focuses on only those minimum things that a person needs to be able to start their ministry, but we encourage continual learning throughout the missionary's career. So We offer an educational benefit to encourage our staff to gain a master's level education after they've served with us for a time, and we're now in the process of developing a leadership development training program for our missionaries who want to prepare themselves for branch leadership or other leadership positions in our ministry.

    The importance of 'Calling' and commitment.
    Not too long ago at one of our leadership meetings, David Brickner informally asked our senior staff who had been around for a while why we had come to serve with Jews for Jesus, and most of us acknowledged that we had come because of a sense of calling, and that's why we were still here!

    Before I came on staff with Jews for Jesus I had a good job in the health care industry in Boston, and a very comfortable life there. The last thing I wanted to do was trade that in to put on a bold 'Jews for Jesus' t-shirt, stand on a street corner and talk to Jewish people about Jesus. But in 1990, I believed that this was God's call on my life, and I came onto staff solely in obedience to that call. After going through campaign training, I went with the team to New York. My first Saturday night I was placed in Times Square. I came out of the subway, took one look around, and said to my team leader "Now this could be dangerous!" Before coming to believe in Y'shua, I was an extremely fearful person and this was a frightening moment.

    I was left on a corner near three policemen (my team leader thought I'd feel safe there). Instead of trying to boldly and enthusiastically hand out my literature and try to engage people in conversation as I'd been trained, I held my tracts close to my chest and prayed "God, you are the creator of the universe and you can make me invisible." But He didn't! Instead He sent a tall street preacher who stood about 15 feet from me and began to preach, and I began to feel elevated. A young woman came by and I asked if I could tell her about Jesus. When I asked if she wanted to receive Him as her savior and she said "yes" I just looked at her with a surprised expression and said "Really?!!!" I couldn't believe that a stranger would do that. She cried as I took her name and address so we could have a church follow-up with her, and after she left I was so excited that I couldn't wait to find someone else to talk to. A few minutes later I looked around and all the police were gone, and so was my street preacher. It was sometime later that I realized that this was the moment that God delivered me from fear, once and for all! That same sense of calling, and commitment to that call, is what has kept me (and so many of my colleagues) in the ministry during the difficult times that are inevitable in this field.

    To enter the training program we don't ask our new missionaries if they know that they've been 'called' into ministry, we ask if they feel the liberty of the Holy Spirit to commit to an 18-month term of service during which time they'll go through our training. What we hope is that through the training period God will confirm a sense of call, or help them to see that He has some other plan for their service.

    Attitude conditioning and establishing disciplines
    In preparing for this talk, I emailed some of those who had been through training, asking them if they could share with me a lesson they had learned from God during their training. The most consistent response I received was in this area. Chad Elliot, who serves with our branch in Southern Florida wrote: My missionary training left me with a couple of important realizations. The first was that no matter how much I thought of myself, I simply could not do the work -- sometimes couldn't even get through a single day -- without reliance on God. This really was the first step in my understanding what it meant to die to myself. Up until that point in my life as a believer, I'm not sure that I understood the concept at all, but once I did I was able to realize that none of the work really had anything to do with me, but it had everything to do with God.

    Bimini Cohen, a Chinese-American woman who came into our ministry along with her Israeli husband, Oded, wrote: The Lord helped me in remarkable ways, especially with energy, endurance, and improved memory/concentration. I had been out of school for many years, so studying didn't come so easily, but I noticed that when I prayed before I studied, that I retained so much more. I learned the importance of prayer, not just during a set devotional time, but throughout my day, before I called anyone, before I met anyone, before and throughout our sorties. Our training program isn't easy, but I think that those who go through it find that as they learn discipline and pray, they can do a lot more than they thought they could and get a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when it's completed.

    A commitment to mentoring
    Our ministry isn't easy, but it really helps to have someone alongside you helping and mentoring you through. In the early days of Jews for Jesus this mentoring came naturally as there were so few staff, we were able to invest ourselves regularly in one another. But as we've grown, this commitment has had to become more intentional. This past year we revamped our program for college-aged students to give it a greater emphasis on mentoring relationships. We want to be available to the students, bring them in and invest in their lives, and then when and if God leads them, bring them onto staff while they're still in college to begin their training earlier.

    The importance of teams
    Nadav Ben Guri is a Jewish believer who was born in Israel but was raised mostly in South Africa. He really didn't want to go out on April 15th, Income Tax deadline day to survey people at the post office using what we call our 'Death and Taxes' survey. But the team was sent out and so he went as well. He didn't feel very comfortable walking up to each person and asking the questions they'd come up with. But of course Nadav is the one who had a great conversation with an unsaved Jewish man who gave him his contact information so they could talk again. He came back really excited about the team accountability and structure that gave him what he needed to get out of his comfort zone and do the evangelism.

    The Importance of Goal-setting
    As I mentioned earlier, an important of our training is helping the new missionaries develop a realistic understanding of what to expect as missionaries. If people expect to see hundreds of Jewish people coming to faith every week, they're going to be disappointed and ultimately get discouraged. On the other hand, if people expect nothing to happen, probably nothing will. We like to be able to have reasonable expectations. We also like to set goals, and encourage all of our people to set goals and pray to God for those goals. Most of our staff would testify to our surprise at how often God would meet or exceed our goals. It surprises us because it doesn't seem like a very spiritual thing to do, yet we're always amazed at what God would do - and what a faith building experience this would be!

    IV. Some hopes for the future

    I've been working in the training program for the past six years, and it is still a work in progress. We've made changes to the program, updating things as needed. But we have far from arrived. Ours is a difficult field and in order to succeed in making disciples from our Jewish people we need have well trained missionaries, Doing that means we need to continually strive to improve our programs and keep up with a changing Jewish community.

    Karol Joseph