Common myths exist in how candidates become successful workers. These myths, spoken or assumed, are not helpful in preparing people headed to the ‘field’ to be successful in the nations to which they are called. The following are myths I have heard over the years.
1) “They have good intentions and will learn what they need when they get to the field.” You tell me how many denominations allow a person with good intent to take leadership of the church and preach without some training. Training in other fields requires serious preparation, and for good reason: airplanes are not manufactured by people of good intent. Do we appreciate delicate open heart surgeons with good intent, knowing they will make mistakes in their first ten years but will later improve with time?
Making New Friends
2) Another myth comes in the form of believing seasoned workers will apprentice the candidates and give them what they need to be successful in God’s work. The truth is that workers sent to the world’s unreached and unengaged peoples live where there are not other workers, and if they do exist they may live in another city or on the other side of the nation. New workers often spend many years learning to understand their calling and gifting, and are left on their own to discover by trial and error what is effective. Most missionaries are very busy people with few precious hours to spend sufficiently training new arrivals.
3) There is the unspoken but very real myth that the church is sending good people they trust, people with a fullness of the Lord with experience in a local ministry that backs their new calling. A good local ministry is certainly an asset but far from the reality the candidates will face in other parts of the world. Pulpit training or church ministry training at home are certainly not mission training for those outside the church in another nation!
4) Another myth is that training in a sound spiritual process, or personal discipleship will allow the candidate to learn other needed aspects of a new people and be effective in ministry. That “sound spiritual process” makes sense to those in the home church rather than to those that will receive the Word of God in a new setting. Learning to read another culture and communicate the gospel to a people of a divergent worldview requires a different type of training.
5) Western leadership models are flawed through rugged individualism. Candidates are applauded when they raise up a support team, the finances needed for the mission enterprise, publically speak of their calling and people group to whom they will minister, and even raise up teammates to join their endeavor. A self-made individualism can clash with someone suggesting that pre-field training will help their effort. It is written in Proverbs, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way (19:2). Zeal can be excitement, or personal drive. When coupled with experience and understanding, zeal is fantastic. Time allotted for pre-field training greatly reduces the hasty efforts that miss the purpose of God. It is important that the entire mission enterprise; the church, the sending agency, and the worker all affirm the need for pre-field training.
6) A major myth is that Bible school or seminary training prepares a person for missionary service. Some of the more disconnected people are those that have been funneled through a purely academic process with answers to questions that people are not asking, especially in an unreached context. One young man working on his bachelor’s degree in theology told me of his desire to continue through to the Ph.D. level so that he could then engage an unreached people group. One needs to apply the context of his or her calling to make training realistic. Good missionaries are good communicators, and preparation needs to include practical time with the people to whom they are called. The frustration of the western training paradigm is that some believe the world will be enlightened when it encounters a really smart person, rather than one that resembles Jesus.