Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Pre-field Training Page 1 of 3

online training skills
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Online training: sharpening your skills

Online education and training have been around for a long time. But over this past year, many of us have had the opportunity and necessity to experience online training like never before. This is also true for the training of missionaries getting ready to head to the field. Facilitating an online training session is inherently different from facilitating a training module face-to-face. Since online instruction is likely here to stay, those of us involved in training missionaries should continue to sharpen our skills for facilitating online. Here are some things we have learned in the past year that help promote an effective online learning environment.

Use a variety of methods

A good principle of education is to use a variety of different teaching methods. Doing so connects with the various learning styles of your learners. This principle also holds true online. Asynchronous courses with forum discussions have existed in online learning for over 10 years. Some learners will thrive in this kind of setting, particularly if they like to carefully think through their answers before responding. In an asynchronous environment, they can read books, blog posts, and watch videos, reflect on them, and then respond when they are ready in writing through forum posts.

More recently, video conference platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Teams have become popular ways to facilitate. In this setting, other types of learners will thrive. They have a set time to connect and a more immediate response in the discussion.

So, when you design an online curriculum, seek to cater to as many personalities and learning styles as possible. Maybe your training course can include both asynchronous forum discussions and some live video conference sessions as well.

Break the ice

It may feel natural to introduce yourself to a fellow learner or a facilitator in a physical classroom setting when you first walk into the room or during a class break. But this can feel much more awkward in a virtual setting when you enter a virtual “room” that is already “full” of people, and no one is in closer physical proximity to you than anyone else.

Book Review: Relational Missionary Training

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).
missions in midst of crisis
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Book Review: Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises

Every year the Evangelical Missiological Society publishes a monograph containing papers from the previous year’s annual meeting. This year’s title is Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises, edited by Jerry Ireland and Michelle Raven. Yet before we assume the book is talking about COVID-19, we need to remember that when these papers were presented, no one knew a pandemic was coming. Jerry Ireland notes:

Practicing Hope

In September 2019 almost 300 missionaries, missiologists, sociologists, theologians, anthropologists, and students gathered near Dallas for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society. The theme was “Missions Amid Global Crises.” I do not think that any of us would have dreamed that eight months later the world would be engulfed in a global pandemic because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).1Jerry Ireland and Michelle Raven, eds. Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises. Evangelical Missiological Society, 2020, xiii.

Overview of book

Though none of the twelve chapters address the current pandemic crisis, these papers give us much to learn and apply. The chapter titles are:

follow-up and reinforcement of training

I don’t really know if the training went well

How can we know if it is effective?

I have spent the last 10 years of my life in training missionaries. Training events have taken me to more than a dozen countries. Through online courses, workers from at least twice that number have participated in training that I have led. Furthermore, I head up our organization’s training department and so have the privilege of leading a great team of trainers and facilitators. But despite my experience and travels, the question does not go away. How can we know if our training is effective?

Recently I saw that the parable of the sower sheds some light on this question.

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. – Matthew 13:20–21

Biblical understanding

Jesus’s explanation of the seed falling on the stony ground shows us that a joyful response to the hearing of truth is no indication that people have understood the Word. As is clear from Matt. 13:15, a biblical sense of understanding is to understand with the heart, resulting in a change of behavior. We can only say that there is true understanding when the person repents and turns from their previous behavior to adopt new behaviors or habits.

Book Review: Well Sent

51xanlIajuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_I have frequently been asked about resources for local church missions programs. In 2015, Steve Beirn, Global Ministries Pastor at Calvary Church in Lancaster, PA, published Well Sent: Reimaging the Church’s Missionary-Sending Process. Steve served at our sending church in Holland, Michigan before going to Calvary so I know him well. He writes with passion and experience. In the introduction he writes:

This book seeks to elevate the role of the local church in the sending effort. The trend in missions today is to place the individual at the center of the sending process. Sometimes the agency is placed at the center. This book places the local church at the center of the sending process. – Well Sent, p. 17.

The Vine Project: A review

Jesus told us to go and disciple all nations. That means that those of us who have been called and sent are to be disciplemakers who equip others to be disciplemakers as well. The question that I have been asking myself recently is, “Are the sending and training structures that we have established to help get people to the nations effective in equipping them to be disciplemakers?”  We train people to raise their support, learn and adjust to a new culture, learn to speak a new language, prepare for various security risks, educate their children, and get along with their teammates – but are they learning to become disciplemakers?

I read The Trellis and the Vine a number of years ago. This short book differentiated between the work of actually discipling people from the work of creating and maintaining the structures and programs that support this disciplemaking.  The former was called “vine work” and the latter “trellis work”.  The authors, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, made the sobering and accurate observation that often trellis work has taken over most of the church’s time and energy, so that very little actual disciplemaking is happening. The book called for a radical mindshift that would prioritize disciplemaking over programs and building organizations.

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