Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Church Based Missionary Training: Make A Plan

Stanley Davies writes, “The fundamental meaning of effectiveness is the achievement of planned results.” So, the question is, what’s the plan for Church Based Missions (CBM) and Church Based Missionary Training (CBMT)?

In this discussion series we acknowledge that the trend of missions in the U.S. today are local churches depending less on denominational and para-church mission organizations in sending missionaries and instead sending their own. Whether the mission project is a ten-day excursion or sending out career missionaries from their own congregation, CBM continues to grow in popularity. It’s estimated that between 2 and 4 million American’s go on mission trips each year. It’s important that there be a plan for CBM, but setting that issue aside, today’s topic is developing a plan for CBMT. Though not exhaustive, the graphic above is a starting point in addressing what should be taught through Church Based Missionary Training.

Short-Term Missionary Training - Even if a person is going to a field for a week or a month, there are certain things everyone should be aware of before landing in a foreign country. First, a crash course in cross-cultural communication is imperative. Issues of male and female interaction, touching, tone of speech and even eye contact has cultural implications. Second, understanding how other people see their world is vital. Though on this planet of over 6 billion, we humans share common experiences, not everyone sees the world as we do in the West. How do others see their world and what difference does it make? Third, the problem of cultural bias is an important issue to address before going to another country. Ethnocentrism is a subtle attitude of superiority/inferiority. It’s a problem with career missionaries and therefore important to talk about if one is only going to visit a country for two weeks. Fourth, the issue of money is always a concern, especially if the short-term project is in a developing country. Should American’s be open handed in giving clothes, food and/or money to a national church? Can generosity be a bad thing?

Good training goes beyond a study of behavior. It’s not what people do in other countries that’s important, but why they do it. Good CBMT for short-term groups should be at least a 20 hour classroom intensive, spanning at least a month, with reading and research requirements. For the best CBMT find a trainer who has lived through the experience of field missions and not just a short-term expert.

The longer the period of time on the field, the more training should be required. We will look at the second level of training next time. In the meantime, I invite readers to weigh in on this topic. What training do you think is important for short-term missions? What model have you seen that works?


Big Al said...

We have been on 2 international short term mission trips and several in the states. Our international experiences were led by a family who previously had served in the area we traveled to.

The leaders spent several hours in small group meetings exposing us to the cultural differences, critical "do's "and "dont's", religious and historical background, the most effective way to deal with possible objections to Biblical faith, and they encouraged us to learn a few key phrases in the language of that country.

We were to be an extension and servants of a local body of believers, not the ones expected to direct or lead the local group of believers.

We were encouraged to bring some items specified by the leaders, however, those were distributed by the nationals. We were instructed to never give items to the nationals and any requests for help were always directed to the local body of believers.

I believe the experience was an encouragement to the local believers and several nationals began a new relationship with Christ. We and many others on the team were enlightened about the challenges missionaries face on the field.

The "training" was critical and I feel we could have done more damage than help w/o it. The thought comes to mind...could the pressure to complete a certain number of trips each year at an organization and assigning training/leading responsibilities to "experienced" short term mission leaders impact the effectiveness of the trips?

Continued training after the initial time specific to the destination seems to be missing in most organizations I have observed. The suggestion by the graph in Dr. Lewis' blog may mean a longer investment in training, but the long term benefits could easily outweigh the initial time and effort. I suppose we will only really know when we reach heaven.

The in-state trips could have had similar training as we traveled into a much different culture from ours in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Richard! I completely agree with the four areas you have sighted and would suggest a 4th - how to serve the missionary. Too often short term is bout OUR AGENDA and not the MISSIONARY'S AGENDA (sometimes they don't have one - which means choosing your missionary partners wisely.

Short-term missions is increasingly getting a bad rap, when it really should be short-term training and the lack thereof that should be getting the bad rap.

Even a well-trained, well-read laymen or pastor can do this kind of training and see the difference it makes.

It is all about a heart to serve the missionary and another culture, rather than be served. When that is the heart, hen the training becomes essential for effectiveness - realizing the planned goals.

Good stuff!