Teachers Need an Update on Church Missions
Seminary and Bible college teachers need updated curriculum to inspire participation in global missions today.

Global church missions has changed significantly over the last 20 years, yet seminary and Bible college teachers are still passing on information that is no longer practically relevant for today’s students. This article proposes a curriculum to update teachers so they can bridge their students’ knowledge gap and inspire participation in today’s new global mission in the most relevant way. 

Why This Course?

Christian school (university, Bible college, seminary) curriculum typically covers traditional areas of Christian ministry that may not help students understand the current dynamics of globalized mission and their potential role in that mission.

A look at top Christian educational institution curriculum reveals courses on missions in the 21st century do not generally exist. Courses on missions during any period focus on church history. One university offers a study of the book of Acts from a missiological perspective. However, it is not necessarily designed as a course for understanding and participating in foreign missions today. Another school with a long legacy in world missions offers a short-term missions trip during Spring break, mostly to provide a service to their hosts. Would their master’s in ministry leadership, which focuses on things such as strategy, conflict resolution, and ethics prepare a student for global mission service? 

One school offered a three-day mission conference update to learn what God is doing around the world. Several schools provide annual one-week mission conferences for students. Are the invited mission agency presenters recruiting for the past or influencing for the future? These one-off conferences and annual events aren’t enough to change a generation’s understanding of mission in deeper ways.

A recent Barna survey of pastors and churchgoers on missions indicated that a twentieth century understanding of world missions still prevails, if there is any understanding at all. Respondent’s understanding of missions was connected more to legacy practices and denominational values.

However, apparently those values are no longer cherished by churchgoing millennials. A slight majority indicated they were more likely to support an animal related cause than missions. Indeed, the survey indicated that fewer practicing Christians, especially millennials, were familiar with the concept of the Great Commission. For those who did understand the concept, it was an image of traveling to a foreign country to preach the gospel. This represents more of a 19th century view.

The survey indicated that many believe missions has not changed much, and therein lies the problem. What respondents understood about missions is indeed quite antiquated; some even thought it had something to do with the colonial period. Several negative views of missions were expressed as well. This is what college students understand today. Missions hasn’t changed and what they think it still represents is not the least bit attractive.

Global Missions Awareness for Teachers

This concept paper does not argue for a student curriculum on 21st mission. Rather, it recommends a professional development course for university, Bible school and seminary instructors on 21st century mission. If instructors are not aware of the new dynamics in mission these days, how can they influence tomorrow’s mission workers? Or will they continue to guide them based on an outdated understanding, which could set up students for disappointment and failure. 

Moreover, past mission methods are not particularly attractive to todays’ students anyway.  As the Barna research revealed, their view of missions shows that evangelical schools, seminaries and churches have not provided a compelling reason to become involved in global missions. That would require pastors, instructors and mentors to help the young generation see their proper and satisfying role in mission today, but teachers can’t do that if their own understanding of mission is out of date. 

Having a good understanding of three key areas (listed below) produces school instructors who are well-informed about missions today. This knowledge provides them with the ability to significantly influence the next generation of mission workers. It is a resource for planning more relevant and useful mission week programs for students.

Today’s Mission Leaders

The most important thing teachers and students need to understand about today’s mission is that it is now largely led by nationals serving in their own countries. This is the result of over two hundred years of Western mission sending. Christianity is now a global religion, so mission accomplished. The West does not have to send people to lead mission efforts in other countries anymore. The local people are highly capable of finishing the missions task in their own countries. 

How The West Can Serve the Rest

At the 1910 Edinburgh missions conference, the ‘West to the Rest’ was a rallying call to spread the Gospel to all nations. As noted, that goal has been accomplished. Does that mean Western mission is no longer relevant? The answer is yes if they keep thinking they need to be in charge. The answer is also no, if Western missions shifts its role to that of supporting the work of nationals as they expand and complete missions in their own countries. That simple statement may be enough for regular people to make a mental shift on today’s mission, but as academics, seminary and Bible college teaches need a deeper understanding of the current state of missions. 

Three Things Teachers Need to Understand Well

1. Geographical Shifts

  • Christianity as a World Religion: The “field” has become the leader
  • Where the Least Reached People Live
  • Western mission funding: where it currently is, where it needs to shift
  • Growth in Global South church planting agencies 

2. Global Mission Strategies 

  • How nationals are carrying out the work in their own countries
  • Church-planting strategies
  • Discipleship training strategies
  • The most overserved and underserved regions

3. Practical Application

  • Theological shift to local practical theology
  • Media and technology’s role in mission
  • Orality, film, audio and print in missions
  • Media content development and distribution 
  • Holistic mission

Reading List

On Global Christianity. Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel beyond the West. Lamin Sanneh. 2003. 

Where is the mission field today? From World Christian Database. 2008, GordonConwell.edu. 

Ministry profiles from six continents. In Evangelicals Around the World. A Global Handbook for the 21st Century. 2015. Stiller, Johnson and Hutchinson. 

On national leadership. In African Christian Leadership. Realties, Opportunities and Impact. 2017. Priest and Barine (eds.).

On Discipleship Training. T4T: Discipleship Re-Revolution. Steve Smith. 2011. 

On Church Planting. Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication. Craig Ott. 2011.

Major Religions. A Wind in the House Islam. David Garrison. 2014. 

On Globalized Missions. The New Global Mission. Samuel Escobar, 2003


About the Author

Gilles Gravelle, PhD., is the Executive Director of Moving Missions.

© Moving Missions 2023