Models of Missionary Training

In America and Europe, we train our professional ministers in a very Western way: seminaries. Seminaries are a great place to learn theology and to study academic issues in the Christian faith. But are they the best way to train ministers to bring people to faith and grow others in their walks with Christ?

How many seminary graduates are there who go to the mission field completely unprepared for what they will face in another culture, dealing with learning a new language, not being able to communicate, culture shock, facing persecution and leaving everything that was comfortable? Yes these students should be able to explain eschatology and transubstantiation, but can they effectively contextualize the essence of the gospel? Sure they have training in the books of the bible but what has their evangelistic lives looked like? Most can debate theology amongst themselves, but how comfortable are they with sharing the message freely on the streets?

A national movement in India began this way and found that they attracted more visionless Christians without direction and motivation rather than passionate followers of Christ who long to see His people come to know Him. They switched to a new model in church planting, one that looks more like in Acts. Church planting happened through discipleship and informal training. This style of preparation put a priority on field training, getting church planters involved in the communities with the people. Theological training would be brought to them so they wouldn’t have to leave their ministry post for weeks or months at a time. The key is that they did not leave their culture to be taught heady knowledge, but were supervised in practical situations. They found churches grew faster under this informal model, and theology did not sway.

Now is it the job of the seminary or the job of the mission agency to train future missionaries? I believe it is definitely the responsibility of the mission agency to prepare and make sure candidates are ready for the field, but I also believe a practical side of a mission degree would be effective. The Baptist seminaries two plus two program with the IMB is on the right tract. They spend two years in seminary learning theology, biblical languages and anthropology, and then two years on the field guided by a career missionary. Another bonus is that intermitted throughout the field experience, they come together for analysis and debriefing. For seminary programs that send future missionaries, practical on the field experience is important and should be a part of the program.

This brings me to a final issue: why is mission education is not a major part of a seminary degree? How many seminary trained pastors go through their studies without learning about God’s heart for the nation and the state of His Kingdom? Pastors should be Christ’s body’s largest mobilizers to help God’s people understand that unreached peoples are the most strategic field there is. Missions is not a ministry of the church, but the purpose for the church’s existence. It is of utmost importance for our pastors to teach the biblical basis of missions and call out members of their church for overseas service.

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