by Mick Stockwell
The late 1980s and early 1990s were perhaps the most exciting days of modern missions—the Iron Curtain fell, and immediately over twenty countries and four hundred million people had access to the gospel.
Many felt a ‘Macedonian Call’ to “come help” in Eastern Europe. People and resources poured into one area of the world at an astonishing rate. Moving to Ukraine in 1994, my family and I were part of the first wave of missionaries. Several countries in Eastern Europe experienced evangelism, church planting, and church growth at a historic rate.
More recently, students and church leaders from Eastern Europe have been awakening to their responsibility to share in global evangelism by engaging in missions on every level. It’s an exciting time to partner by equipping and helping to send missionaries! At a mission sending conference in Eastern Europe, I was part of a dialogue with a well-known professor at one of Eastern Europe’s most effective seminaries. We discussed the curriculum he developed for the seminary to train international missionaries.
After he finished showing his plan and his colorful brochure, questions arose about how he developed his program. It became apparent that he had put it together using the best programs from the U.S. He was asked for his thoughts on contextualization in missions. He talked about his courses on contextualization and about its importance. Someone asked him,
Did you think about that before you created a plan from Western sources for equipping and sending missionaries from Eastern Europe? Did you consult with national educators and mission sending leaders to give you insights into what should be included or excluded? Is it right for westerners to impose their culture on learners from Eastern Europe being sent by their own churches and organizations?
He was stunned. He had spent countless hours in academic research, combining what he felt were the best materials available. He hadn’t, however, considered the need to contextualize the curriculum for equipping missionaries from other cultures. He had carefully included all the necessary missiological ingredients. All the materials were carefully translated, but it was his program. Even though he strongly believed in contextualization, he had not invited any local Eastern Europeans to develop the curriculum.
How should we help our national partners develop their own culturally relevant curriculum for equipping cross-cultural missionaries? Those just beginning the process are asking for help from those already engaged in international missions. What does that look like? How is an effective curriculum plan designed? Is it enough to gather, collate, synthesize, condense, and present the best from the West? After all, haven’t westerners carried the banner for world evangelization since Carey started it all in 1793?
Much has already been learned from great missiologists like Carey, Venn, Allen, McGavran, and contemporary leaders and writers. Isn’t that sufficient? Haven’t many of our best contemporary books and training courses been translated and made available in many languages? Or should we do as Paul did when he answered the Macedonian Call?
The church at Philippi was born out of Paul’s answer to his Macedonian Call. Later, Paul wrote to the struggling church leaders and members in Philippi and reminded them of his prayers, because of their partnership in the gospel from the first day. We also read about means and missionaries being sent from this new church plant to partner with Paul in his missions endeavors. Surely, we should follow his example of engaging, equipping, and partnering. We should engage them in the process from the very beginning!
An Example from Eastern Europe
In the early 2000s, the idea of globalization of missions became a reality for me. I was a strategy leader for a large mission organization and it was obvious that the number of new missionaries was slowing. At the same time, many of our personnel were returning to the U.S. Expansion into new places that had yet to experience evangelism, church planting, and leadership training was still necessary.
How would we send new missionaries to these places and people? The answer was to send them from the harvest! We began encouraging Bible college and seminary students to go on short-term, cross-cultural practicum assignments. They were more effective than our people. They could already speak the language, endured hardships, were from near cultures, were bold, and were very creative!
An unusual opportunity developed in 2007 to increase the ability to equip and send cross-cultural missionaries from Eastern Europe. Our organization gathered leaders from several Eastern European counties together to discuss developing missionary sending.
Previously, evangelists and church planters had gone to other near-culture countries for years, but churches or denominations did not usually send them. These early church planters and missionaries had blazed a pioneering trail with very little support of any kind. Local church leaders saw many of them as deserters for leaving existing churches. A small awakening was emerging as leaders from both the grassroots level and national denominational leadership began to pray about the challenge.
Two years later, more leaders from more countries gathered with a few leaders from South America. The national leaders from the two continents had much in common and the challenge was accepted by the Eastern Europeans. I was approached by one of these national leaders from Eastern Europe with a proposal. He requested that I help develop a missionary equipping curriculum for his seminary and associated sending agencies. I was preparing to write my dissertation on equipping internationals for cross-cultural missions but was struggling.
This national partner and one of our missionaries agreed to assist me in the process of finding the best respondents from their school, associated churches, and sending organizations for my research. They further agreed to send and collect questionnaires as well as assist in interpreting the results. Another team member was added when the results were tabulated and the curriculum plan was formulated. He had recently returned from twenty years of cross-cultural missionary experience and had founded a Bible college in a cross-cultural setting. He had studied in the Bible college and was sent by the associated sending agency. His experiences were invaluable in interpreting the responses in light of the culture and context.
Guiding Principles of International Curriculum Design
In 2011, I began researching curriculum development in international settings both in secular and missions education. Staying true to the values of contextualization and the realization of a truly indigenous curriculum were very important to me.
After all, my goal was to assist my national partners in developing their own curriculum. I was not developing a curriculum that I would teach. Those of us who teach missions cross-culturally naturally draw the bulk of our subject matter from what we learned when we were trained.
Keeping up with contemporary trends and making course corrections along the way is in our DNA. Past successes and failures of missionaries and missiologists over the past 220 years of Protestant missions continually guide our processes. Proper pedagogy and teaching methods direct our planning processes. But do we really consider the context and culture of the learners and stakeholders (employers or supervisors) when developing curriculum for cross-cultural mission sending? What are the processes involved in developing curriculum that is truly contextualized for the various groups of future missionaries from around the world?
A thorough review of current literature in both secular and missions education produced a few major findings that were validated by study and by the curriculum development team.
One of the major findings was the overall practical nature of the training needed. The findings of the study and the opinions of the curriculum team leaned strongly towards outcomes-based training. Outcomes-based training focuses on developing capable people who possess the knowledge and skills needed to perform well after completion of study.
This type of holistic learning and mentoring is essential in preparing missionaries. As with any subject, there are core competencies to be mastered. This type of design is not based on a set of survey courses passed down by an institution. Rather, it focuses on desired results and builds a program that is intentionally designed to meet clearly expressed results.
Another finding was a need for employing adult education principles for several reasons. Missionaries often experience a call after several years of ministry experience or exposure to missions after pursuing a career. They need practical training aimed at adult learners. Because of the intensely practical nature of missions ministry, adult education principles can be used effectively to train learners. These principles include things such as learning while doing; including cognitive, affective, and psychomotor aspects of learning; teamwork; and use of small groups.
The two main disciplines that encompass most of the content are theology and missions. Cross-cultural missionary training is grounded in theology. Theology serves as the ‘interpreter’ of all the disciplines, and the Bible informs all mission strategy and learning. Context and cultural considerations play significant roles in theological considerations as well. The key is to assure that the proper theological elements are contextualized and taught effectively.
Missiology demands a specialized curriculum for international learners. Replicating an existing curriculum from another culture or context goes against the core values espoused in missiology. The expected skills, attitudes, competencies, and character needed to be effective could greatly vary in different cultures. Churches and sending organizations in different cultures often have differing values and expectations of missionaries. Most of the content in missiology courses would be comparable. It is important, however, to convey the information and to design learning activities that take the culture and context of the learners into consideration.
Findings of Our Study
The curriculum development committee selected twenty missionaries with Eastern European backgrounds to participate in the study. They had varied experiences from three to twenty years of cross-cultural missionary experience on several continents. All had attended local Bible colleges or seminaries and some had advanced degrees (several masters degrees and two had doctorates) from Western institutions.
All twenty responded eagerly to the questionnaires giving additional written feedback beyond basic responses and ranking lists. The study used a research and development design and the Delphi Technique was used to gather and interpret results. A simple questionnaire was sent to participants asking them to respond to four questions:
1. What core theological subjects should be included?
2. What key missiological elements should be incorporated in a curriculum design?
3. What are the desired skills and expected outcomes considered necessary to be effective missionaries?
4. What are the common deficiencies in current training programs?
Participants responded quickly and enthusiastically. The ability to influence the training of missionaries for their organizations and churches energized them. Their thoughtful responses indicated a high degree of motivation and personal passion for the subject of the study. A second questionnaire was sent to further interpret the data and the responses were equally enthusiastic as the first.
Below are the general insights gained in the research for this group:
1. Theology. Basic Bible college theological education was generally considered sufficient, but it should include an emphasis on practical, ministry-related topics. Training should be delivered in a holistic approach with missions, if possible. Participants indicated that theology should be studied in the context of missions, not separate from it. Other applied disciplines should also be included such as personal evangelism, ethics, discipleship, and counseling.
2. Missions. Missiology should also be basic (or universal), but with a special emphasis on living, serving, discipling, and leading overseas within the local context. As with theology, common subjects were considered to be adequate for equipping missionaries from this context. Typical subject matter such as contextualization and cultural adaptation were included as expected.
Participants often cited the need for their returning or furloughing missionaries to interact with learners. Learning needs to be infused with personal stories and personal mentoring from those who have gone out before. Opportunities should be afforded for internships and working alongside seasoned missionaries in the cross-cultural context.
3. Skills and attitudes. The largest volume and the most passionate responses were in the area of skills and attitudes. Missionaries from this group valued piety and simplicity above all. Personal spirituality and integrity were the most important factors. Developing, leading, and working in ministry teams was also very highly ranked. Other areas included ideas such as personal sacrifice, family issues, understanding the call to missions, and servant leadership.
Very little attention was given to specific ministry-related skills or abilities. Attention was focused on the person and not on traditional talents, abilities, or skills (Western values). More focus was put on mentoring and guiding the students through a process. Spiritual formations alongside of effective missionaries in context were repeatedly recommended.
Interestingly, typical skills like preaching, pubic speaking, and professional teaching skills ranked lowest of the responses. This didn’t indicate that they weren’t important, but it did show that the character, spiritual welfare, and ability to work on a team were shown to be the most valuable characteristics needed.
4. Training and support. The highest rated response concerned training relating to sending and supporting churches and organizations. These missionaries had received very little training or support in this area. They had been poorly equipped to raise support and maintain close contact with those who supported them. Second was developing effective cross-cultural training of local people with an understanding of exit strategy.
Many of these missionaries had worked on humanitarian projects that had caused dependency and they were not able to transfer ownership of the projects to the local people. Other ideas that surfaced were in the areas of strategy development, strategic thinking, and overseeing projects on the mission field.
The most rewarding aspect of this study has been the interest and acceptance of it by the participants and the related institutions. Several of the participants have contacted me for permission to use it in developing practical equipping events for missionaries. The main Bible college associated with the participants is in the process of developing its own missions program and requested permission to use it as the framework for its program.
This is truly an exciting time as international partners are working together to engage unengaged unreached people groups. Western missionaries are not likely to be the ones to engage these groups that have remained unreached and unengaged. Many new national churches, networks, and denominations are emerging as cross-cultural missionary senders and desire to effectively equip their missionaries. They are taking their rightful place as disciples who go into all nations and make disciples. Many are looking for partners from existing mission sending nations to help them develop their own ability to equip and sent missionaries.
There is a shift as mature missions organizations and missionaries work alongside these emerging partners. In order for their missions to be self-sustaining, it’s imperative that they are encouraged to develop equipping, sending, and mission strategies that are contextual and indigenous.
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Mick Stockwell has served with IMB for twenty-three years in Ukraine and Czech Republic. He has been involved in mobilizing, enlisting, equipping, and sending national partners globally for twelve years. He is responsible for training IMB personnel throughout Europe and developing global partnerships for work in Europe and beyond.
EMQ, Vol. 53, No. 3. Copyright © 2017 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. aAll rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.