Do aspiring missionaries need to go to seminary? Should they spend years in a classroom while unreached people around the world lack access to the gospel? As a seminary student, these questions come to mind when I’m preparing for a Greek exam or reading homilies from the church fathers. Do I really need to spend three years in a classroom while churches in many parts of the world are struggling? Shouldn’t there be a quicker way for us to reach the nations more effectively?
The World Needs Mature and Wise Missionaries
Those who desire to serve overseas should consider how to prepare well for the missionary task. Mature missionaries are members of local churches, regularly help people follow Jesus, possess godly character, respond humbly to conflict, and know their Bible well.
The best candidates to serve as missionaries are those who would be the best candidates to serve the church as deacons, elders, or staff members.
The best candidates to serve as missionaries are those who would be the best candidates to serve the church as deacons, elders, or staff members. Churches should be careful not to lower the qualifications for those who want to serve overseas. Missionary candidates should look much like deacons and elders in 1 Timothy 3. Many of them should aspire to serve as elders in a local church (1 Timothy 3:1). They should all be above reproach, faithful to their spouses, be sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, and many of them should be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2).
In other words, churches should send those who are qualified to serve as elders or deacons, and their families, to go to the nations. Missionaries should be people that aren’t quick to give up. This is why we should send those who have already proven themselves to be faithful leaders in the church.
Elders possess the responsibility to protect the church from false doctrine and proclaim biblical truth. Therefore, missionaries need to spend some time preparing theologically for the missionary task. Whether or not they serve as elders in a local church, they have a responsibility to serve the church that they join in their receiving country.
Seminary Isn’t the Only Place for Theological Education
Aspiring missionaries need to know their Bible well because they will be teaching biblical truth in places and to people who have no knowledge of the Bible. Missionaries will need to be able to address misunderstandings about what the Bible says and what the gospel proclaims. Eventually, as they establish a local church or join with an existing church, they will be responsible for protecting new believers and their church from theological error.
Missionaries should be people that aren’t quick to give up.
While seminary can be a helpful way to study the Scriptures deeply, it’s not the only place theological education should take place. If you haven’t been to seminary, you are not disqualified to serve as a missionary. Of course, we should carefully consider how we can prepare ourselves for service in God’s church, but this doesn’t always mean going to seminary.
Theological education should begin in the local church for every Christian. As a child, I grew up under the faithful leadership of a church that taught me theology from a young age. Through the expositional preaching, classes, songs, and bible studies, I’ve benefited greatly from local churches which have played a vital role in preparing my heart and mind for future theological studies (Ephesians 4:11–13).
Before going overseas to a missionary training program, you should pursue some theological training. At the Radical Training Center, all students are expected to complete four prerequisite courses before entering the program: Hermeneutics, Old Testament Survey, New Testament Survey, and Christian Theology. These courses provide students a framework for understanding the Bible and explaining it to others.
If you’re considering going overseas, ask your pastor if you could take some classes on Christian theology and biblical interpretation and meet up with an elder to help you process and apply what you’re learning. If you’re in an area where there is a local seminary, consider taking a class in person. If you’re not near a trusted seminary or taking a class in person isn’t feasible, take one online or ask your church to offer an equivalent.
During the Radical Training Center, each student will take classes on God’s Mission in the Bible, Jesus’ Mission in the Gospels, The Apostles’ Mission in Acts and the Epistles, Cross-Cultural Church Planting, Culture and Language Acquisition, Culture and Mission, and Business in Mission. These classes supplement the theological education aspiring missionaries received previously, plus they give a good foundation for vital skills and knowledge missionaries will need while serving overseas.
As you seek wisdom and training to grow in knowledge and maturity, rely on God to equip and sustain you to accomplish his work. James 1:5 tells us that if you ask for wisdom, God will grant it to you. When you feel like you are lacking in what you need to know, turn to God.