For the past several years the LAC leadership team has felt the need to improve the missionary formation for new workers approved to serve in the region. There was concern over the experience and education that the new workers possessed before their approval and the impact this would have on their long-term service with AGWM and the national church. The African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child is also applicable to missionary formation. It takes the participation of many to help a new missionary find their place not only in the country of their calling, but also with the missionary fellowships, the national church and AGWM.
Our previous role as directors of CINCEL and current role as Area Directors opened the door for us to be involved in the formation of new missionaries. In the past several years, this role has expanded as we were asked to serve as team leaders for LAC’s missionary formation team.
The task of mentoring and training new workers can be a daunting one and depends greatly on implementing the most effective training program possible, finding the best resources available, and applying them to the missionary formation process. Studies show that those missionaries who possess cross-cultural preparation have less attrition and feel a greater sense of accomplishment than those who have not received such training (Hay 2007, 973 and Dipple 1997, 217).
In recent years, all regions of AGWM began the process of reevaluating its missionary training program in order to find the best practices for missionary training. Concern grew that new workers entered the field without sufficient cross-cultural and theological preparation.
Today people do not come ready to serve in cross-cultural mission with similar backgrounds of preparation and training. Some come with formal theological and missiological training from Bible schools and seminaries. Others have little more than their Sunday school knowledge to guide them. So the pool of missionary candidates from which a mission sending organization draws is very diverse and uneven, with huge disparities in the breadth and depth of experience and training that people bring to their mission preparation. Three weeks of training and orientation by a mission sending organization cannot make up for major deficiencies. Mission organizations can, however, take training more seriously. They could raise the bar higher for potential missionary candidates’ pre-field training, develop stronger programs of orientation training, and recommend and/or provide avenues for further training before and after missionaries are sent to their places of service. (Whiteman 2008, 8-9)
In response to the concern, the Missiology Committee of AGWM designed a master training rubric that serves as a guideline for curriculum development and coordinates the work of the training for new missionaries desiring to serve with this agency as well as the continued education for veteran missionaries. All AGWM regions approved these practices, which have been distilled into six competencies.
The competencies represent the common values of AGWM as an organization with a purpose to embed them in its new members. They are:
1) The Biblical Narrative: to provide knowledge and skills in biblical interpretation to allow the missionary to have the necessary theological base from which to contextualize evangelism and ministry in a foreign context.
2) Theology of Missions: to comprehend that a theology of mission is derived from understanding the overarching purposes in scripture and the church’s participation in that cause. Scripture provides, therefore, the primary motivation for mission, and also serves as a rubric to guide, shape, question, and evaluate the missionary team’s endeavors.
3) Understanding Culture: to cultivate the skills into missionaries’ lives, enabling them to exegete and understand the worldview and culture of the people to whom they are sent; to strive to incarnate the Gospel in ways that would be culturally appropriate and meaningful.
4) Spiritual Formation: to promote vibrant spiritual formation in the life and ministry of the missionary and the missionary team.
5) Contextualization: to integrate Biblically accurate context sensitive approaches to ministry across all the various ministry expressions in which the missionary finds himself or herself.
6) Missionary Life and Work: to live a grace-filled cross-cultural life and become proficient and fluent in daily activities and routines that the missionary can model what new life in Christ looks like in the realities of everyday life.
These six competencies serve as a guide for renewing missionary training at all levels. The envisioned missionary training program is not a “one-size-fits-all” initiative. Rather, it includes certain global aspects that all regions will incorporate, recognizing and adapting to the needs specific to each region. Thus, each region will exercise the freedom to design a unique regional formation program.
The LAC team worked through the training initiative and determined that dividing the training agenda into four phases would serve our purposes best. These four phases include:
- Pre-approval: This phase begins when potential candidates submit an application for approval with AGWM to become a missionary.
- Pre-field: This phase of the training initiative begins at candidate orientation when applicants are approved for service with AGWM; it lasts until they complete their studies at CINCEL. The training includes candidate orientation, an assigned learning cohort with other itinerating colleagues, Missionary Training and Missionary Renewal, and concludes in San Jose, Costa Rica.
- Life in the First Term: This phase begins when the missionary completes his or her studies at CINCEL and arrives on their field of service and continues through their first term. An important part of this phase is the mentoring that occurs from a team led by Don Cartledge. Its purpose is to provide help for new missionaries in finding their place in their new field of service. O.A.R.S. is the acrostic for the plan – Onboarding, Adjusting, Resourcing, and Sustainability.
- Continued Professional Development:This ongoing phase begins when the missionary completes their first term and is invited to return as a general appointed missionary. The training focuses on developing a culture of lifelong learning by all missionaries in our region.
For the past several years I have focused on the pre-field phase, which includes all itinerating appointed missionaries, and missionary associates. They become a learning cohort – reading together, posting their comments and responses in the Facebook Community and participating in a monthly zoom meeting.
One of these early cohorts agreed to be a part of my study as I completed the doctoral program at AGTS. Along with a demographic study on the new workers who have joined LAC in the past ten years the study also included a pre and post assessment in the area of cross-cultural preparation. The hope was to gain empirical evidence that our training initiative makes a difference in the new workers’ preparation. Fortunately, the research shows that our training does accomplish that, and encourages us to continue in the development of a strong missionary formation program. While it remains a work in progress, the goal of preparing missionaries to serve long term and have greater impact is a process that includes each of us. It takes a village of people committed to the task of forming new missionaries who can participate, effectively and long-term, in the building of His Kingdom.
Hay, Rob, Valerie Lim, Detlof Bocher, Jaap Ketelaaf, and Sarah Hay. 2007. Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practices in Missionary Retention. William Carey Library. Pasadena: CA.