by Tom Steffen
Conference at Fuller’s School of World Mission faced many complex issues.
What do the fall of communism, the burgeoning non-Western missionary force, the growth of short-term missions, a shrinking economy, world urbanization, a spiraling population, an upsurge in migration, the marginalization of the poor, modernity, family breakdown, globalization, and a host of other current issues have to say about missiological education for the 21st century? Over 300 missiologists and educators from around the world gathered for an unprecedented conference at Fuller’s School of World Mission in Pasadena, Calif., October 31-November 2, 1992, to seek God’s answers to this question.
Recognizing that missiological training can no longer be business as usual, 36 plenary speakers and respondents challenged participants to consider new directions for the coming decade and beyond. The papers addressed the following contexts: historical (research, post anti-colonial era, the Bible college), ecclesiastical (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Protestant), human (training for lay people, national translators, Jewish missiologists, the role of the behavioral sciences, partnerships), and regional (Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the West).
The content was sometimes heavy, eliciting at one point a call for "street missiology," but certainly stimulating and profitable for setting a course to navigate the uncertain cross-currents of the 21st century. In this "State of the Union" of missiological education article, I will attempt to abstract some of the major themes that surfaced from the papers, identify possible areas overlooked, and offer suggestions for future activities.
1. Take time to listen and learn. There seems to be little time for missionaries to take a learner role. Short-term missions, the AD2000 movement, a window of opportunity in the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) that could slam closed at any time-they tempt us to think that a few weeks of cross-cultural training are adequate. Why take time for cross-cultural studies when ministry opportunities beckon? Why learn the language and culture of another people group when translators will suffice? Why work with existing local churches when superior programs from the home country can be transplanted?
This attitude and practice must change. Cross-cultural workers must take the time necessary to learn to be "guests in their house" (host culture). This will require missiological preparation for cross-cultural ministry prior to ministry. This missiological preparation includes learning the language and culture of the target audience, thereby earning the right to be heard. It calls for interaction with the existing local churches rather than bypassing them.
As cross-cultural workers take a learner role, they will not only be able to offer charity to others, but also be able to receive the same from those they came to serve. True servanthood is multi-directional.
The social sciences can prove helpful in prefield preparation and on-site ministry. From these disciplines, cross-cultural workers can learn the limitations of their perspective of the world and secure conceptual tools to understand the target people. The incarnational model of Jesus Christ provides an excellent example to follow. For the seed to grow, it must first fall into the ground and die. The incarnational model, while often costly, painful and lengthy, is well worth the effort in that it tends to produce lasting results.
2. Urbanization of the world. The world’s population is moving to the cities. Experts predict that by the year 2000, half of the population of the world will live in cities. Some argue this has already happened. No matter what the exact percentage, people are migrating to the cities in search of a better way of life. What is important for missiologists and educators is that God directs the migrations of people (Acts 17). As the cities go, so goes the world. The greatest sins and the greatest achievements tend to come from the cities. If Christian workers are to reach people living in the 21st century, they must be trained for ministry in an urban context; they must become urbanologists.
How can a generation of urbanologists be trained? In training institutes a new mindset will be required. All theological and mission faculty will need to address urban concerns, infusing entire schools with an urban enlightenment. Schools will offer courses such as: Biblical Theology of the Cities, Urban Poverty and Community Development, Research Techniques for the Urban Context, History of Urban Missions, Urban Spirituality, Urban Systems. The campus classroom should expand to include the streets and dwellings of a city. This encourages studies to be apostolic (missionary) in nature. Such an approach calls for an "infusion" model where professors and students live in the cities, practice ministry together, and reflect on the outcomes.
3. The marginalization of the poor. Many of those migrating to the city are poor. All too frequently, dreams of a better life soon turn to deeper poverty. For those growing up in the cities, generations of poverty perpetuate hopelessness. The homeless population continues to grow, incorporating new victims. It is no longer uncommon to see whole families living on the streets. The poor, who are poorer today than they were a decade ago, continue to find themselves marginalized. The social time bombs tick away, awaiting another Los Angeles riot.
How can all this be changed? Meeting immediate needs must continue, but will not solve this complex problem. Tweaking the system will not work. Christian workers must be prepared to participate within and challenge the existing systems that perpetuate poverty. Change agents will need new tools to isolate the structural dynamics so that a "biblically informed social analysis" can take place. Such an approach again demands an "infusion" model, calling for participants willing to live a simple life style. Only then can the cycle of poverty be broken and the ticking of social time bombs become silent.
4. Integrate evangelism and social action. Church growth, church planting, and social action must be practiced from a holistic perspective. No longer should these different aspects of ministry be practiced independently. The justice motif of the Kingdom of God should serve as the integrator for holistic ministry.
Christian workers must be trained to promote and practice holistic ministry. As holistic ministry becomes the norm, the divorce between the secular and the sacred-the Great Commandment and the Great Commission-can be stopped. The Kingdom (reign) and the King (ruler) must become our complete message.
5. Integrate theology, missions, and the social sciences. Theologians need the input of missiologists. Missiologists need the input of theologians. For this to transpire, theology must be seen as the daughter of missiology, not its mother. Both theologians and missiologists need to learn from the social sciences. Any of the three that dare stand alone do so at their own peril.
The marriage of theology, missions, and the social sciences should promote the development of theological issues not addressed in one sector of the world to be addressed adequately in another. It will also allow locally produced theologies, such as Black Theology, Liberation Theology, Minjung Theology, Water Buffalo Theology, Pain of God Theology, to undergo the scrutiny of global theologies handed down over the centuries to the Christian church. Such interaction should prove to be self-corrective for all theologies. The behavioral sciences (when recognizing its biases) can help make this possible by alerting theologians and missiologists to the biases of their belief system.
6. Field-based education. One paper presented a "discouraging" conclusion: residential-based mission training cannot keep pace with the increasing number of Christian workers being sent out. Can the church afford to send out partially trained Western and non-Western Christian workers? Certainly not. New educational delivery systems must be designed for both formal and nonformal settings so that all Christian workers will have access to ongoing education.
For quality education to be a part of a growing missionary force, educators and missiologists must develop various versions of the field-based "infusion" model mentioned above. The field-based model is based upon the assumption that learning takes place best in the midst of practice and reflection. This model offers access to ongoing education for a growing majority who cannot be trained through more traditional models.
7. Develop partnerships. Throughout the conference there were numerous calls to establish partnerships on all levels: training institutes within and outside the U.S., parachurch organizations from the West and East, churches from different theological perspectives. Partnerships in education, noted one Asian, will help keep the brightest students resident in their respective countries, reduce considerably the high cost of training abroad, and, in relation to failures, make it possible to "take the blame with you." Recognizing that partnerships are not an end in themselves, the speakers emphasized that such joint efforts can enrich all participants by providing access to otherwise unobtainable resources, such as, personnel, finances, and libraries.
A new distribution of power will be necessary for true partnerships to evolve. Non-Western scholars must be legitimized. Dependency relationships must be transformed so that local churches can realize their full potential and learn to share in accountability. Developing community spirit will require that the celebration of local theologies, triumphalism, nationalism, and tribalism in parachurch organizations, denominations and mega-churches, be laid at the feet of Jesus. Power changes will certainly not be easy in developed and developing countries where a mono-cultural perspective and/ or a self-sufficient spirit remain strong.
8. Develop a passion for God and the lost. While the above themes are definitely important, the need for Christian workers to develop a passion for God and the lost far surpasses them all. Our educational goals tend to focus on objective data, hypothesis formulation, and problem-solving techniques. Such an emphasis can blind us to the experiential, relational, and spontaneous promptings of God. This objective emphasis may cause us to miss opportunities for ministry in that God often hides certain hard data from us (Hab. 1:5; Acts 1:7), relying on the spontaneity of the moment to reveal his will. This unbalanced focus may also lead to personal character being compromised, and integrity lost.
How can trainers of Christian workers develop in them a passion for God and the lost? Maybe a prior question should be: Can passion for God be taught, or is it something that is caught? While there were differences of opinion about this question, the need to make spiritual formation a foundational and continual dimension of missionary education went unquestioned. The "hows" will have to be worked out for each specific context.
WHAT OTHER THEMES COULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED?
While no conference can be expected to cover all the bases, several major themes seemed to have been overlooked, or given insufficient attention.
1. The role of women in missions. While we were privileged to hear several woman speakers (one plenary and two respondents), we heard precious little about the role of women.
2. The role of narrative, drama, art, dance, the public reading of Scripture for a majority of the world who prefer concrete relational mediums of communication. With approximately 70 percent of the world’s population being illiterate, perpetuating traditional communication media will deny access to learning to the majority.
3. The urban-rural connection. While speakers emphasized the growth of the urban world, they said little about the roads that lead to the cities, and back to the countryside. It should also be noted that cities in developing countries tend to have a larger rural population than those in developed countries. Training for tribal and peasant ministries must continue, but be linked to the urban context. Effective urban training will include the rural dynamic.
4. Ecumenical honesty. Inter-faith dialogue should and will continue, but for true progress to be made, potential areas of conflict must be addressed openly and honestly.
5. The need to develop partnerships between local churches, mission agencies, and training institutes. Such an interdependent model could produce long-term, highly trained, field-experienced personnel backed by solid prayer and financial support. The questionnaires returned by pastors, missionary executives, and personnel representing diverse ethnic backgrounds should provide vital data to this potential synergistic trialogue.
6. Equip Christian workers for a postmodern world. Flash-in-the-pan evangelism will prove inadequate for a generation unfamiliar with the Judeo-Christian heritage. An adequate foundation for the gospel must be provided, if it is to make sense in the way God intends.
7. Equip Christian workers for spiritual warfare. Animism is alive and well in both urban and rural contexts in developed and developing countries. A generation of Christian workers equipped for spiritual warfare will be necessary to meet this challenge.
8. The youthfulness of the world. The median age of the world’s population continues to drop. With over 30 percent of the world’s population under fifteen, youth ministries will play a major role in reaching those living in the 21st century.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Ministry relevancy in a new era of mission will demand further in-depth discussions of a number of pertinent issues. Churches, parachurch organizations, and training institutes will want to address at least the following: (a) educational delivery systems that provide access, develop community, incorporate formal and nonformal models, promote a faculty of color (when applicable); (b) curricula that match learning styles, transform character, and can be reproduced by the recipients; (c) role expectations between local churches, parachurch organizations and training institutes. It is time these institutions learn to work in partnership towards a common objective. A growing, ethnically diverse world demands such.
Effective missiological education for the 21st century will address at least the themes noted above in curricula, strategies, and role models. To reach the world of the 21st century, mission executives and practitioners, deans, educators, missiologists, and pastors will want to continue reflective dialogue and institute the changes necessary to produce a new army of saints, scholars, and servants.
Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission plans to print the articles in book form. The book will include the responses from 900 questionnaires sent out to pastors, educators, and missions personnel, to gain a wider perspective of where missiological education should be.
Copyright © 1993 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.