This is an article from the November-December 2000 issue: Crossing Boundaries

Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

Dear Readers,

I am not at all eager to discuss a certain new book. I know both of the authors personally and think highly of them as fine people.

However, it is part of our job here at Mission Frontiers to tackle head-on anything which is going to impact the mission movement, even (or especially) if it should be somewhat negative.

So I'll put that off to the end.

Let me begin by sketching a rather fantastic idea, which I believe can resolve successfully the biggest single problem of the mission movement.

The Problem

It is a widely held belief that not one out of a hundred young people who seriously consider missions ever get there. And if they do, they emerge from colleges today with huge debts and mostly inappropriate education. And much too late to really get grounded in a radically foreign culture.

First, why the delay?

We should be embarrassed and panicked by the number of years kids growing up nowadays are supposed to remain "behind bars" in school before marriage and career.

Just think, our brilliant founding fathers were able to enroll without previous schooling at the age of 13 at Harvard College (which in our colonial period was a three-year grade school). That merely put them a total of three years "behind bars."

Today, a 13-year-old has already spent maybe seven years (K through 6) sitting in classrooms. And he has 10 more years to go before emerging from college! That's a total of 17 years behind "bars." Even then he or she may feel pressured to go further in graduate school.

This is not the place to stop and question the legitimacy of my calling school a "behind bars" experience except to note that it is the kind of imprisoning which you have to pay for. (In the other prisons you don't have to pay for tuition, room and board!)

No, my main point here is the delay, the huge and crucial chunk of time that these 17 years remove our young people from the more serious, responsible world in which real life experiences provide a quite different type of very crucial education.

Donald Joy, a professor of Human Development at Asbury Seminary, in Risk Proofing Your Family (See page 37), talks about his being able to "run the whole farm" at age 12 while his parents were off at a farm bureau meeting for days at a time. He has a whole chapter called "Confronting the Abuse of Adolescence," in which he considers it a tragedy that our modern society has postponed so unmercifully the involvement of youth in the adult world and, in return, condemned them to relative triviality. Phenomenal book.

This postponement is really bad for American society. But it is a largely unnoticed disaster for the cause of missions. Can anything be done about this seriously meaningless and confusing and debt-loaded fatal delay?

The Solution

The newest and most significant wrinkle in the otherwise impervious robe of our American educational establishment is the widespread and rapidly expanding possibility of low-cost, off-campus yet fully accredited education which allows you to study anywhere in the world. This staggering mutation in American higher education truly constitutes a change of attitude with stunning possibilities.

How did it happen? It was in part forced on universities in the decline of the baby boom period and the advent of the internet. For example, Peterson's Guide to Distance Education is now as fat as a big-city phone book!

The one school further ahead of the pack is the warmly Evangelical Christian college, Northwestern College at St. Paul, Minnesota. There you can get the last two years of college (and a fully accredited B.A. in Intercultural Studies) without ever stepping on the campus. The cost for the final two years? $4,000 a year for tuition. You can live and work (half time) at home. Or better: do that in four different mission fields for six months all over the world, getting friends and churches to back you for the travel and living costs.

Furthermore, the curriculum draws heavily on our own World Christian Foundations curriculum, which deals seriously with everything you learn in seminary and general studies, all from a Biblical and global perspective.

At the end, whether a young person goes into missions or not they will have a truly global education. David Hesselgrave of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School describes this curriculum in these terms:

I am not aware of any other comparable curriculum on planet earth that incorporates and integrates such a massive amount of relevant knowledge into a framework that is so thoroughly and unapologetically Biblical.

Tim Tomlinson, Director of Alternative Programs at Northwestern College (already with over 2,000 students on campus) says they can handle 1,000 more in this off-campus mode. Some are already enrolled. Wycliffe is involved. Other missions and other schools will follow.

This is a quality, low-cost loophole through which thousands of students can get out into real life, simultaneously serving and learning more effectively than in any other standard pattern.

For general information check the World Christian Foundations website. For specific questions call (800) 308-5495. For a more general description of this breakthrough go to  where you will find a detailed description of the curriculum itself, under the link, World Christian Foundations Curriculum.

This "loophole" is now only "a cloud the size of a man's hand." But it can become a very major new breakthrough that can create a whole new breed of solidly-educated lay people and pastors and missionaries who will interlace the missionary movement, a movement which in recent years has burgeoned and is becoming dominated by amateurs. Why? The entire short-term movement has exploded, even for teens, and local churches are more and more by-passing the veteran mission agencies, funding field visits and unwise financial projects which are actually in many cases a burden not a blessing.

Do you doubt these last statements? Read the article on page 25 about bicycles splitting a church! Yes, good intentions are not enough when we are dealing with missions. What will sell to U.S. donors is almost never the right strategy in many a puzzling situation overseas.

Satan is delighted to take the enthusiasm and pure good will of earnest believers back in the sending country and tie it all up in knots. It happens again and again. Do you think what the Apostle Paul was up to was easily understood by all his friends and relatives back in his home country? Why should authentic, cross-cultural missions be simple to understand today?

Many U.S. churches think that getting in touch and showing good will to overseas believers is missions. Even helping overseas believers evangelize their own people is not classical, pioneer missions. It is as if the Great Commission now reads, "Go ye into all the world and meddle in the national churches."

No, it will take a new breed moving through a new loophole that can soon become a breakthrough. For the future, it will take a rising tide of young people who live and study overseas while finishing college and then become intuitively informed lay people in the churches. Lots of them.

This is the only way our churches can become laced with in-depth understanding and become wary of the easy and obvious solutions that rarely pan out. Only then can they make the right decisions about how to think and what to support.

Many short termers basically dabble, and they can't fall back on their college experience--not for two full years of overseas experience both studying and living with mission families.

Thousands of mission families would be willing to accept a live-in college student if they were going to help with the work a half day and stay out of their hair in study the other half!

Only now there is one accredited college in America which is well prepared to go along with that! Why not check it out?

Now, That Book

Having just spoken of amateurism in missions, I can reluctantly say this book is too much like that. Changing the Mind of Missions, Where Have We Gone Wrong? by James F. Engel and William A. Dyrness, (Intervarsity Press) is undoubtedly guileless in intent but really quite deceptive in result.

The very title assumes, "We have gone wrong." That is a slap in the face, right there, because their "we" is not talking about themselves going wrong, but the people in the mission movement: pastors, missionaries, and mission executives.

Indeed, almost every paragraph in the book seems designed to undermine the reader's confidence in the leaders and agencies that make up the current mission movement.

It is astonishing!

  1. The book consists in part of some of the latest thinking in missions. But it throws this latest thinking back in the face of mission leaders as criticism, as if it had not come from the mission leaders in the first place.
  2. The book is partly a book on management as a cure for all ills, and yet it roundly criticizes agencies for making plans and setting goals!
  3. The book could almost be considered a thinly disguised commercial for management services to mission agencies.
  4. The book roundly denounces the Church Growth Movement, the Unreached Peoples movement, and the Adopt-a-People movements, all because they encourage measurable goals, and as though these movements are not fully aware that much more is required than measurement of certain kinds of goals.

Buyer beware!


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