Don’t decide too quickly to skip getting a degree. It’s one thing for the Lord to direct you. It’s quite another to stop everything and rush off to get involved in ministry. The great majority of effective cross-cultural missionaries I’ve met have a solid education that both shaped them as people and trained them for a specific task. You will also want to get some formal Bible and theological training. In the meantime, it’s important for you to seek ministry opportunities right where you are.
Answer from Jack Voelkel, missionary-in-residence with the Urbana Student Mission Convention; originally published on the Urbana website. Previously, Jack served thirty years with Latin America Mission in Peru and Colombia. Find other answers and articles from Jack and others on the Urbana blog.
“Instead of a degree, learn from the Holy Spirit.”
I would say that not all people going into ministry need four years of training. We as an agency have seen people go into missions with only basic evangelistic training, and God trains them further while in service. Having said that, some people go to seminary, and God can still use them. But, many times he has to de-program them.
As a missionary for the past thirty years, I’ve come to rely completely on the Holy Spirit for my wisdom, my counsel to others, and my outreach to the lost. Even though I have Bible school degrees, I find that the best teacher is the Holy Spirit.
Answer from Rocco, who served for thirty years in South Africa, Nigeria, and Mexico.
“A lack of education can close doors.”
Being a missionary in a country other than your own requires paperwork, at least a visa and often a work permit. More and more, as educational levels increase around the world, governments only give work permits to qualified individuals and that usually includes a degree. In the organization I work for, some who wanted to go to certain places could not because they could not get a work permit. Ask about the requirements where you believe God is leading you.
Answer from Ed, who has served with Wycliffe Global Alliance in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ghana for thirty-five years.
“Without a degree I wouldn’t have been able to get residence.”
If you plan to complete an undergraduate degree, it is best to do this before you go to the mission field.
In the country where I served a Bachelor’s degree was required for an employment pass. I knew of some missionaries who felt called to the country but could not serve there because they lacked an undergraduate degree. Missionaries need to investigate how they will gain legal and long-term residence in their country of interest long before they plan to move there. Don’t depend on your mission agency to tell you, as they may not know.
Answer from Eric, who has served in missions for five years in the US and Singapore, and currently serves with Joshua Project.
“Fast can end up being slow.”
A degree may or may not be what you need. It really depends on what your passions are and what contribution you hope to make in the long-term. For example, if you want to be an advocate for the poor, then you need to learn the laws that govern the poor, and you need to gain a position from which your voice can be heard.
There are many types of good and relevant training in our world today, and a formal degree may be very beneficial, or it may not be, depending on where you want to go and what type of service you want to be to the people among whom you will live.
The bottom line is that we need to be trained, mentored, discipled, and developed. We first need to develop the spiritual disciplines so that we can truly know and follow Christ ourselves, showing by example how others can know and follow Christ. Second, we will be of greater assistance to communities and people if we improve our God-given talents.
Remember: Fast can be slow. Taking shortcuts may hinder you from realizing your greatest vision. On our journey with God, we gain the wisdom, faith, strength, skills, character, and courage to reach the goal. Those who take shortcuts often fall out of the race because they did not have what they needed to finish.
Answer from Lisa, who has served for fifteen years in Austria, Romania, and Canada with International Teams.
“Prepare as much as possible, then go.”
We all have much to learn in this life, and much of what God has to teach, we learn only by going where he leads. So do some thorough preparation, and then GO. Don’t ever think you have to be totally prepared before you go – or you will never go.
Answer from Tim, who has served in Cameroon and in the United States with Wycliffe Bible Translators for twenty-five years.