As a professor I wish we could focus on some specific skills that future missionaries will need to know. Experienced missionaries have a set of skills that we should pass on to our students (if we could and if we would).
Our problem is that professors are boxed into an academic environment that does not give credit for some of these essential skills. I do not mean to devalue the academic, but rather I think we could add to the theoretical some practical skills and understanding, but it probably will need to be extracurricular. The need to understand religions, cultures, cross-cultural communication skills and how to contextualize the gospel and Bible teaching will always be necessary.
At our university we have a special focus on non-religious majors because of the contemporary need for platform ministries in Restricted Access Countries. But this often ignores a major factor: Do they have a passion for ministry to churches and individuals in our culture through Bible teaching, challenging messages, and motivating people to play their part in the Great Commission sufficiently to raise prayer and financial support?
The attitude of some students unfortunately is a dislike for having to spend so much time ministering in local churches “asking for funds” (sometimes even taking several years to raise their support), yet if they hope to start a business to support themselves, they will have to raise a lot more capital from donors or investors. Leadership and fundraising are usually inseparable skills, yet seldom taught together.
God’s people tend to support a vision and leaders that can touch hearts through practical applications of God’s Word. My goal with my students is to change immature negative attitudes into a passion for ministering to God’s people for everyone willing to learn how to teach God’s Word to meet the real needs of people. This can be accomplished through practice teaching and sharing in small groups.
On the field, the contemporary focus on “unreached peoples” in the 10/40 Window throws the missionary into a realm where Christian resources, like Bible Institutes or Christian colleges or even other churches, do not exist. They will have to solve the problems of training future leaders without institutions by creating their own study and teaching materials where little if any helpful materials exist in their language group. Few future missionaries have much experience at developing disciple-making congregations, which will have no financial resources to build buildings, etc.
Learning how to create online training and teaching programs while still a student will open the world to their training and discipling tools. Now online training is more accessible than the printed books.
In addition, non-religion majors will need to develop counseling skills, writing and teaching experience for discipleship, evangelistic confidence with a wide variety of techniques (church preaching being only a small aspect of evangelistic applications), and mentoring new leaders into all these skills until their disciples are equipped to do it on their own. Being a good person or ethical businessman is insufficient to produce a new life.
With the contemporary demand for BAM [Business As Missions] skills in addition to the above-mentioned spiritual abilities, where students from other degree programs are learning about job skills, but probably not how to start their profession into a new business, or adapt to entirely different ways of doing their profession in other cultures to fit into a local economy.
Being hired from another national or international company often can take away a job from a national, which can result in resentment, unless as a result he can hire 5-10 more nationals because of his expertise.
Few courses teach the tax structure of foreign countries, their labor laws, or patron-systems with employees, and the delicate and expensive task of firing someone with all the indemnification laws to avoid lawsuits.
Running a business without the availability of inexpensive bank loans and easy credit, (or operating without credit cards, which usually only exist within the upper classes), or how to raise capital from donors or investors, who expect the return of their capital from profits and a ROI (return on investment). China requires a $50,000 deposit for a year or more to the Central Bank to start a new company. Most of these concepts are seldom discussed in international business courses, not to mention the difficulty of expatriating profits back to investors (should you go the investor route).
The complexity of devaluation, inflation, taxes, fees (bribes?), a mandatory two or three extra month’s salaries plus a month’s vacation, dual-book-keeping to avoid exaggerated tax structures, especially high social security taxes (44-48% in Argentina; Brazil is 40%; China is 48%; France is 56%; India is 24%; Netherlands is 43%, etc.), which are usually paid monthly on threat of closure, etc., etc. Most countries do not have income tax, but India has just added a 30% tax on foreign money. To make matters more difficult most judicial systems are biased toward the employee, so lawsuits are constant liabilities.
The naiveté of many students thinking that with their non-religious degree they are masters of a business world sometimes baffles me. Learning how to swim in these waters requires a lot of mentoring, to say the least.
Inevitable fund-raising for business ventures is a whole world of traps and dangers. Mixing donations with for-profit business is tricky if not impossible. Where does a student learn how to write a good business plan as a starting point for raising capital? Where can students learn proficiency at making presentations to donors/investors/supporters, knowing how to keep financial accounting records, make reports to investors/supporters and return their capital investment as quickly as possible, then create a long-term profit to sustain a business and keep investors content?
Mastering all these challenges to a business while keeping integrity and a heart for God, His Word, for people and ministry is a progressive development with many errors and a few successes. This is the world I lived in for 30 years in Colombia, Argentina and Paraguay, and it is not a lot different in other countries in other hemispheres, I have found.
Each of these critical skills and knowledge bases are difficult to put into any 45-hour class schedule. The mentoring opportunity to help coach each student individually in the area of their burden and interest is going to be a unique and exciting foundation for their future ministries.
I’m developing some projects that will answer some of the issues brought up in this summary. I’d like to offer training for anyone interested in publishing, online course development in inexpensive or free environments, invite BAM missionaries who have handled the above issues to spend a few evenings with our interested students, teach Quickbooks, master Chronological Bible Storying by practicing it outside of class, and to create alternative church-based training programs that can be adapted to multiple cultures/languages.
Today’s missionary requires a vast set of skills and experience that in other generations were unknown, ignored or not required. These are not impossible to learn, but mentoring in these areas is the key to global success in the 21st century.