“Look into these five options for training.”
Match the educational mode to your needs, goals, resources, personality, and learning style.
Options include secular colleges and universities, Christian liberal arts colleges and universities, Bible colleges, correspondence study (consider World Christian Foundations), and Christian graduate schools and seminaries.
Whatever avenue of training or study you choose, it can be a rich phase of your life. It’s a time when lifelong friends are made and life partners are often found. Surrounded by like-minded teachers and students, you’ll find freedom and support to test your calling and refine the direction of your life.
Answer by Steve Hoke and Bill Taylor, veteran missionaries who also grew up on the mission field.
Answer excerpted from The Global Mission Handbook, by Steve Hoke and Bill Taylor.
“Study at a Bible college first.”
Before I came to Estonia, I attended a two-year Bible college. Ten years before that, I graduated from university with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. If I had to do it over again, I would go to a Bible college first, then to university. At Bible college, I learned crucial things about believing God and following the Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine that I would be doing what I’m doing if I had not gone to Bible college. The things we learn at Bible college can make us more successful at whatever we do.
Answer from Tom, who has been a missionary in Estonia for six years.
“Do Bible college and then be mentored.”
I would suggest attending a Bible college first and then working for a while before pursuing years in higher education. During that time, be very involved in a local church and possibly be mentored or at least get some on-the-job training. I think that this training and Bible school are essential to develop good people skills and to understand the Bible.
Answer from Paul, humanitarian aid worker in Central Asia with Elim Fellowship.
“Study at a Christian university.”
A traditional university degree, along with the necessary Bible skills, is probably the best way to go. Many good Christian colleges offer both. To focus solely on missions may cause us to miss an important skill. On the other hand, to miss ministry and Bible training may stifle our knowledge on how to most effectively serve the Lord in missions.
Answer from Glen, who has been a missionary among Russian-speaking people for seven years.
“Get experience in your church, and study through a correspondence course.”
I have been to a state school, a Christian school, and a liberal arts theological school. However, the best education that I’ve had is not from a traditional educational institution.
I’ve found that regularly participating in the church and its outreach efforts is essential. A good hour or more each day in prayer and Bible reading has also proven profitable. Small groups are another key way to grow.
As for a training curriculum, the best education I’ve received has been through World Christian Foundations from William Carey International University. It’s largely a correspondence school with the benefit of a local face-to-face mentor and then the opportunity to apply the training by teaching someone else.
This method has enabled me to remain active in the community and to learn from a thoroughly mission-oriented curriculum. Think creatively about learning, and remember that the goal is service, not academic credentials.
Answer from Mert, who has helped pastor a small church and has a master’s degree in biblical studies/languages. Mert is currently pursuing a second master’s degree by correspondence.
“I attended Bible school, even though I could not read well.”
Once my first short-term mission trip was over, I thought, If God is leading me in this direction, I need some training. My first step was to attend a discipleship-training school. This involved six months of training, with one month in Mexico working among the local churches. I figured that if I were truly going to work overseas, I should get some preparation. Everyone I knew who served God overseas was, in my eyes, a highly educated person, with an undergraduate and graduate degree in theology, medicine, or education. I had struggled with my academic inabilities in high school. How could God use someone like me to serve in another country? I could not read well, I was not a good speaker, I hated being in front of a class, and I preferred to be last rather than first to answer a question. I decided to test the waters. I would apply to Bible school, and if they did not accept me, I would know it wasn’t God’s will. But surprisingly, they did accept me.
The classes at Bible school were just what I needed. I found a new fascination for the Old Testament. The mission and evangelism classes were challenging and demanding, with all the memorization, but later I realized how valuable those Scripture passages were to my daily life. The doctrine classes were revealing as I learned about the different doctrinal beliefs. At school, we had the opportunity to not only study and work on the campus but also to take part in outreach ministries. All these areas shaped my life more than I could imagine. It is one thing to know God’s Word; it’s another to live it and to explain God’s truths to others who have never heard them. That was twenty years ago. Those preparation years at discipleship training school, Bible school, my year of internship, and then my hands-on training on the field were life-changing.
Answer from Ruth, who has been a missionary in South Asia with Operation Mobilization for twenty years.
Excerpted from Scaling the Wall: Overcoming Obstacles to Missionary Involvement, by Kathy Hicks.
“Those with higher levels of education are better prepared for leadership responsibilities.”
“A missions organization’s greatest resource is in the knowledge, skills and spirituality of its people,” says Dave Broucek, the training and research coordinator at TEAM. On the mission field, those with higher levels of education are better prepared for leadership responsibilities. Broucek says such missionaries have critical thinking and research skills necessary to see the “big picture” when addressing pressing issues and are less likely to experience burnout or return from the field early.
Phil Casey graduated from a Christian college and went straight to Chile to serve as a missionary involved in evangelism, church planting, and leadership training. During his first two years, he learned through trial and error. He felt unprepared to meet some of the challenges he encountered on the field. So he chose to attend an evangelical seminary. “The education I received at seminary helped me see the bigger picture and gave me a chance to explore the questions that had been raised during my first two years on the field.”
Having been on the field first allowed Casey to directly apply his education to his ministry of establishing a theological-education-by-extension program for national church leaders. “The thesis I wrote was directly related to what I had done and was planning to do on the mission field, so this gave me great confidence and insight, as well as practical tools for my future work,” Casey says. Casey believes both academic instruction and practical experience are essential for ministry preparation and success. “The two years between Bible college and seminary were vital in helping me ‘see the questions’ before someone tried to ‘give me the answers.’ They made me hungry for answers, prepared me for the rigors of graduate-level study, and gave me a context in which to apply what I was learning.”
Answer excerpted from an article by Phil Huber in the guide Tomorrow’s Christian Graduate.
“Consider developing job and ministry skills in a secular environment.”
Many people assume that going to Bible college or having a theology-related degree is necessary to being a missionary.
My undergraduate school was a secular one, but I found the support of the Christian community there invaluable. I learned how to foster my faith in an environment that wasn’t always supportive of it, which is a great skill for those who see themselves overseas. In fact, that was probably a time in my life that I experienced the most spiritual growth.
I felt the call toward missions and pursued a profession (medicine) to make that happen. Getting professional training has been invaluable. During medical school, I was again required to grow my faith in a secular environment. It also taught me the value of social justice in missions and that Christ partnered spiritual ministry with tangible care for others.
There are many ways to train and give yourself a truly unique offering to those you choose to serve. Consider skills that many parts of the world lack: facility maintenance, healthcare, aviation, infrastructure or logistics planning, education and the list goes on.
Answer from Mark in Papua New Guinea, who has served with In His Image International, and Church of the Nazarene for three years, including service in Ethiopia, Egypt, Haiti, Papua New Guinea.
“Learn to share the gospel at home through four-fields training.”
The best training you can have is sharing the gospel in your own Jerusalem before ever entering a cross-cultural context. God has called us to share his word with ALL people, including our own. The movement, #NoPlaceLeft focuses on the four fields model developed by Nathan Shank which comes from Mark 4. Throughout Jesus’s ministry and Paul’s missionary journeys, we see a pattern followed after the four fields. The tools are reproducible and this church plant model costs $0. It’s been effective in Haiti, India, South Asia, and Latin America.
Four Fields encompasses the idea of a farmer entering a field, spreading seed broadly, waiting for that seed to grow and helping it mature, gathering the crop into bundles, and then using the best seed to be sent out into new fields. Mark 4. The first field is the entry, your mission field. How do we engage lostness? The second, is spreading the seed. AKA, sharing the gospel. We use tools such as the three-circles since it is reproducible. Our goal is to not only make disciples, but to multiply them as well. The third field is discipleship. Meeting with the new believer, and teaching him to obey such as what is commanded in the Great Commission Matthew 28:18-20, and the last field, is church. Gathering believers to create a healthy church. From there, leaders are raised up out of these churches and sent into new fields, thus creating creating a reproducible cycle.
Jesus never said you needed a Bible degree to do ministry. Most of the disciples were laymen with a heart of obedience and a God-sized vision to see nations come to Christ. Be a good steward of your money which is truly God’s money, and practice what you hope to accomplish somewhere else, at home.
Answer from Kristin in North Carolina, who has served with in Haiti, Costa Rica, Peru, and Guyana for five years.