Lord willing this week I want to write several posts on training pastors and leaders for the churches overseas especially in areas that are considered frontiers missions field. For those interested you might also want to read my post from last year titled “Thoughts on Teaching Systematic Theology Overseas in A Missions Context.”
I appreciate blogger Dan Cartwright, a former Green Beret and career soldier. I’m using an illustration from his world that I think is helpful in describing the need and means of bringing theological education to local national pastors in the context of frontiers missions.
US Special Forces (Green Berets) must not be confused with Special Operation Forces. Here’s how Wikipedia describe the missions of US Special Forces (Green Beret):
The primary mission of the Army Special Forces is to train and lead unconventional warfare (UW) forces, or a clandestine guerrilla force in an occupied nation. The 10th Special Forces Group was the first deployed SF unit, intended to train and lead UW forces behind enemy lines in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. As the U.S. became involved in Southeast Asia, it was realized that specialists trained to lead guerrillas could also help defend against hostile guerrillas, so SF acquired the additional mission of Foreign Internal Defense (FID), working with Host Nation (HN) forces in a spectrum of counter-guerrilla activities from indirect support to combat command.
Special Forces personnel qualify both in advanced military skills and the regional languages and cultures of defined parts of the world. While they are best known for their unconventional warfare capabilities, they also undertake other missions that include direct action raids, peace operations, counter-proliferation, counter-drug advisory roles, and other strategic missions.
Note what I highlighted in bold from the quote above. I think the great examples of the Green Berets that has bearing for our discussion is their ability to train other forces and being skillful in how they go about it. I think in some sense this is analogous to how we in the West should bring theological education overseas in the context of frontiers mission fields or area that requires creative access.
- We must not forget the need of training local indigenous pastors especially of those situated in what we might call the missions field and especially what we now call “frontiers” missions field. What I mean by training is primarily concerned with accurately knowing the contents of the Bible and acquiring the skills of properly interpreting and applying the Bible to all areas of life for themselves.
- Nothing with what I’m about to say takes away for the need for traditional Western programs of theological seminaries and institution. There is a place and role for formal theological education. If anything what I am saying can be an augment and additional “arm” of any established institute that already train pastors biblically to further extend their ministry.
- It is not always easy to bring local national pastors to the West to train them in traditional programs. Many reasons exists: The cost is very high when it comes to moving individuals and their families to the West. That is, if they can come over to the West. Sometimes going over to the West is something the government does not approve or if they are approved to come to the West for theological education this brings a lot of unneeded attention from the government of their original country. Then there is also the risk they don’t go back after tasting the goodness of living standards in the West (it is hard to blame them if you have ever lived in the Third World). Finally those whom we really want to give the theological education might also be the kind of men that is so caught up with ministry and responsibilities within their own country that in the end they decide not to go overseas for their ministry and biblical education for the sake of the church or churches in their country. We need to rethink the primary means of training pastors overseas.
- Rather than have the mentality of bringing people over to the West for theological education we need to really consider that we should be going to these local pastors and local churches instead. Some of the problems mentioned in point 3 can be alleviated by reconsidering the traditional formal Western model. It is cheaper to bring theological educators overseas for a certain duration rather than entire families for years in the West. We are not displacing these pastors for years since the education is coming to them. There’s less possibilities of these local leaders being loss as a “brain drain” to the West. Finally these men who are being trained are still actively serving and being of a benefit to the country they are in while they are being trained.
- Having a theological educator going to the actual field where their students are from also allows the educator to be aware and learn about the situational contexts in which these pastors and leaders operate. If done right a theological educator is much more aware of the cultural and social background when they teach the application of sound theology and philosophy of ministry. It can only make the theological education much better for the recipients of biblical training rather than the model in which indigenous pastors go to the West.
- Having theological educators go overseas to these areas also multiple the effect of theological education. Rather than train one or two leaders who are the cream of the crop that somehow passed the English proficiency tests to attend Western schools, now having a theological educator whose lectures and teaching are being translated in the native language now allows even more men to be trained, some of whom would never be able to go to the West because of their inablility to master the English language. This is more loving to the church as a whole!
- Per point 6, we must not forget the power of learning as a group. Even in the West, those involve with education recognizes the power of “cohorts.” There’s a reason why Jesus had a group of disciples! As people are learning, there will be people at different levels where some are getting it, some are struggling and some need some extra help. Don’t forget the process of learning as a group where those leading in the pack discussing things to those struggling can only be a force multiplier when we bring theological education to the field!
- Don’t forget theological education if it is biblical is not largely an academic exercise but ministry and discipleship. True ministry and discipleship are intensely personal. For theological educators to go to the field where there is so much need can only reinforce and enhance the education rather than if we artificially remove the students to go to the West to learn from men who know nothing about the men’s background and needs, etc.
- Per point 8, we need theological educators that are not only academic specialists but men who have great holiness that they are not afraid of living with the nationals and put in situations that has less privacy than in the West. We need to have greater emphasis on the personal holiness of the theological educators we send overseas who are training indigenous leaders than perhaps most people are comfortable in today’s Western context. Rather than see this as a problem, we need theological educators who see this as a good challenge to pursue genuine Spirit filled holiness!
- At the same time often what the people need overseas and seek for is more in-depth education. I’ve seen in two different countries now that the pastors and other students don’t want things thumb-down anymore, and they don’t want third or fourth rate quality teachings. Never presume people are stupid. They can tell and know if there’s sound and good quality Biblical teaching because they are believers and the Spirit live within them as their primary teachers. We need not only men who have a higher standard of holiness (per point 9) but also higher quality learning than what we currently ship out overseas. We must stop with the mentality that we send our poor quality teachers and men who can’t make it in the ministry in the West since the missions field is just starting out anyways….we need men who really are strong with their Bibles, their theologies and whatever specializations (New Testament, Old Testament, etc).
- Since these theological educators are going overseas to the “frontiers,” practically we also need tough men. I’m not talking tough in terms of aggression, but tough in terms of being able to leave behind some of the quality of living enjoyed by most in the West. I’m talking about people who have considered the cost that it’s worth teaching with less prestige than in institutions that often laurel honor and recognition. I’m talking about tough in the sense of identifying with the hardship of those in frontiers missions and have considered the possibility of being persecuted alongside the believers overseas. One can be tough in the sense I’m talking about and be gentle as a lamb. That is biblical meekness.
- Picking up from point 11, these men are also willing to do what they do and forgo the typical fame that comes with teaching in theological institution in the West for the sake of the security of the believers in some of these countries and also for the sake of the theological educator being able to access these country some of which are hostile towards missionaries and Christianity. He must do things for His Master first and not for recognition in conferences.
- Summarizing the points mentioned here, the future requires more men who are biblically and theologically strong, are academically proficient, who are of high integrity and blameless, tough and willing to suffer and able to lead and earn the respect of the indigenous people. He must not only be book smart and wise and willing to do some of his work with less recognition that typically comes with teaching in other contexts with a semi-anonymous manner. He is a Green Beret of Bible teachers if you will.
- With all that is said, I also want to be balanced. I have also known men who are engage in missions that paint their ministry more like James Bond than the Apostle Paul. When I was a seminary student there was a missionary who spoke at chapel who walks around the school with a Bible in his side holster and always look around like he’s a secret service agent. Observing his manners and his theatrics, I recognize I can’t read the heart but at the same time I can’t help but to wonder if he’s a fool that calls attention to himself more than being spiritually effective if that’s how he behave overseas. All analogies break down and my point is not to have people play commando, act like James Bond who say “I would have been a great Green Beret…” No, that’s weird. We should leave our weirdos at home rather than send them overseas. But nevertheless we need to recognize the need to train people overseas that’s different than the traditional model while also having men of high quality rather than lower quality than our traditional program.