Back To the Missionary Future

Equipper to Missionaries to America Dr. Todd Jones

Todd Jones has a doctorate and works in the trenches. He eschews the ivory tower to walk with missionaries on the grass roots of mission. We forget that for hundreds of years there were no formal, concrete seminaries preparing Christian pastors or missionaries. Jone’s work is a return to an older way of preparing missionaries: bringing the seminary to where the mission is. Like Jesus, and St. Paul and the earliest church.

St. Paul moved from city to city, identifying local leaders. He began their preparation for mission work, then moved on. He used the distance education strategy of visits by mature Christians and epistles to continue their formation. 

Dr. Jones is developing a first step online course to prepare missionaries in Michigan for a second step, a distance education program to certify immigrant missionaries as public ministers of the gospel.

The missionaries are new to America but seasoned in their Christian faith. They were torn out of their homelands to be thrust into a strange culture. Being the leader of a Christian community in America is alien to their first ecclesiastic formation.  The Holy Spirit still impels them to preach the gospel and there are many in America who want and need to hear the message of salvation through faith in Jesus alone. Like the Swahili speaking  immigrants from the Congo. Now in Michigan, they graduated from seminary in Africa and need certification for public ministry in the United States.

As immigrants they do not have the resources of time and money to leave their families, their jobs, their states to be educated in a brick and mortar seminary. More important, if they left Michigan then  the missions they now serve would have great difficulty.  Besides, a distance education program in some ways is better than the traditional route.

When candidates are removed from their communities and brought to a central seminary their formation tends to me monolithic. I saw this when I was a seminary student: the few African American students in my seminary class were formed in the same way as the White students – to be pastors of White suburban congregations. Many of those who ended up serving rural or urban churches or ethnicities other than White had to relearn what it meant to be a minister.  Others simply put in their time and left the congregation or left the ministry. 

Adult learning is “action-reflection,” and asynchronous – available when the student can devote their time and energy.  According to Dr. Jones, those already in ministry learn better when they suddenly realize they are faced with a need to know the ancient learnings about the Trinity, or end of life issues, or Biblical views of Christian marriage and family.   

Tools used for many years in overseas ministries are more and more being imported for new church development in America. For instance, Dr. Paul Bruns, when he was a missionary in Africa developed a tool for equipping new leaders on a mission field. The Mission Bible Commentary was developed for new leaders who spoke English as a second language. The Commentary focuses the reader on the mission emphases in Scripture, and provides commentary to explain those emphases. The Commentary is now being used on mission fields in America, and not only by immigrant mission leaders. 

The Center for US Missions at Concordia, Irvine, Ca. is an organization that prepares clergy and lay candidates to be missionaries. Using on the job training and coaches, candidates learn the difference between being pastors and missionaries.  It also has strategies to prepare congregations to be bases for new mission starts. You can find out more at

There will be more and more integration of on site and distance education. I can see the day when many former seminary campuses are sold and new seminaries built with state of the art distance learning centers, as well as a few  on site classrooms and dormitories. We are at the beginning of the transition now – it may seem strange, or even awful, to some – and we need courageous, intelligent, faithful leaders to show the way. Leaders like Todd Jones. 

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