Leadership improvement. It’s one of the driving forces in the hearts and strategic goals of pastors, missionaries and world leaders. Improvements of aspiring to being a great missionary, teaching and influencing the brethren of his country, usually include aspirations to widen the breadth of academic training. This article will look at the creative and innovative ways our missionaries within the Assemblies of God have been designing their education in recent years. What is going on in ministerial formation concerning foreign missionaries serving in Latin America?
Batterson (2017, p.14) reflects that being a “disciple” has its foundational root in the Greek word mathétés, which defined, means “the mental effort needed to think something through.” The idea is that if we, as missionaries, are disciples of Christ, then as disciples we are people who continually think things through. Learning is something that may modify across decades, be influenced by areas of ministry, or change as avenues of new opportunities open up to us. In a recent presentation, former Secretary of the Assemblies of God Dr. James Bradford, pointed out that those in fulltime ministry should love learning; they should reflect on whether they are “coasting intellectually” or are applying themselves to the disciplines of personal study and reflection (Personal communication, November 10, 2018). Loving learning should be integral to the formation of all Christians, but in particular to those serving as pastors and in fulltime ministry capacities. Missionaries are represented in this group.
Presently, missionaries are able to achieve degrees by various pathways. There are programs designed to overcome the distance hurdle, the jam-packed missionary schedule on the field, the demands of furlough, and genuine financial challenges one faces on the field. Many missionaries opt for a hybrid program with some face-to-face classes, while other courses are completed independently on a virtual classroom site. There are options to go to the States for summer programs, for week-long residencies, then return to the country of their Calling to hammer out the coursework and papers. Most Assembly of God institutions allow missionaries to come to summer sessions to complete some on-site hours, and then complete papers and readings to finish on the field (Dr. Joseph Castleberry, Personal communication, November 11, 2018).
A missionary in Uruguay, Rev. Dr. Michael Mills, completed his D. Min with Asbury Seminary in a hybrid program. Dr. Mills explains the special privilege he had studying with Asbury:
“I applied to the Beeson program at Asbury Seminary, a Methodist seminary. I told them I was a Pentecostal international missionary leader. They only accept fifteen students in their cohorts per year. I did not even have the MDiv. Which they require. Before working in Uruguay, I served in Ecuador, doing my Master’s degree, including some Theology courses. Asbury added up my total courses studied and my missionary work and accepted me. I had to move my family to Kentucky to study for one intense year. Then, I researched and wrote my dissertation on my own time. The Beeson scholarship I received paid for the $60,000 costs, all books, a laptop computer, a monthly stipend, and a three-room apartment. Only seven of us fifteen students finished their dissertation. The night before graduation, they honor one dissertation as the best one and share it. There were 75 graduates for this particular graduating class. They said, “This year two dissertations rose to the top with NO differences in the points.” One of those was mine! We also had to defend our dissertations in front of four other doctors of Philosophy from Asbury. I am currently writing a book to be published on Pentecostal Discipleship which stems from my DMin. dissertation I wrote years ago at Asbury (Personal communication, November 11, 2018).
This author completed a doctorate in Advanced K-12 Teaching with Capella University some 12 years ago. At the time, the requirement was three week-long Residency programs which were held across the States in various hotels. The comprehensive exam was done by conference call as was the dissertation defense. The entire doctorate of philosophy coursework was done virtually. No on-campus requirement was expected as the school itself is virtual. (www.capella.edu)
Ecuadorian missionary Dr. Ron Marcotte,holds both a BA in Chemistry and an MA from the University of Maine at Orono. He also has an OD (Doctor of Optometry) from the New England College of Optometry in Boston. Marcottedecided to pursue a masters in Intercultural Ministry Education with Bethany Global University once he was appointed as an Assemblies of God missionary with his wife, Esther. He explained his program with Bethany Global University as follows:
“I’m doing a Masters in Intercultural Ministry Education graduating this December from Bethany Global University. It is one hundred percent online. There are 3 Masters Programs offering specialized areas of study (Intercultural Ministry Education, Intercultural Ministry Studies, and Intercultural Ministry Leadership). Each Master’s program has the option of a thesis track (7 courses and 5 thesis courses) or purely courses (12 courses). Each course is a 3-credit course and lasts 8 weeks. There are 5 terms within a calendar year. If one course is taken per term, one can complete the program in about 2 1/2 years. There is both a Bachelor’s degree program (onsite, not online) as well as the Master’s program. In the Master’s program I have fellow students from all over the world: the Philippines, Turkey, Kenya, China, etc. It is a great mix of students and worldviews (non-Western). This university is located in Bloomington, MN and is designed for the preparation of future and current missionaries” (Personal Communication, Nov. 11, 2018).
The furtherance of a missionary’s education broadens both the scope of knowledge as well as the capacity of his understanding for self-awareness, discipleship, and mentoring. Batterson (2017) states this concerning personal growth:
“I often tell fellow pastors, “Don’t focus on church growth; focus on personal growth.” If you grow yourself, everyone around you will grow because of it. And that goes for any occupation or any situation. Grow yourself and you’ll grow your platform, grow your network” (p. 125).
If the end goal of missionaries worldwide is to save, disciple, and inspire spiritual growth with the brethren they minister alongside, it would appear beneficial that the mentee-missionary would model and exemplify a life aspiring to learning and modeling solid personal areas of growth. Learning can be done in a plethora of ways that are available to missionaries who desire to take courses or finish a degree plan. Many programs involve collaborative learning cohorts.
Cohorts are usually designed for distance coursework. Collaborative learning allows for students to engage in accountable talk and argumentation (Fisher & Frey, 2014). Some of the indicators of accountable talk within the collaborative learning environment are to: press for clarification and explanation, require justification of proposals and challenges, and recognize and challenge misconceptions (Fisher & Frey). The idea is that, even though we are physically distant from our colleagues, we come together and dialogue, challenge, and work together within a virtual learning classroom internationally.
Jan Smith, veteran missionary serving in Ecuador, decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Global Leadership (MAGL) from Fuller. Her program was designed for international learners. She described her cohort experience like this: “The program took me five years to complete due to interruptions of itineration and ministry. I was 59 when I started. I think I did nine 4-credit classes together in the cohort and nine classes that I was able to choose from. I was one of only five or six women in our cohort of 28-30. I loved it!” (Personal communication, November 12, 2018). Many graduate programs involving Distance Learning will implement cohorts to complete studies, projects, and topics for online or face-to-face presentations.
Innovation and diversity in being lifelong (missionary) learners has been embraced by most institutions during the twenty-first century. Leading and managing differentiation in learning appears to be the successful market in Academia presently. This article highlighted two females and two males who serve in South America. This is only a small sampling of ways that a missionary may pursue degrees from the field. Tomlinson & Imbeau (2010) state that incorporating contemporary knowledge of how people learn in today’s classroom means that the old images of effective classrooms are anachronistic in terms of today’s students and their needs. It is the writer’s hope that this article has provided a sampling of the varied options and opportunities for all missionaries to continue to embrace lifelong learning as they serve and model Jesus to the saved as well as the lost.
Batterson, M. (2017). Play the man: Becoming the man god created you to be.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2014). Better learning through structured teaching.(2nded.)
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Tomlinson, C. & Imbeau, M. (2010). Leading and managing a differentiated classroom.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.