Missions: Mark Woodward, Parts 6 and 7

In part 6 of his series, Mark points out the chronic problem of poor planning —

I know missionaries who strategically planned on getting jobs in their new country, only to discover when they arrived that local law would not allow them as foreigners to obtain work permits. I know of missionaries who planned on doing house churches, only to learn that apartments are too small and large gatherings are not allowed in private buildings. I know missionaries who have selected a site for a new church plant without even knowing that there was another congregation already there!

And churches have sent all of these missionaries! With support and oversight! What’s wrong with this picture??

How do we prevent such poor plans? In part 7 of the series, Mark points out that mission training in the Churches of Christ is very ad hoc.

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?

Hmm … How on earth would congregations that often struggle to have enough teachers for Sunday school classes train future missionaries?

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?

That’s entirely doable. Some universities are already doing this sort of thing, but to my knowledge, not in the field of missions. Another alternative would be distance learning, that is, teaching over the Internet rather than requiring students to be on campus.

One of the problems with the current system is that the incredible resources of our universities are aimed almost entirely at students seeking a four-year or graduate degree. That’s how the world’s universities work, too, but the church’s mission is more than education.

Why not offer courses and certifications that have nothing to do with accreditation and such like? Why not compete with the schools of preaching by offering certifications in missions that have nothing to do with the world’s notion of education? You don’t need courses in English literature and art appreciation to be a missionary in Malawi.

Secondly, I would suggest that we shift to a much stronger apprenticeship model. … To become truly skilled, nothing substitutes for workplace, real-time experiences.  As I mentioned earlier, doctors have 2-7 years of “apprenticing.”  …

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.

Interesting … It works for doctors and in many other fields. Even school teachers must have a semester of student teaching to get a degree. And not a few prospective teachers change majors when they find out what school teaching really entails!

In the Churches of Christ, it would be much easier for a missionary to raise funds if he or she has been through an internship of some sort and has a recommendation from missionaries in the field.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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4 Responses to Missions: Mark Woodward, Parts 6 and 7

  1. Alan Scott says:

    Jay, I don't know what background Mark is from, but his series seems so utterly foreign to what I have experienced through our mission committee for the past 10 + years. At least two of our major CofC universities actively teach good mission planning and work closely with independent misison planners, such as CGC and MRN. If poor planning still happens it is not becasue of lack of resources, but lack of communication or lack of good research.

  2. Tim Archer says:

    Since the 1980s (at least), ACU has offered a Summer Seminar in Missions with generous scholarships. Many who attend do not take other classes from the university. I haven't attended in years, but when I participated in the 80s, it was a wonderful time of learning from missionaries and missions professors.

    As for "You don’t need courses in English literature and art appreciation to be a missionary in Malawi," well, that goes for just about every profession, right? Either there is some good in a general liberal arts education or we should scrap our whole university system here in the U.S. [I've seen the alternative and would stick with our system. The thinking skills learned by studying math, science and literature are of great value on the mission field.]

    Finally, I give a hearty "amen" to the whole idea of the apprenticeship. My 2 years as an apprentice did wonders in preparing me for later years as a "real" missionary.

    Sadly, most of the schools have scaled back their apprenticeship programs. Students want to go for 6 weeks or 6 months, not 2 years.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. Price says:

    I've heard it said that the best missionary effort is in training the "locals" to be preachers and teachers. Is that true and if so, would it not be better to train, using the latest greatest technology, native peoples who are much more familiar with the customs and traditions of the people rather than foreigners ??

  4. Tim Archer says:


    In my opinion, it takes both. Believers don’t just fall out of the sky. Someone has to develop a group of Christians, convert enough to have a pool from which to select leaders to be trained.

    That being said, I think we also need to work toward the time where we will be the support group for the nationals in other countries who become the primary evangelists.

    Steve Austin and the Texas International Bible Institute are doing much with distance training, connecting Christians throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Via the Internet, they have classes with teachers in Honduras instructing students in Ecuador, Miami, Spain and other places. Great stuff.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

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