A few years ago I was invited to consult on a mission and development project that was focused on caring for at-risk kids. As I approached the residential group home where several dozen young people were being cared for, I couldn’t help but notice the despair in the eyes of the mission volunteers and caretakers of the children. You see, the missionaries were passionate about seeing young lives transformed by the gospel. There was no doubt in their sincerity to see these lives restored, but the tools and training they had received did not match the challenges they were facing.
Whether it be working with at-risk youth and children or church planting, cross-cultural workers need proper preparation. When our academic and training programs fail to properly prepare them for the immensely difficult task of working in a new culture, communicating with a different set of standards and training in specializations needed in the field, we prevent them from fully thriving. Fortunately, some see the need and will seek additional training, some will burnout and unfortunately others will cause harm to the very ones they seek to care for. Sadly, this was the case with the group mentioned above and they were eventually closed by the local government authorities despite our best efforts.
Mission education and training (on both the undergraduate and graduate level) must continue to reinvent itself in the coming years. The field of mission training, as I argued in my first blog post, must keep pace with global changes and issues. This means that mission education must also keep up and even in some cases lead the way on strategy and best-practices. Mission programs are by nature an applied discipline. Developing practical skills is critical to whatever field one aspires to work in. Jim and Judy Raymo conclude that, “Skills and training are essential for successful workers of every generation” (39). As described by Moreau, Corwin and McGee, training can take place through informal, nonformal and formal opportunities (173). While all of these areas are important for mission preparation, I deeply believe that formal academic training provides students with the best opportunity to establish themselves and prepare for a thriving ministry and career in international and local contexts.
The World Evangelical Fellowship recently identified four critical skills as essential for lessening attrition rates and providing an environment in which future cross-cultural workers will thrive. They are: Spirituality, Relational Skills, Ministry Skills and Training (Taylor xiv-xv). I would argue that both undergraduate and graduate programs related to the field of mission, international development and global studies should seek to incorporate these components.
Spiritual Formation: There is no substitution for spiritual formation. One’s spirituality must seek to develop an intimate relationship with God. This will prove critical in those moments of despair and hardship. J.D. Payne discusses the importance of “being continually filled with the Spirit of Mission (Eph. 5:18)” as part of our daily task in serving Christ in mission (165). One of the goals of formal Christian training should include, “genuine growth toward spiritual maturity” (Moreau, Corwin and McGee 173). This growth should be nurtured while the student prepares to serve cross-culturally. This takes place through the integration of spiritual discipline practices in the classroom and assignments related to this.
Interpersonal Skills: Relational skills provide an atmosphere for which team-work and friendships can develop. Academic programs in this field must focus on demonstrating humility and teachability as two key skills. These skills can be nurtured in students preparing to serve on a team (especially a multicultural team). According to Moreau, Corwin and McGee “these attitudes are built on proper self-appraisal” as we encourage mission students to reflect on their purpose and service in the kingdom (176). Teachability is a critical skill in developing global partnerships. Students should be prepared to learn from others from different cultural backgrounds. “A teachable person is one who recognizes the inherent worth and wisdom of others” (Moreau, Corwin and McGee 176). Most agree that “loud, impatient, demanding people with weak interpersonal skills often fail on the mission field and in team situations” (Raymo and Raymo 45).
Ministry Skills: These skills are another critical piece to developing and preparing future cross-cultural workers. Learning to disciple others is critical to forming leaders who will bring transformation. Whether students are working in humanitarian contexts, business contexts, diplomacy or other areas, discipleship must be emphasized. Cultural sensitivity is also an area that must be developed inside the classroom through simulation activities and group interaction.
Another area that deserves attention is professional development. Professional skills must be viewed as part of our training. Integrating both ministry skills and professional skills not only opens up more opportunities for students of mission, but provides them with the foundation they need to succeed. One of the ways to develop these skills is by providing practical experiential opportunities.
Practical Training: When working with a multicultural team or engaging with unreached people groups one notes the critical training in cross-cultural communications and competency. This is often times referred to as Cultural Intelligence. These skills can be discussed in the classroom, but must be developed on the field. This is where experiential opportunities such as internships and practical assignments move the student from the classroom to a real-life laboratory. Guided internships provide opportunities to develop these skills. According to researchers Jim and Judy Raymo, internships are an essential tool in preparing cross-cultural workers in today’s world (50). Another viable means for ensuring an experiential learning environment is through study abroad programs. In particular, study abroad programs that incorporate first-hand interaction with the culture and social realities is most valued. These and other experiences are key for practical training.
“Equipping God’s people to accomplish the missio Dei in the twenty-first century will require more diversity and cooperation than has been known hitherto” (Elliston 232). The complexity of mission training has only increased. As Edgar Elliston rightly notes, the preparation for global mission engagement will require more diverse efforts.
Andrew Kirk calls for a listening of two voices when reading Scripture. We are to listen to the voice of God (Scripture) and the voice (cry) of the people. This process will help us to combine the “universal nature and intention of the Christian’ foundation document with the particular reality of every situation into which the message and life of Christ comes” (14). The cry in our world today has been highlighted in the issues and trends discussed in this eight-part series. The voice of God will continue to shed light on healthy global engagement with these issues and many more that we will face in the coming months and years as we seek to be salt and light in our communities and world.
If you would like additional information on either the B.A. in Global Studies or the M.A. in Global Development and Justice degree programs, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Greg Burch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Elliston, Edgar. “Moving Forward from Where We Are in Missiological Education.” In Missiological Education for the 21st Century: The Book, the Circle and the Sandals, edited by Edgar J. Elliston, Charles Van Engen and J. Dudley Woodberry. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996.
Moreau, A. Scott, Gary Corwin and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2015.
Payne, J.D. Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson 2013.
Raymo, Jim and Judy Raymo. Millennials and Mission: A Generation Faces a Global Challenge. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library. 2014.
Taylor, William David, ed. Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition, World Evangelical Fellowship, Globalization of Mission Series. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library. 2007.