Joel Arnold, Missionary in the Philippines
This concludes our series on "Ask a Missionary." Joel Arnold from the Philippines answers four questions with engaging answers. I hope you find it helpful. If you have more questions that haven't been answered, send them our way!
1. Do you recommend seminary for missionaries?
Absolutely. To make the point I'll highlight two wrong ideas.
First is the notion that advanced education isn't really necessary for pastors or people going into ministry. The ministry is really about heart for people and yearning to reach the lost, isn't it? And after all, there are people who had passionate evangelistic zeal, only to have that cool during their years of education. Plenty of pastors have been effective without graduate education.
The best response here is to recognize that our expectations are rather different for any other kind of "professionals." I don't accept heart or zeal as a substitute for training with my doctor, dentist or airline pilot. I want training—solid, core knowledge. We ought to expect the same thing from people who will deal with people's souls. This is no casual work; it requires much more than casual training.
But a related notion is that missionaries are the people who didn't make it as pastors. They lack the social skills, training or leadership to do ministry here, so we'll send them abroad where the expectations are lower.
I, of course, find this notion completely odious. It's a massive slight on Christian brothers and the needs of lost people abroad—shouldn't we send our best quality of ministers to reach them? But it also ignores a basic reality of cross-cultural ministry. Transcending culture with the Gospel is one of the most challenging types of ministry. How do you confront fallen thinking in a Buddhist, pluralist, secularist or Islamic culture? How do you solve the deep ethical and social conundrums faced by new believers in these contexts, possibly setting precedents for future generations of believers? These are hard questions and they demand our caution.
For these reasons I would strongly urge every missionary candidate to attend seminary. You need the basics of exegesis, systematic theology, practical theology and life shaping that every seminarian seeks. But I would also urge missionaries to seek cross-cultural training. A three-month intensive program should be the minimum. Ideally, it would be excellent to take a one-year Master of Arts type of program.
2. If YOU could ask another missionary a question, what would YOU ask them?
With so many opportunities and open doors for critical ministries, how do I make strategic decisions on what to do? How do I balance my limited time and protecting my family with the reality that there is so much to do?
3. How are you or your team using your unique gifts to reach people with the Gospel and disciple them?
The Lord gave me the privilege of doing advanced seminary training and has given me a love for teaching. Now I minister in a Bible college with three other men that hold doctorate degrees in Bible. We train about ninety students a semester for the ministry and hold regular block classes for pastors across the Philippines.
How does this fulfill a unique need? The last century of American evangelicalism brought an amazing multiplication of educational and training riches. We have far more books than we can read, multiple excellent commentaries on every book of the Bible, endless free online courses and resources, and men with earned PhDs that hardly use them. In short, we have a surplus.
When you leave the US, particularly for the majority (developing) world, everything changes. Exchange surplus for famine. In place of the casualness that comes from having more than we can possibly use, you find a deep hunger for truth. People are ready and willing to make great personal sacrifices in order to learn, then immediate apply these lessons in their ministries. I view my role as transferring a small part of the surplus to places where it will be deeply valued.
Believers in North America should hardly accept defeat. But missiologists are nearly univocal in affirming that the growth of the church is coming from the Global South—the majority and developing world, particularly in Africa and South East Asia. These men and women can teach us many lessons about sacrifice, diligence, and ministry that is genuinely driven by a passion for truth. But if there's something we can help them with, it's solid grounding in exegesis and theology. Our generation has a unique opportunity to contribute to a great work of God that is dawning in our day.
4. If you were to meet a young person who said they wanted to be a missionary, what advice would you give them?
Learn to be flexible. I wouldn't say lower your expectations in life, but I would say learn to broaden them. Eliminate things that you feel like you "have to have" and learn to enjoy lots of ways to live. Take a trip to the developing world and learn to accept people as they are, finding real joy in the differences and learning from them. Read and get training in cross-cultural interaction.
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.