by Edwin L. Frizen, Jr.
What do mission leaders think about the current status of missionary training and education?
What do mission leaders think about the current status of missionary training and education? The following excerpts are a fair representation of how IFMA executives feel. They were presented by Edwin L. Frizen, Jr., executive secretory of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, at the August, 1971 meeting of the Association of Evangelical Professors of missions.
What I fear is that the school that offers a major in missions may be using material that is either obsolete or very antiquated. The rapidly changing scene in foreign countries is very difficult to keep up with, even from year to year, let alone from decade to decade.
Another fear I have is that there may not be too many top-flight students interested enough in missions to want to major in the subject, which may leave second- and third-class missionary prospects taking the course; and this does not project a strong image on the campus. And it may not prepare the kind of missionaries that we really want.
Tomorrow’s missionary may be a better prepared man or woman by majoring in history, anthropology, Bible, communications, etc., and taking certain electives (If offered) under the general heading of missions.
In summary, missions can see to it that incoming personnel receive up-to-date orientation, provided the candidate has had a broad base in liberal arts and biblical education.
Often they (missions professors) are popular as people on campus, but not as teachers. And their subjects a the least popular among students. I also have the impression from some of the classes I have sat in or taken part in, that they are "scratching where missions don’t itch." They don’t seem to be coming to grips with the real basic problems of missions today, and therefore are not preparing their students for reality, or are turning them off. I should add that missions professors aren’t the only ones guilty of this. I feel that many missions representatives and speakers also tend to present too rosy a picture and to avoid discussion of the true problems faced on the mission field today.
I think our mission does not necessarily look for young people who come from missions departments in Christian schools. We would not turn them down if qualified, but also not necessarily seek them from that department. Some missions curricula seem geared to more primitive mission situations…. The primitive situation is only one aspect of our work. We also work in large cities where there are modern facilities, plenty of educational opportunities, mass communication, etc. So how does a missions curriculum prepare a person to be a missionary in such a variety of opportunities? If the curriculum is too broad, then it loses its depth of teaching and understanding. Perhaps the matter lies in the basic philosophy. Can a mission curriculum really prepare one to be a missionary on the field, or does it give him a smattering of knowledge making him a jack-of-all- trades and master of none?
Rather than setting up a department which produces missionaries, could not each department produce people who, because of commitment to Christ, are willing to serve anywhere, using their specialty as a witnessing base? But the question remains, What of the missionaries — that is, the evangelists and the church planter types? It seems to me that a full pastoral training is best, with emphasis on evangelism or lay training, or visitation or counseling, or preaching in an expository way that Word of God, or deep theological understanding to grapple with the large implications of the Christian faith. In other words, a Christian Bible college or liberal arts college or Bible Institute:
a) might have a basic biblical, theological training woven into each department of the school to equip the graduate for a lay witness and function in the local church;
b) might have a special department of biblical and theological studies comparable to seminary level teaching, which would fully equip a man to be an evangelist-church planter-pastor, which, of course, is the function of the missionary. The student could then emphasize that area wherein he is gifted by the Holy Spirit.
I think that the greatest lack is in the area of churchmanship. The greatest need still on the mission field is for those who will get out and evangelize, make disciples, and plant the church, or work together with the infant church, see it become strong and reach out. I realize. I realize in some countries it would mean working along with a church that is already quite mature.
We have often faced the dilemma of having young people who are very interested in the church planting outreach, but as they get into the work they confess that they do not know how to do it. Much could be given by way of instruction, and this can be related to some practical experience in the local church, along with one’s educatione. I think it would help prepare young people for this very important ministry. So often during the educational period young people have no close relation with a local church. There should be both instruction in the classroom and opportunity of practical experience in the local church situation. Then add to that a period of practical ministry in a local church prior to going to the mission field, and I believe we will be able to help these young people.
I believe that the undergraduate years should put great stress on Bible content and on adequate personal experience in personal evangelism, home visitation and other types of Christian work. I have long felt that the methods used in scientific subjects ought to be applied to training for Christian work — namely, that there ought to be at least an equal amount of time in the "laboratory" as in the classroom. The teacher ought to be with the studetns in teaching them how to do home visitation, personal evangelism, etc. In other words, I feel that the undergraduate years of training for missionary service in the Lord’s work ought to be generally on Bible content and applied knowledge of general methods of evangelism and Bible teaching.
I strongly feel that the Bible colleges need to face the necessity of a graduate program in missions. This ought to specifically lead to a degree in church planting-missionary evangelism, or Bible teaching on the mission field. I cannot help but believe that the reason we find it so difficult to find young people who are interested in "general" missonary work, or in church planting, is that none of them feel that they have been prepared to do this by their courses of study. A B.D. in missionary evangelism would certainly go a long way toward making a person feel that he is qualified and prepared to be a general missionary. I feel that the graduate program in missions also ought to emphasize an equal time of experience with classroom study. The Bible college really ought to be a church-planting institution in its own community. A certain period of time in the graduate program ought to be spent on some foreign field gaining further experience in church growth evangelism or theological education by extension, etc.
It is my considered opinion that the rapidly changing world context in which we carry out our task of discipling the nations is leaving the mission agencies, the churches, and the educational institutions increasingly far behind. We must face up realistically to the hour in which we live. Fortunately, the last few years have shown a decided rise in openness and willingness to talk about some of these things on the part of evangelicals. However, except for a few notable exceptions, we a not doing much beyond talking . . . . I think legitimate goal.. . for training institutions is the developing of the modern man who can cope adequately with his world as a Christian in three basic areas. A man who (a) has the experience of inner vitality from communication with God; (b) has the experience of outer action-healing to those around; (c) is one who has careful thinking supporting his actions.
(One mission executive listed ten areas of weakness seen in missionaries trained in Bible schools. He himself is a Bible school graduate and has seen these areas of weakness in himself, as well as others. In another portion of his letter, he also stated that Bible school graduates are recognized as being "good people, highly motivated, dededicated, loyal. . . etc." -ELF )
1. Lack of perception in separating out that which is the essence of the gospel and that which is a cultural form of expression. Training that reinforces a middle-class role and suburban packaging of the faith. What is worse is that it is done uncritically and often unknowingly. For a missionary serving in a cross-cultural environment, this is critical.
2. Failure to find their security in Christ and thus find it by isolation from the world in fellowship with other missionaries, that is, the compound mentality. This is reinforced by training which requires everyone to live within the fort and do their personal work by forays out into the community.
3. Lack of interpersonal coping skills; tendency to spiritualize simplistic solutions for emotional human problems and conflicts; inadequate understanding of techniques and tools for handling stress.
4. Lack of adequate positive self-image; tendency to ignore legitimate personal needs for the sake of the work; tendency to be independent in methods and personal preferences, but very conforming in styles of behavior for a missionary, that is, do’s and don’ts.
5. Lack of confidence in moving out into new situations; not a self-directed person; doesn’t know where and how to begin in a new cultural environment.
6. Inability to integrate theory into real life. This is reinforced by the professor teaching theory but never risking himself in performance before the students out in the real world.
7. Lack of understanding of communicating the gospel in diverse environments. Personal work concept closely identified with witnessing to strangers, not to friends; comfortable witnessing to the world, but uncomfortable as friends with those in the world.
8. Tend to exhibit the skills of a trained person, but lack the perception and awareness of an educated person.
9. Tend to reflect negative orientation to the Christian life; "don’t do this and don’t do that, separate from this and separate from that."
10. Lack of knowledge of the behavioral science skills and how they can be integrated with a Christian life and the missionary task.
The purpose of my quoting these comments is to enable mission aid school men together to become more alert to the need for creative change. The central issue both mission and school leaders must face is one of educational philosophy, rather than just additions or changes in the curriculum. One of the mission men said in this regard, "I guess my fear is that they’ll worry about the curriculum before they’ve thought through the prior questions, and it wild be another example of "rearranging the furniture on the deck while the ship is sinking. " Jack Shepherd, education secretary of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, has said, "To make missionary training contemporary does not require new areas of study, but rather new dimensions within these areas."
Is a missions major valid in the undergraduate curriculum? My answer is that missions "should be caught rather than taught." Missions should be the purpose of the whole school, not just one department or one disciplines I am not in favor of making missions a major on the undergraduate level.
The missions department staff, be it one person or many, has a great task to accomplish without being saddled with the administration of a departmental major. Each missions professor should be the best educated man on campus. His strong points should be theology, Bible, anthropology, psychology, and education. He should have had experience as a missionary overseas. He should try to keep that experience current. He should be a coordinator of missionary information, producing selected bibliographic material for interested students of any major for directed self-study in all phases of missions.
One mission executive stated, "I feel that our young people are somehow trained to be passive in the matter of obtaining information about missions." The missions professor should be the inspiration to the faculty and administration, as well as to the student body, to encourage their involvement in missions.
Much of the missions curriculum could be covered by a reading program, with seminars for discussion and feedback at which missionaries could be invited as resource personnel. Most of all, students need to participate with their professors in cross-cultural witness.
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