“The one you have.”
The most useful degree is the one that you have, whatever it is. Find ways to get a long-term visa, possibly using your current degree to establish a platform. If you are currently thinking of a degree with long-term missions in view, then go for one that equips you with a skill that is currently in demand in that country. Theological degrees are useful, but practical ministry skills in discipleship, cell group multiplication, and healing and deliverance will stand you in good stead.
Answer from J.M., who has served as a missions mentor and mobilizer for more than five years, including service in the Philippines, India, and New Zealand.
“Get broadly trained in a field that interests you.”
Here are three considerations to keep in mind as you evaluate the choice of a major:
1. University prepares a person more for life than for a job, though it does help to orient and guide toward a job. So a helpful background for ministry or missions would be in the humanities, probably as broad as possible.
Fields such as history, literature, psychology, anthropology (especially cultural anthropology), and perhaps even sociology prepare you to understand people, their culture, and their basic ideas and needs. If you plan to attend graduate school, I highly encourage you to pick a major in one of the above fields, take the minimum courses required in that major, and then take electives in the other fields listed above.
2. A second consideration has to do with you as a person. Exploring your interests in depth may prepare you well for the unique place of ministry for which God has made you and is preparing you.
3. A third, and often neglected, aspect of preparation has to do not so much with a major as with exposure. I urge you to make friends with people who are different than you (other races, other cultures), participate in a mission trip, and get involved in ministry on campus. Learn how to develop your own spiritual life, how to share the gospel, how to answer the tough questions, and how to help a new Christian grow.
These are skills you’ll use all your life, and there is no better place to learn them than right where you are. I encourage you to move into the dorms or some other incarnational evangelism position, where you live with people whom you might not have chosen to be your friends.
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 Columbia. Find other answers and articles from Jack and others on the Urbana blog.
“One that matches the market need and your passion.”
The market need fluctuates. Often one’s passion stays its course long-term. Often degrees lay a foundation, but expertise is developed on the job.
A degree that open doors in nearly every creative-access country is an MA in TESOL (teaching English). The downside is that often, a career in TESOL will not encourage one to learn the local language and engage the community family structure.
A degree that allows one to translate the Bible or help with Community Health Education (CHE) may be more strategic than ESL in that it gives us access to communities and at times favor with the government.
Answer from A. in California, who has served for six years with All Nations Family in China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Jordan, and India.
“Consider a degree in teaching, business, or humanities.”
f you’re looking into serving in a creative-access, limited-access, or closed country, a degree in teaching English as a second language is useful. Or, a degree in computer technology is useful, especially if it puts you into a teaching or entrepreneurial capacity. If you’re looking into serving in a more open country as a traditional missionary, then anthropology or any degree in teaching can be quite helpful.
For someone eager to become a missionary, my agency can work with almost any university degree, including history, psychology, philosophy, and business. If you’re studying at a secular school, then get involved with Christian campus groups and receive valuable ministry training.
Finally, I recommend taking a language at university. If you can take one language for four years, wonderful; two languages for two years each, almost as wonderful; or one language for two years, still good. You may never use that particular language overseas, but the practice of learning another language will assist you in whatever language you later will need to learn.
Answer from David Smith, director of mobilization with WEC International. David has been a missionary twenty-five years as a field worker in West Africa and at WEC USA headquarters.
“Major in teaching and minor in missions.”
While some countries do indeed discriminate against missionaries with ministry degrees, that background and in-depth study of the Word and effective ministry is invaluable. So how do you reconcile the two? Go to a college that turns out ministers and also offers degree in other areas, including the area that you want, or feel directed to be used in. For example my wife and I both graduated from Bible colleges with the equivalent of at least minors in Bible and ministry. But our majors are in history and English. We are going into our mission field as teachers.
Answer from George who is heading to Colombia with Latin America Mission.
“Consider the question of debt.”
Another aspect to this question is the issue of managing debt or student loans. Increasingly I see many young people who have a clear call to missions but a prohibitive level of debt. So another aspect of determining a “major” that would fit well with a cross-cultural missions future is to consider a major that would provide a “marketable skill.” I encourage candidates to major in something “marketable” and minor in something more cross-cultural.
Answer from Rick, who has served with Christian and Missionary Alliance in Indonesia and Malaysia for twenty years.
“If you want to major (or take classes) in missions, consider these schools.”
Cappex.com did a study of 137 schools (colleges and universities) in the US offering missions classes and a missiology major. You can filter results by tuition costs, college type, and state (location). You can see stats about the number of students, campus life, and even your chances of getting admitted. In many cases, there are personal reviews and even tweets and pictures. You can also see if the college is affiliated with a certain denomination and, in most cases, start your application directly from the listings. And in some cases, Cappex has negotiated scholarships with the college if you apply through the Cappex site.
Answer originally published in Brigada Today.