by Larry McCullough
Ministry training does not have to take you out of ministry.
Most of us wish that the things we learned in college and seminary would sustain our ministries for a lifetime, but since knowledge is ever-changing that’s an unrealistic wish. Learning and growing are lifetime responsibilities. Missionaries must always be open to new understanding and skills.
MORE THAN JUST BOOKS
I’m talking about more than hitting the books. I mean learning from your own experiences and deepening your understanding of yourself and others. You can go to seminars and take short courses to update yourself in ministry and communication skills, as well as in theological, missiological, social, cross-cultural, and ethical issues.
Ministry training does not have to take you out of ministry. Seminaries and colleges provide educational opportunities convenient to missionaries rather than insisting that they train on campus. (See checklist and descriptions of programs in this issue.) There are many advantages of training in current ministry, not just for a future opportunity.
Some missionaries see their M.Div. or M.A. as a terminal degree. Others who went into missions directly out of college now wish they had seminary training.
Let’s look at some of the educational systems available to missionaries today:
1. Extension classes. Several colleges and seminaries offer accredited classes at off-campus extension centers, as well as personal enrichment and professional development seminars. These opportunities are designed to help you to develop in your own context of work and service, whether you desire personal growth, or skills for a more effective ministry.
If you would like to study toward a degree while on the field, perhaps your mission board would endorse a learning contract whereby you would be encouraged to take a two- or three-week study leave each year, to pursue modular courses leading to an M.A. or Th.M. in missions. If you already have the M.Div., or its equivalent, you perhaps would qualify for entrance into a Doctor of Missiology (D.Miss) program.
When on furlough, consider that some seminaries have uniquely designed on-campus programs that require only one or two days of classes per week, or one evening per week, or even week-end models (Friday night and Saturday morning classes) in regional off-campus locations.
2. Home/correspondence study. Extension, correspondence, and independent study courses allow you to study when and where it’s most convenient for you and at your own pace. Many of them use cassette-tape lectures with a course syllabus and study guide, supplemented by textbooks, reference materials, and instructor feedback. Inviting your spouse, colleague, or several friends to join you in regular sessions adds to your sense of accountability.
3. Video and computer-assisted courses. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, for example, is exploring the use of these courses. Both video and computer-assisted instruction is being made available to equip people in ministry. Programs are used on VCR units and computers in churches, homes, and on mission stations.
Peer groups also can profit from electronic technology to discuss current ethical and missiological issues, leadership training techniques, or whatever they likeâ€”without the fatigue and cost of long distance travel.
4. Seminars. Seminars are a popular form of continuing education. Many D.Miss and master’s level courses are offered annually in one- to two-week modular seminars in key metropolitan centers around the world. Some schools offer advanced standing toward degree programs.
Assigned reading is done ahead of time, and an integrative paper is written following the seminar, focusing on some aspect of the student’s ministry. Up to half of the D.Miss course work is offered off-campus by some seminaries.
Many schools and Christian organizations also offer specialized seminars targeted for missionaries on furlough. Some of these are announced annually in the advertising pages of Evangelical Missions Quarterly.
In summary, missionaries can sharpen their ministry skills through several options. First, for those on furlough, there are on-campus short courses and seminars. Second, some schools offer seminars and credit courses in regional centers worldwide. Third, there are many independent study courses available, including video and computer assisted courses.
Will Rogers once said, "Even if you are on the right track, you will get ran over if you just sit there."
I challenge you not to be satisfied with mediocrity in your ministry, or to be content with the status quo. Don’t be afraid to learn new things and try new methods. You can be the dean of your own continuing education.
Set your sights high for excellence and changed lives. You will have a greater impact on the world as you become better equipped through using the resources and training that God makes available to you.
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