by Frank W. Allen
At various times we have been asked if we are prepared to receive missionaries who wish to “do their thing.” The answer would be an unequivocal yes, if we could assume that one’s “own thing” was the exercise of his spiritual gifts and was consistent with the program of God, i.e., the building of his church.
At various times we have been asked if we are prepared to receive missionaries who wish to "do their thing." The answer would be an unequivocal yes, if we could assume that one’s "own thing" was the exercise of his spiritual gifts and was consistent with the program of God, i.e., the building of his church. For we cannot talk of national leadership and missionary preparation outside the context of the church. The continual emergence of national leadership, together with the growth and ever-increasing maturity of the church, emphasize the fact that the role of the missionary is no longer static.
Future missionaries, then, must be trained not merely to plant churches, but to do so in conjunction with the national church.
The subject of national leadership is as broad as the church of Jesus Christ. It would be a much simpler task to train men and women for overseas work if we were dealing with only one culture. Obviously this is not the case, for within one country several cultures exist. Even within a given culture there are usually sub-cultures and various socio-economic levels. Each of these present particular problems in the development of national leadership.
The complexity of leadership training by Western missionaries is emphasized in The Overseas American: "By far the largest proportion of Americans who graduate from the institutions of higher learning do so without even meeting a civilization differently patterned from their own."1
This pattern is a tremendously variegated one. In all levels of society there is an indigenous leadership. Unless the observation skills of an individual have been sharpened, this important facet of a strange (to us) culture may be entirely missed. Leadership exists on the lower levels of primitive society. Somewhere hidden within the complexities of these simple "pagan" communities is a hierarchial structure. The missionary must be prepared to recognize this structure and see it converted and sanctified to the building of the church of Christ. This means that along with the development of spiritual gifts and insights, preparation for such work must include the development of specific skills.
The authors of The Overseas American suggest that training of Westerners for service abroad should include a solid basis in the liberal arts, including foreign languages, professional training in a subject matter field, special linguistic skills, and immediate orientation to the particular job to be done abroad. "If the U.S. is serious about making sure of first-rate representation abroad, in private as well as public enterprises, there must be a conscious effort to build into the education system at each of these steps the kind of education and experiences that develop the qualities of mind and spirit that make for success in work abroad."2
At this point a two-fold deficiency may be observed. The first is in the Bible college where this type of training is either not obtainable or where it is unattractive. The comments from students on our campuses about mission courses are quite revealing. Two phrases most often heard about courses in the missions department are "mickey mouse" and "rinky dank." This should speak loud and clear to some of us. If missions is a live option today, and we believe it is, this department in many schools should undergo a complete overhaul. At least two things should be said here: first, the student must see that the administration and faculty believe in missions. This cannot be portrayed by a mere tacit acquiescence on the part of administrators and teachers. It must be demonstrated. Second, faculty in the missions department must be experienced. competent men.
The second deficiency can be placed at the door of mission organizations. For too long we have been satisfied with the procurement of "warm bodies" whether or not there is commensurate experience and ability.
In most cultures other than our own, the elder is respected and recognized. It is these men, born again of the Spirit of God, who are going to be the leaders in the emerging church. To ask a young, untried, inexperienced Bible college graduate to develop these men into church leaders is to place a tremendous responsibility upon young shoulders. Although these new converts may be recently from a pagan religion and members of a primitive society, they are neither immature, inexperienced, nor ignorant in the ways of leadership.
Jesus developed leadership in a somewhat similar (although admittedly different) context. Those whom he called to become "fishers of men" (Mk. 1:17) and upon whom the church was to be built (Eph. 2:20) were later described as "ignorant and unlearned men" (uneducated nonprofessionals). Yet Jesus walked among them not in the superiority of his divinity, but in the humility of his manhood as a man among men and a servant of all (Mk. 10:45). Our colleges are so dominated by the success orientation of a secular society that we can only think in terms of training leaders. When these neophyte leaders reach the field, they are almost totally unprepared to recognize and accept the natural leadership that is already being exercised.
This is accentuated as we move from the primitive societies into the more advanced. In the rural areas are to be found semi-literate and literate communities. There are to be found the merchants, school teachers, local government officials, and perhaps a few doctors and lawyers. Here, the young missionary discovers a whole new ball game. In many of these areas the colonial mentality has almost totally disappeared. The missionary is no longer accepted merely because he is a Westerner. He must win his place to train national leaders. Barriers and suspicions must in many cases be broken down. He is constantly called upon to prove by his life that his message is not only true, but workable and relevant. Respect must be earned by a patient humility. Classroom theory must be put to work in an altogether different frame of reference. The Scriptures which are universal and supra-cultural, nevertheless must be taught within the framework of a culture other than one’s own. As the missionary learns to appreciate the cultural variables, his message begins to take effect in the lives of men.
Moving into an urban situation merely increases the problems already mentioned. Here the missionary is called upon to minister to a total cross-section of society. For the first time he may meet people who are not only unresponsive but who are articulate in defending a totally different ideology. In addition, converts range along the whole socio-economic spectrum. Here, too, the level of education will range from the semi-literate to the college graduate to the astute and sophisticated businessman and the professional. The sociological problems alone are staggering. But within this context the young missionary is asked to develop national leadership – something he has never done even in his own culture. Does he have a rich store of theoretical, practical and church-oriented background to draw from? Only if his preparation has been sufficient.
I would recommend for your reading at least the first three chapters of Education for Ministry by Charles R. Fielding.3 Although this book is written from the standpoint of the seminary, much of it is applicable for those who minister in Bible colleges.
Let me quote a few lines to give some indication why our young men face grave difficulties in training national leaders.
"The best possible contribution to practical education is sound and well-tested theory to which must be added the ability to formulate new theories and test them (emphasis mine…."
"We who teach in seminaries sometimes need to be cut down to size. We talk too much about what we are trying to teach and pay too little attention to how students learn…."
"Ministers discover that they lack the training to give leadership when older forms give way and radical questioning begins. The seminary did not prepare them for this…"
"The prolonged and detailed study of Palestine in biblical times, coupled with the study of Europe and Britain in the sixteenth century or the American frontier later may be insisted upon to the virtual exclusion of the here and now (emphasis mine). As an angry senior student in one seminary said, They are more interested in Martin Luther around here than in Jesus Christ."
Of course, all training of national leaders is not done on the local or grass roots level. A good deal of this development is taking place within the structure of the formal educational institution and, more recently, through the extension concept of theological education. However, too often we reproduce after our kind. A large percentage of those who come out of our formal institutions seem to find their way into other institutions. Part of the reason for this lies in our lack of a church-oriented program of preparation. Few of the men serving on our faculties have had a church-related ministry themselves. Many of them were "professional students" with little experience in the local church and no experience outside the context of the Christian service department while they were students. Applications to missions boards too often show the following levels of practical experience: DVBS, Sunday school teacher, camp work, hospital visitation, jail and prison work, etc. These are not to be disparaged. What is usually lacking is any significant experience within the local church. Yet we expect these men to go overseas, learn a strange language, integrate into a foreign culture and then train national church leaders either on a local level or within the institutional setting.
We praise God for what many of our young men are doing overseas, but could not more be accomplished if they were better trained for their profession? Perhaps we need better communication and cooperation between mission agencies and schools in the U.S. More could be done in faculty exchange programs, the encouragement of overseas work for faculty and students, the use of sharp furlough missionaries in missions departments and the elevation of the level of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship program.
Bible colleges have contributed much to missions and can continue to do so as they relate to the church world-wide and continue to produce spiritually gifted men and women who have been trained to relate to the constantly changing world scene.
1. The Overseas American, by H. Cleveland, G. Mangore and J. C. Adams (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960) p. 199.
2. Ibid., p. 192.
3. Education for Ministry, by Charles R. Fielding (Dayton, Ohio: American Association of Theological schools, 1966).
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