Should missionaries skip seminary?

"Although it is still common for some to suggest that missionaries don’t need a seminary education, my understanding of the task and my experience on mission fields leads me to a quite different conclusion." - DBTS Blog

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Rob Fall's picture

You can teach to the next lower level of your own training. IOW, a BA can train students up to an HSDip. A Master's to a BA\S. It all depends on how high of an education level you're dealing with in your students. Though, I understand in India and Africa, the need among nationals is a Bachelors. This as there are folks who are ready forth the next level of education. So, the need is for missionaries with Masters.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Bert Perry's picture

I've been on a search committee for a youth pastor this year, and it strikes me that most of the guys we interviewed would never get past HR in an engineering context because the Bible College grads we interviewed simply could not think on their feet.  They had all been taught more or less what to think instead of how.

Now transplant that across an ocean where the buck stops with that person; imagine what happens when they need to apply Biblical principles in a new way in a new culture.  It's not going to be sufficient that the person has "one year more college" than the person he's talking to; he really needs to be able to think, theologically speaking, on his feet.

For that matter, even without the ocean, if you're dealing with the kids of professionals--that's been exactly the case in the past few churches I've been in--bad things are going to happen if you are taught what to think instead of how.  The question is which schools and courses of study will do this.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jeff Howell's picture

about this youth guy search. What is the average age of the men being interviewed?

Bert Perry's picture

We've seen everything from new college grads to guys into their mid thirties, but mean is probably about 30.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Steve Davis's picture

I agree with Dave that cross-cultural church planters would benefit from seminary training. I highly recommend it. However some won't become church planters regardless how much education they receive or how strong their sense of calling. And some things can't be learned in a classroom especially with professors who have little experience in cross-cultural ministry. I think prospective church planters need a combination of formal and informal training including short-term experiences and language aptitude assessment. Most churches and mission agencies don't do assessment well. My major project at Trinity under David Hesselgrave was an evaluation of pre-field preparation and convinced me of that. 

Jeff Howell's picture

Bert, I ask the question about age is somewhat related to my own personal experience. Learning to think more deeply in the "hows" as well as the "whys" or "why nots" of life, ministry, or problem solving is not something that I did well in my early 20's. It was something that I matured in as I got older, had more life, did more life, and lived in the context of relationships in a regular setting within the faith community. It seems to me that the pursuit of wisdom living in Prov. 4:1-9 and the prayer of Paul for the Colossians in 1:9-10 are similar. There is a maturation process of taking the what and growing in the application of it (wisdom) as well as the synthesis (understanding of how things fit together and their implications). For me, the training processes of seminary coupled with a strong internship experience of just under a full year really helped me enter into the rigors of ministry life. Full disclosure: I also had the privilege of being a pk, allowing me to watch and learn from a very godly father and pastor. As such, I am an advocate of both seminary, as well as an internship, and would couple these with what Steve advocates of honest, thorough pre-field assessments.

josh p's picture

This subject came up in our Bible study at church on Wednesday. Someone related that Hudson Taylor’s grandson was unable to be approved by the China Inland Mission because he had no training and was not being sent by a church. I thought that was both interesting and encouraging. He apparently laughed that “name dropping” got him nowhere.

Bert Perry's picture

Jeff, understood--my point of reference here is mostly Bible college graduates, not seminary graduates, which places things further at the young end of the spectrum.  Agreed that that will make a difference, and I've noted a huge difference between Bible college graduates and those who have been through a master's program in a seminary--and the closer one gets to the full MDiv, the better.

Regarding the difference, I've asked each interviewee two questions; what is their "go-to" reference, and if money and time were no obstacle, what would be their next course of education?  The answer to the first was invariably a commentary (presumably the favored one by their school), and the answer to the second was always some sort of practical course.

Nothing against either of these--I've got Matthew Henry on the shelf and practical books there too--but it struck me that nobody mentioned language resources, historical works, or the possibility of going back and getting language and other training.   So the process of analyzing things "from the ground up" didn't seem to be on their radar, and that's going to leave a mark in terms of expositional preaching, to put it mildly.

And I confess as well that I "grew up spoiled", as one of the guys who led me to Christ would, if I had a question about original languages, often pull a volume of Kittel off the shelf; the 13 volume set that you needed to know your variables  Greek alphabet to use.  Even the non-linguists tended to develop the ability to parse things out directly from Scripture using a reference or two.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Christine19's picture

I think that it is best for someone to have all their education completed before they do mission work for the long haul. If they want to go to seminary, then they should do it first and then go. They won't be wishing years later that they went to seminary or did it sooner. Also, the education will be a big help. 

I wish that I had all my education finished before trying to do mission work in Asia for a long time. I spent 3 1/2 years in Korea. I am now in graduate school.  I wish I had done it sooner though.