Posts Tagged ‘mission apprenticeships’

To become a doctor who saves lives, you must have four years of undergraduate studies, two more intense years of graduate medical school, two years of non-specialized guided practice, and then most doctors spend three to five years in a specialty residency, which is a kind of apprenticeship.

To become a missionary who saves souls, you must have zeal and the ability to raise your support.

Preparation for mission work is one of the areas where we can make the most significant changes in our paradigm with the least pain and the most results!  I believe this because I believe our fellowship has made significant changes even during my lifetime—almost all in the right direction.

Before we go any further, let me just say many hall-of-fame missionaries had zero formal missions training! As we talk about what we can do, let’s not for a moment believe that God is limited by us. I’ve always loved the reminder in Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”  This conversation is just about preparing horses the best we can!!

It was the 1960s when our Christian colleges really started offering academic preparations for missions. I’m sure I took a course in World Religions, but I do not remember any other specific mission courses being offered, though there may have been.

Later, most of our Christian colleges offered missions majors; some even specialized more by offering a vocational missions major/minor. Almost all of the colleges began bringing in visiting missionaries who would teach mission courses. All of this was intended to improve the preparations for future missionaries.

Another positive shift in recent decades was the expectation that future missionaries should have surveyed their prospective field. The most common survey trip would be 2-3 weeks duration, during which the prospective missionaries are shown examples of what is currently being done  The benefits from survey trips vary immensely in my experience, usually depending on whether the hopeful missionaries plan the trip themselves or whether their survey trip is guided by an experienced mentor.

Another positive impulse in our fellowship has been the development of mission internships. Internships could generally be described as a commitment of six months to two years of working beside a local missionary. Again, most of the impulse for internships is coming from our Christian colleges, although Sunset also has a long history of providing these kinds of experiences through their Adventures In Missions Program (AIM).

So here is the typical pathway of preparation for potential missionaries today:  a young person goes on a short-term mission trip overseas. They come back changed and desiring to do long-term missions.  The very young go to AIM. Those in Christian colleges are pointed to mission courses, which they take as their academic program allows. A very small number become mission majors.

These Hopefuls likely will be offered the possibilities of internships—especially if they are single. But, if they are married, they are more likely to move immediately to the team building phase and start making the First Decisions that we have been talking about in previous posts.  If they can form or join a team, then they are more likely to receive additional preparation from either their mentor or a mission organization like Missions Resource Network or Continent of Great Cities.

Of those Hopefuls who began this pathway, only a few get to this point–very few—too few! Others, especially those out of college or older simply start looking for support, and if they are able to raise it, they go.  That’s it.

While I think our fellowship has made great strides, I’d like to suggest two or three areas where we could continue to make some shifts which could move us to more missionaries, better prepared.

First, if you were to calculate the total number of hours of mission training offered across our fellowship, 90% of it would be through Christian universities and 10% would be through mission organizations (The percentages are just my opinion, not researched information!) What this means is

  • only an extremely small percentage of our fellowship has access to the training. (The figures I remember are that less than 10% of college-aged students within our fellowship attend Christian colleges.)
  • the training is usually bundled with other academic requirements
  • the training is very costly
  • the training is scheduled and paced according to academic requirements which have little to do with greatest access  or the most productive use of time.

As with the selection process, we need to move the part of the preparation that is classroom-oriented off of the campuses and into the congregations! Why shouldn’t all available avenues be used to offer training to all of those surfacing with the desire to do foreign missions in our churches?

Let’s begin a project of capturing our best mission teachers teaching their best mission classes, making it available through DVD and/or webinars or any other way to make the excellent classroom instruction accessible to non-students, to state university Christians, to working families, to retiring Christians–why not to anyone seriously wanting to prepare to do mission work?

Secondly, I would suggest that we shift to a much stronger apprenticeship model. What students rarely comprehend, but everyone in industry understands is that a bachelors degree in anything prepares you only for an entry-level job. To become truly skilled, nothing substitutes for workplace, real-time experiences.  As I mentioned earlier, doctors have 2-7 years of “apprenticing.”  Many professional certifications require huge hours of practicum—which is apprentice-type work.

Being a missionary in a foreign country is an extraordinarily challenging task, and I can think of no better way to complete preparations for one’s own mission work than to work under the tutelage and guidance of an experienced missionary in the target country (or similar country).

And I would suggest a standard practice among us of no less than two years be devoted to a preparatory apprenticeship, one that would include intensive language study and daily work at the side of the master missionary before a new missionary launches out independently.

The benefits of these two shifts in our paradigm are that many, many more people desiring to do mission work would have access to the best training available as they are making their First Decisions. Then with a specific work in mind, they have an opportunity to continue their training on their targeted field in a mentored environment until they were really ready to go out on their own!

Well, I hope that starts the conversation. A blog is no place for details and specifics, but I’m absolutely convinced that all of us want more missionaries who are better prepared. If you don’t like my suggestions, what are yours?

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