December 5, 2023

In 2006 Enoch Wan introduced his paradigm of “Relational Realism” in an article in the Occasional Bulletin of the Evangelical Missiological Society. This paradigm sees reality as defined by the vertical relationship with the Triune God and the horizontal relationships between created beings. In 2017, together with Mark Hedinger, he published the book, Relational Missionary Training: Theology, Theory, and Practice. Essentially, the book applies the relational realism model to the task of training missionaries.

The book aims to provide a foundation for this paradigm. Therefore, the authors look at theological, educational and practical aspects of the model. Their purpose is to describe the paradigm and show how a training program could be developed along these lines.

Relational Missionary Training

The authors also note that the book is written with missionary trainers in mind.1p.15 So, that makes me part of the target audience.

The book contains four parts:

  1. Theology (Chapters 1-3)
  2. Theory (Chapters 4-5)
  3. Practice (Chapters 6-8)
  4. Summary and Conclusions (Chapters 9-10).

Part One: Theology supporting Relational Missionary Training

After a short introductory chapter, Wan and Hedinger explain the Trinitarian and relational realism paradigm in Chapter 2. First, the authors review the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then, they argue that reality is fundamentally relational. Reality is based on the vertical relationship between this Triune God and created beings/creation. Additionally, reality includes the horizontal relationships between created beings/creation.

Also in Chapter 2, the authors introduce seven relationship pairs as key categories for sending and preparing missionaries. These seven relationships form the guiding tool for analyzing ministry training throughout the rest of the book. Chapter 3 provides biblical illustrations for these relationships. The seven missionary relationships are: 1) relationships within the Trinity, 2) between the Triune God and the messenger, 3) between the Triune God and the audience, 4) between the messenger and the audience, 5) between the messenger and his/her culture, 6) between the audience and his/her culture and 7) between demons/Satan and the messenger and audience.

Part Two: The Theory behind the Model

This section talks about educational theory and specialized educational forms. Hence, these chapters are the most technical parts of the book. Both chapters include multiple charts, some of which could use more explanation.

Wan and Hedinger emphasize the importance of applying adult educational principles to missionary training. Also, central to the educational process is relationship as the following quote illustrates:

The work of mission is relational in every sense: a relational God seeking the love and trust of his creation. Missionaries who know God seek to make Him known to others. The relational nature of mission work calls us to minister in relational ways, and that calls us to train in relational ways. The overview of educational approaches has demonstrated some forms of education that are highly relational, and other forms that are not at all relational. As one considers the relational realism paradigm, the preference is to choose teaching and learning approaches that are relationally strong.

Wan & Hedinger, p. 213.

Part Three: Practical Application of the Model

In this section of the book, the authors want to “spark thought and discussion.”2p.221. So, the authors give us some possible ways of thinking to keep training focused on the key relationships. Firstly, Chapter 6 walks the reader through an analysis of the seven missionary relationship pairs introduced in Chapter 2. Subsequently, in Chapter 7, the authors suggest training methods that fit the relational paradigm. Then, in Chapter 8, they look at training content, following the model of how Paul taught Timothy.

Part Four: Summary and Conclusions

The book ends with two short chapters that review and draw some conclusions. In summary, the authors ask a question to highlight their conclusions: What does it mean to train missionaries from a paradigm of relational realism?

Their answer comes in six summary sentences. Wan and Hedinger say that training missionaries from this paradigm means:

  • the organizing principle for training is relational.
  • mission skills, attitudes, knowledge are designed for and are evaluated on the basis of relational outcomes.
  • desired training outcomes are relational.
  • training is dependent on more than one person/Person to be effective.
  • we assume relationships to be dynamic, not static.
  • training will not be seen as the mechanical following of a prepared curriculum, but as the flexible interaction of content, training methods, and training relationships within a flexible philosophy of education.
  • Lastly, the trainee is prepared to be transformed even as he/she takes a message of Gospel transformation to the unreached. 3Wan & Hedinger, p. 247-251

We close with a final observation: it means that we are equipping a generation of leaders from Jesus’s church who have developed relational skills and insights in vertical and horizonal directions, both within and across cultures.

Wan & Hedinger, p. 251.

Enoch Wan and Mark Hedinger have provided us with a thoughtful guide for missionary training. Without a doubt, it is not a cookbook. Rather, it gives us helpful suggestions for analyzing missionary ministry and training. The authors are planning a sequel of case studies of training that follows this model.4p. 294. Although the book focuses on training mission workers, many of the principles also apply to training leaders in church planting settings.

Relational rather than Incarnational

In addition, I have one more observation. In this blog, my colleague and I have discussed the shortcomings of the commonly-used word “incarnational” to describe cross-cultural ministry. For example, see my blog post, “Sent Like Jesus” and my colleague’s more recent post, “Are missionaries called to be incarnational?” I believe the relational missionary paradigm serves as a more comprehensive model for describing the work of cross-cultural missionaries than does “incarnational.”

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