The Most Important Problem in Missions
We had a visitor last week whom I introduced to our staff as the most important visitor ever to be with us.
Who IN THE WORLD could that man have been? Let me explain.
Thirty-five years ago I began to be deeply involved in an experiment designed to solve a crucial, global problem. A problem that was and is the Achilles heel of the world wide mission movement.
The problem: schools in many mission fields could only reach children, children needing food and lodging.
The adults leading the churches had to cope with families and secular jobs as well as church leadership.
In fact, the entire Christian movement in Africa and Asia and Latin America ran on the steel rails of at least a million unofficial pastors.
Those million (it is now 2 million) keen, humble, godly men running two million of the churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America CAN'T be educated by setting up schools which they cannot attend. More schools won't do it.
What WILL do it?
The very crucial man here last week is in charge of a program which has 6,000 students in all areas of India. His "students" are actually Christian workers not students, really. Many of them are doctors, lawyers, professors. They are the vital backbone of the Christian movement in India
ONLY through his program or something like it can the real leaders of the real church be educated in the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
What about the schools?
These people can't go to school!
For those who cannot go, it does not matter WHAT the schools teach; it matters WHO. They are unable to reach out beyond their walls, apparently, to nourish the real church. Their students are young, poor. This man's students are older, and they can pay for the actual cost of their studies. And this is true everywhere!
This man's program has been in existence for twenty-five years. It is called TAFTEE, "The Association for Theological Education by Extension." (It links all the major church traditions in India.) His name is Dr. David Samuel.
He is working with more real leaders in India than all the Christian schools put together (yet his program receives less than 5% of the monies flowing to India for theological education). If you want to get behind him write TAFTEE, P.O. Box 520, Bangalore 560 005, India
Five years ago here in Pasadena we set out to create an entire Master of Arts graduate school curriculum designed for individual study by key people like this who can be found all over the world, people who simply cannot take time off and go to school.
Our curriculum covers everything taught in Seminary--with a mission perspective. It is very heavy, very thorough. It took our team five years. It depends on the printed page as well as audio and vidio cassettes.
Now you can get either an M.A. or a B.A. degree living anywhere in the world on the basis of this new "World Christian Foundations" curriculum.*
Whew! To produce all this has been about five times as hard as we thought it would be. It has over a hundred required texts, plus 1,000
additional readings. Yet it is less expensive to send all this to the student than to try to get real leaders to drop everything and go off to school.
Accredited Christian colleges and seminaries in America are using it already. Wycliffe Bible Translators has approved it for people going out under their field survey teams.
*See the end of this section for more information
The Most Important Problem … But what's the catch? Haven't we heard about this kind of a solution before? Yes, but it now has an entirely new twist.
TEE turned out to be merely a theoretical solution thirty years ago. It boomed and then collapsed. At one time there were over 100,000 involved in theological training by extension. But the residential schools fought back. They said "It isn't being done this way in the United States." Now, however, U.S. schools have been adopting this approach. Now, the 4,000 theological schools in the mission lands can take it up again without facing the condescension of the Western world.
Even in the United States our school process is still mainly unable to select mature leaders among lay people and hoist them into Christian work without off-campus studies. Do we think we can coast along somehow without the energy and gifts of the majority of our keenest, most godly lay people?
* Note: Regionally accredited colleges employing the World Christian Foundations curriculum: For the M.A. write Steve Burris, Pacific Christian College, 2500 Nutwood Ave, Fullerton, CA, 92631. For the B.A. write Duane Christianson, Patten College, 2433 Coolidge Ave, Oakland CA 94601.
One hundred years ago hordes of young people rushed out to the field and did silly, tragic things--and were encouraged by adults back home. That was a massive amateurization of mission.
It is happening again…
The Gravest Danger… The Re-Amateurization of Mission
In 1896 it was not an isolated syndrome. Whether it was the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Sudan Interior Mission or the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, unnecessary deaths took place.
But physical problems are more easily corrected. Other mistakes were far more serious. For example, college educated "Student Volunteers" took one look at the level of education of many African pastors and declared them unqualified. They pushed the real leaders out of the pulpits. Serious setbacks resulted in most fields. It took twenty, thirty, forty years for the volunteers to relearn much of what earlier missionaries had already discovered. (The volunteers did not read the earlier writings.)
Does "amateurization" always happen when a new rush to the field takes place? Will 60,000 young Koreans flooding out to the frontiers do more harm than good? Even "short termers" have their problems. Can a little knowledge be a dangerous thing?
It did happen before. But we are reluctant to admit it. Popular interest in mission is so scarce that we mission professionals are inclined to accept "interest"--warts and all.
The obvious reason to speak up boldly is to reduce the damage. Let's take a quick glance at the nature of the problem today.
Today we have a far greater GAP between the "educated" and the "uneducated." One hundred years ago "a college education" could still mean merely four years of school.
[For example, as late as 1865 you could matriculate directly into the State University of Iowa without any previous schooling provided you could pass a reading and writing test, and could prove you could add and subtract (multiplication was not required). This had been true from colonial times.]
Thomas Jefferson types could get out of college at 17 because William and Mary College normally took kids in at 13 with or without previous schooling.
Today we have created a giddy elongation of the schooling process, stretching it from just three or four years of incarceration to 17 years through college, and in the process forcing old age on mission volunteers, who are told they must study even further.
Some candidates and large churches are skipping the whole process. Today you must either forego college and seminary (plus missiology?) in order to arrive on the field early enough for your mind and mouth to be flexible to really master the field language and culture, or arrive years later with the "proper" education but with a real age handicap.
Understandably, a lot of healthy minded young people are opting for the early plunge if there are agencies willing to take them-- agencies like YWAM, OM, or Frontiers, whose candidates are often woefully lacking in the rudiments.
Wycliffe in its Field Surveyors Division, has decided to take people with just two years of college, arranging for field ministry to be combined with highly relevant course work leading to an accredited college degree. Doesn't mission work uniquely require field ministry to be combined somehow with advanced training?
Where are we? One mission leader told me, "There is a great tide of missionary interest and giving, but it is geared to a wide variety of vested interests without a unifying focus. "Missions," it seems, has become any Christian volunteering to be sent anywhere in the world at any expense to do anything for any time period."
Is this re-amaturization?