by Kenneth B. Mulholland, John Kayser, Michael Pocock
Three articles on missionary training.
Keys to Effective Graduate Training
Kenneth B. Mulholland
What are some keys to effective training in missions at the graduate or post-college level? This is an important question because graduate level missiological training is on the increase, both for pre-field candidates and for mid-career missionaries.
Since Columbia’s emphasis is primarily, though not exclusively, on pre-field missiological training at the master’s degree level, I will concentrate on this area. The following suggested keys grow out of almost five years of teaching, following nearly 15 years of missionary service in Central America.
The first key is to recognize that effective graduate training means adult education: androgogy rather than pedagogy. I find that graduate level missionary candidates are generally highly motivated to learn. They have not entered graduate school because of government regulations, parental pressure, or financial promise. They are there because they want to be there-often at great personal sacrifice.
These persons are not late adolescents, but young and middle-aged adults. They possess an immense variety of experiences. A good percentage have traveled widely, served as short-term missionaries, held office in the local congregation. Some have been engineers, lawyers, soldiers, physicians, teachers, nurses, accountants. More than half are married and many of the couples have children. These persons are oriented toward problem solving. They have much to offer as well as much to learn. Graduate school students are an incredible resource for learning. How often I have lectured on the historical development of missions in a given country only to discover that one of the students had been there more recently than I. Or I have used an illustration or case study only to learn that a participant in that situation was present in my classroom.
Effective graduate training in missions is adult education. It views the students as junior colleagues in ministry rather than passive receptacles to be filled with the lore of missiology.
The second key is to build flexibility into the training program. For us this has meant the creation of separate tracks of study for the M.A. in Christian education and M. Div. students: North American and cross cultural. In the M.A. program it has led to the elaboration of concentrations in missions and intercultural studies, with the added possibility of earning a TESOL certificate.
True, all missionary candidates need a thorough grasp of the content and interpretation of the Scriptures, an understanding of the missionary enterprise, evangelistic skills, guidelines for personal Christian living, and a sense of commitment to the place of the local congregation in God’s plan of discipling the nations. These basic elements usually comprise the minimum requirements for most Boards. Columbia’s one-year certificate program, designed especially with the secular university graduate in mind, provides a minimally adequate background for persons teaching in MK schools, ministering in a geographically distant but culturally similar setting in which previously learned skills are used, or where one continues to practice his own profession. For those planning to engage in a tentmaking ministry, this initial year may be sufficient.
Persons whose ministries will involve the penetration of another culture, in which the articulation and communication of the faith are a central aspect of ministry, need to enhance their cultural awareness and develop their communication skills. Required courses in biblical theology and the history of missions come alive as students delve into cultural anthropology, animism, cross-cultural communications, church growth, and such elective areas as language learning, Third World perspectives and area studies. Cross-cultural Christian education, missions, or inter-cultural studies build on the certificate program. For the Bible college graduate, the M.A. can be earned in a single year. It provides more flexiblity in order to fill in the gaps of the undergraduate education which probably provided a thorough Bible knowledge, but usually an uneven study of missions.
The cross-cultural M. Div. program prepares the candidate for a leadership role in the local church. It aims to prepare both church planters and developers as well as those who labor in the area of training national leadership. A cross-cultural internship is a must and concentrations in Christian education, counseling, and New Testament studies are available.
The third key to effective graduate education is orientation toward total life training. Effective missionaries are more than repositories of biblical information and missiological strategies. In addition to the development of intellectual acumen, graduate as well as undergraduate training must involve social, spiritual and physical development.
Interpersonal conflicts hinder missionary effectiveness. Required course work in interpersonal relationship, small group participation, and peer evaluation should be part of the training process. Some provision must be made for including the spouse in the training.
Spiritual training is often assumed at the graduate level, or held to be the exclusive responsibility of the local church. Graduate education needs to build spiritual formation into the training process. Courses on the ministry of prayer, the history of revivals or awakenings, and principles of Christian living have a place in graduate school instruction. Likewise, instruction and involvement in ministries of evangelism and discipling are crucial areas for graduate training.
A fourth key to effective missionary training lies precisely in the phrase "for the contemporary world." Candidates for missionary service need to know the contemporary world in which they will serve. They need to comprehend the world view of the people among whom they will serve, whether it by shaped by Marxism, Western secularism, animism, or one of the great world religious systems such as Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam.
The previous background of graduate students enables them to make the most of studies in such areas as anthropology, animism, and Third World perspectives. They are able to maximize what liberal arts background they have and utilize already developed critical and integrative skills. Many will already be capable researchers and most will have a reading speed that enables them to accomplish much in less time. Some will have capability in more than one language. Still others have already had cross-cultural experiences.
I have discovered that group projects often attain an extraordinary quality, and much of what is produced can be immediately used in extension programs, radio broadcasts, specialized publications, and local churches, not just in the seminar room. Those who opt to write a thesis can do original research to benefit the entire cause of missions. I personally encourage graduate students to write for the benefit of others as part of their ministry.
I heartily concur with Lyman E. Reed when he insists
The insights of anthropology are valuable tools in helping missionaries in their complex task ahead …The benefits of understanding cultural social structure and grouping of people are more and more being recognized today. Missionaries are excited about the clearer insights available to them through the behavioral sciences. These helps are much needed in the cross-cultural communication of the Good News. (Reed 1985:xii).
Furthermore, courses in contemporary theologies of missions and emerging Third World theologies allow students to discover that the theological agenda differs in other parts of the world. The added maturity of the graduate student enables him to sift through the burgeoning material emerging from the Third World, hold fast to what is useful in economic theories, liberation theologies, and indigenous culture while calling into question those motifs that are clearly unbiblical.
A fifth key to effective graduate training for contemporary missions is field-oriented learning. In a recent Evangelical Missions Quarterly issue Stephen T. Hoke, writing about undergraduate education, conceded that Jesus’ nonformal approach to training is still the ideal model for helping students become effective missionaries. However, although the formal education process lacks the flexibility and time required for such an experience, many elements of on-the-job training can be incorporated into resident missionary education. Cross-cultural internships during the summer, or even a complete year, and extended internships in ethnic churches while classes are in progress, open the way for such training. The maturity of most graduate students permits them to reflect profitably upon ministry experience while engaged in it. Field reports, laboratory sessions, or on-site visits make this key a vital and attainable one. Further, it enhances a student’s legitimate confidence by allowing him to begin to do what he will be doing following graduation.
Graduate school missionary training for the contemporary world should aim to send out fully qualified missionaries. To do less is, as Kane suggests, ". . . unfair to the national churches and dishonoring to the Lord." (Kane 1978:176). Five keys to unlock the potential of graduate missiological training for prefield candidates are adult education, curricular flexibility, total life training, contemporary world emphasis, and field oriented learning.
How a Bible Institute Imparts Missionary Vision
Bible schools and colleges claim a significant role in the legacy of missions of the 20th century. So closely tied is Bible school education to missions that S.A. Witmer in 1962 claimed that half of all North American missionaries have had their preparation or part of it, in a Bible school (The Bible College Story: Education with Dimension, p. III).
Today there are nearly 200 Bible schools and colleges in North America training as many as 30,000 students. Continued recruitment on Bible school and college campuses indicates that these are still seen as primary sources by missions in the ’80s.
Programs, ideas, and methods may differ from school to school, but the bottom line in promoting missionary vision is the intangible but very perceptible spirit of the institute. This relates to two areas: missionary vision and spiritual dynamic.
Where missions becomes the heartthrob of the school, it sets the direction and tone of thought and emphasis both in curricula and school life. The visionary philosophy of a school has more impact than the courses it may teach.
In most cases, the vision of the founder and inheriting leadership has determined this spirit. For example, Robert C. McQuilkin, unable to go overseas as a missionary, founded Columbia Bible College and determined that it should be a school where missions had primary emphasis. His determination drew educators with like passion, resulting in a college permeated with missions. L. E. Maxwell, founder of Prairie Bible Institute, was a dynamic visionary. W. Phillip Keller describes the school in his book, Expendable!:
The fact that the staff had a heart for missions, that Mr. Maxwell was a missionary man, that the families and friends around the school were enthusiastic about missions gave this emphasis to the entire school life. As someone put it very succinctly-"They ate, drank, studied, slept, and sang missions morning, noon, and night." Little marvel it soon became known as a missionary school
Perhaps more critical than any other factor in the establishing of missionary vision is the spiritual dynamic of a school-the quality of the teaching of the Word of God, its impact in the lives of responsive young people, the challenge to surrender and obedience, character development, prayer and revival, the work of the Holy Spirit in lives, and the overflow of this in evangelism and practical work. The spiritual quality of the school is more motivating for missions than all the challenges given by visiting speakers.
Bible institutes impart missionary vision to the extent that there is personalized response to the Word of God. Until it has cut deep, this sword of God cannot be effectively wielded. Foundational conviction regarding the lost condition of mankind without Christ, the one and only way of salvation through Christ, the total claim of God upon the believer’s life, and other absolute biblical truths motivate students to action.
In areas related to spiritual development there is a common emphasis in Bible school life on character development. These include such things as devotional life, prayer meetings, personal discipline, supervision of student life, and even regulation of such activities as dating and courtship. Prairie Bible Institute has been noted for its emphasis on discipline. This has produced a range of proponents and opponents, but it clearly has its place because of the demands of the mission field.
Bible schools came into being initially to train men and women for all types of Christian service. Moody called these "gap-men" because they stood between the laity and the clergy in fulfilling desperately needed ministries.
Schools in the 1800s focused on scholasticism rather than skills. Simpson and Moody envisioned a new form of training, innovative in curriculum, form, and methodology-one that correlated practical and academic training. Bible institutes became the locus for such training
Following this model, Bible schools today require significant Christian service as part of the training program. More and more careful supervision and on-site training is being given in these programs. Furthermore, many Bible institutes and colleges have internships in areas such as pastoral ministry, cross-cultural ministry, and others which are a part of the specialized training offered by the school.
The modern Bible school has benefited greatly by the explosion of missiological knowledge and research produced by seminaries. A scan of catalogs shows such courses as management in missions, church growth, cultural anthropology, linguistics, strategy of missions, sociology and missions, and so on. It must be remembered that Bible institutes are commited to the transmission of recognized bodies of truth rather than discovering "new truth." They do not focus on research.
This does not mean that they are academically inferior. They are geared for training people who are headed for ministry either immediately or via further education elsewhere. A well-developed cross-cultural training program drawing on the "state of the art" research taught by experienced and capable teachers has tremendous impact on promoting missionary vision.
Nearly every Bible institute and college has student leadership promoting missions. Campus mission fellowships abound, many of them affiliated with the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship. Excitement for missions percolates through a student body through these groups.
Some schools consider prayer bands so vital that time is built into the schedule for them. Occasionally fasting is included for a day each semester. A new emphasis beginning to move onto campuses are "Concerts of Prayer," creatively designed corporate prayer sessions.
Since transmission of information about missions is important, some student mission fellowships have special small group studies focusing on critical issues, or on contemporary books on missions, such as Bryant’s In the Gap.
Projects are common. These may be special projects for world needs, such as Bibles for needy countries, relief monies, books for pastors or Bible schools overseas, and so on. Or they may be ministry projects, such as recruiting students and funds, then providing training for special summer and Christmas cross-cultural ministries.
Finally, chapels and missions conferences can have very powerful impact on motivating students for missions. Quality of planning and speaking is critical here. Mission conferences can focus on general missions or on large religious blocks where the hidden peoples are.
A Recruiter’s View of Missionary Training
Ten years ago, I left a field ministry to take up recruitment and personnel work. A subtle change came over me. Even though I had obtained three degrees, pastored a church and taught in a Bible college for three years before beginning field service, I now began to feel impatient about preparing others for missions. Getting people where they were needed-fast- became very important from my point of view.
Somehow I, who had received a lengthy preparation, now felt that the same training might be extraneous for others. I had formerly identified with Moses who prepared for 80 years before serving for 40. The 30 years’ preparation of Christ, and the fine education of Paul even before his three years in the school of the desert, were models I could really appreciate. But as a recruiter, I began to feel more positively toward on-the-job training. I wanted to see my recruits on the field, not entangled with a growing family, educational debts and an ivory tower mentality.
A group of 65 missionaries to southern Europe gathered recently and the findings of their consultation indicates that seminaries are encouraging prospective missionaries to get too much and too advanced training for their church planting task. They advocated more advanced training only after adequate field experience.
Is this kind of skepticism of extensive prefield training justified? Should we hurry people out to the fields? Does seminary kill fervor? We really need caution. Warren Webster of the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society advocates two or three years of graduate training prior to a missionary involvement. He cites great church leaders like Luther, Calvin, the Wesleys and Judson as men of extensive academic preparation and excellent accomplishments. It is undeniable that brilliant men and women have made significant contributions in the cause of missions. Even though highly trained missionaries occasionally do bomb out, the record overall is one of greater perseverance, flexibility, cultural adaptability, and grasp of options in ministry for those with superior training.
The Missions Advanced Research and Communications Center attempted to show a dependable path into career missions in a booklet entitled, You Can So Get There From Here. This was prepared because the authors felt that no clear path to missionary preparedness existed, at least not like the standardized training of a doctor or an engineer. The MARC attempt is laudable but flawed. Sure, we want to have a clear path, but the missionary enterprise is very complex. There isn’t one best way to get prepared and prospective workers begin from many starting points. Furthermore, it is undeniable that people with minimal formal training have accomplished a great deal in missions. These have not been anti-intellectuals, however, but simply people with the attitude of a lifetime learner.
George Verwer of Operation Mobilization had one year of general college preparation and two years at Moody Bible Institute. Verwer is such a man of vision, prayer, and action that it’s hard to imagine him sitting in a classroom for any length of time. But Verwer is a voracious reader (and a prodigious seller of books). He is a man whose mind feeds on the Word, books, and the world around him. He is an effective missions leader-well-prepared for his work, but not from a strictly academic point of view.
There are certain components that should be generally a part of every missionary’s education, but we should concentrate more on outcomes than on method or system in preparation. One person tunes in on the Great Commission while in secular university. Perhaps he is a part of the Navigators ministry. He may end up with as good a practical grasp of the Word of God and experience in soul winning and discipleship as any Bible college graduate. This type of person will need some formal theology courses, some coursework in missions history and methodology, and some insight into the development of believers within a church context. He doesn’t need a whole Bible college training on top of his undergraduate work. He may be an excellent candidate for an MA in missions at the seminary level. Increasingly, seminaries are offering a cross-cultural emphasis within a standard M. Div. course. This approach provides very solid professional ministerial training.
It would be a mistake, not to say an irritation, to dismiss non-formal training like that of Navigators, Campus Crusade, IVCF or other entities. We cannot lockstep people into missions just because we want a particular level of guaranteed competency.
Some activists (as opposed to academicians) need enough preparation to make them safe in their first term. After that, they’ll know what they need to study and do a far better job of it. These are the ones who profit most from special programs for furloughing missionaries. Provision should be made for them, from their work funds perhaps, so that they can obtain the work-specific studies they need while on furlough. An important reason to encourage young people to get a degree (especially) if they took a three-year diploma Bible institute program) before going to the field is to qualify them for some of the best missions studies, which are available only at the graduate level.
Because of the many different points from which people begin missions preparation, almost every case needs individual assessment to determine readiness for missions career. Each future missionary needs a slightly different prescription for preparation. The essential components, however, for a career worker who anticipates evangelistic, discipleship, church planting and leadership training ministries overseas are:
1. A solid local church fellowship and service experience, including serious prayer experiences. 2. A college preparation incorporating a liberal arts perspective. 3. A module of training within the college program or added to it at the graduate or "extra college" level, giving an overview of the Bible and in-depth treatment of the major theological concepts. 4. A module of missions backgrounds, world and cultural/religious contexts and missionary/ministries methodology, including practical application.
Dependent on the type of ministry contemplated, modules of prefield orientation aimed at self-understanding, communication skills and building relationships of trust may be added. Also language acquistion skills programs should be undertaken for certain difficult languages or for those with less than optimum linguistic ability, as determined by the Language Aptitude Test which is frequently administered by the mission as part of its selection process.
The preparation program listed above, whether undertaken in a traditional classroom or in other creative ways, should have the following outcomes:
1. An appreciation for and understanding of the Body of Christ and the value of the local church for the development and life of believers. 2. A broad understanding of biblical teaching tied up in teachable conceptual packages. Usability, not rigidity, should be the norm. 3. A grasp of general world conditions and contexts for probable ministries, 4. An ability to do ministry, applying the Word of God to personal and group situations.
Much could be said of the need for a healthy personality, to cope well with life and relate well to others. There are programs and counseling experiences which are a definite help in this area, but the nature of the home or family in which the applicant grew up is the most significant influence. I have not listed the home as a preparation module, but clearly it is crucial. God’s grace overcomes many negative backgrounds, but a great deal of excess baggage from these is still being carried into missions.
Just as the words flexibility and adaptability are watchwords for the more successful missionary, so too should they characterize missions preparation. Both educators and mission personnel officers need to address the basics, but advise a preparation which takes into account personal characteristics and existing capabilities as well as anticipated ministry. Mission boards are increasingly working with both local churches and formal educators in missions preparation. No projected program should ignore these entities.
A final word on the extent of prefield training. Most educational programs should be carried out in a context of ministry application. These may be practical work and internships. Education for mission should never proceed to highly advanced levels without some field experience. A rule of thumb might be: no masters program without a summer or short-term overseas first; no doctoral program before three to four years’ field experience. Continuing education and a lifetime learning attitude are more desirable than lengthy prefield preparation.
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