Academy and Agency Partnerships for Intercultural Ministry Training
Mark Naylor (D.Th.) earned the Master of Divinity from Northwest in 2002. He is married to Karen and they have one daughter, two sons, and six grandchildren. They live in Victoria and are grateful to live close enough to the six young ones to invest in their lives.
In the early 1980’s Karen and I explored the possibility of becoming missionaries with the director of Fellowship International, Paul Kerr. He advised me to get an M.Div. through Northwest before submitting our application. This was sound advice, but today mission agencies are no longer depending on the seminary. Instead, they are providing their own “in house” training for intercultural ministry. A number of important and helpful initiatives have been developed by these agencies focusing on practical issues like language and culture adaptation, team building, and interpersonal relationships. What has been lost are the biblical and academic disciplines that ground workers in God’s word and prepare them theologically to engage the narratives of different cultures in order to appropriately communicate the gospel.
Do we have to choose between the practical training of the agencies and academic grounding? What if the better way is to recognize that a true partnership between agency and academy is not only necessary, but feasible? The mentored competency- and context- based Intercultural Ministry Master of Arts in Biblical Leadership (IM-MABL) from Northwest Baptist Seminary is one such innovation that merges theological and academic rigor with practical application. Using Northwest’s platform, mission agencies are able to mentor their personnel towards practical intercultural outcomes that incorporate the academic depth and rigor of an accredited degree.
The IM-MABL has been developed over eight years with Fellowship International candidates and mentors and now is open to mission agencies who want their personnel to develop disciple-making competencies that result in effective intercultural ministry. Together with Ken Jolley and Andrés Rincón, I wrote a research paper, published in NIMER, called “Competency Based Theological Education for Intercultural Contexts: A Cooperative Model Between Academy, Assembly, and Agency” which describes the benefits and impact of this program.
The road to the IM-MABL involved full cooperation between academy and agency. Fellowship International leadership developed a chart of competencies that describes the “ideal” missionary – competent in head (vision and knowledge), heart (character and commitment), and hands (skills and methodology) – who can be sent anywhere and would know what to do in order to make disciples who make disciples. No matter what ministry a person is engaged in, Fellowship International considers the Great Commandment (Mt 28:19-20) to be the primary mandate for all believers and so made this the core competency in the program. Competencies are grouped into 12 “outcomes” through which the student develops or demonstrates their abilities. Students are expected to complete four outcomes each year in a manner fully integrated with their intercultural ministry involvement. A key skill is for the student to work according to a “ministry cycle” through which they develop the discipline of pulling back from ministry in order to engage in social evaluation, theological reflection, and planning before reinserting themselves back into the ministry context.
Partnership between agency and academy is especially evident in the dependence on dedicated mentors. The academic mentor represents the academy and, along with the agency mentor, ensures that the competencies demonstrated by the student accord with the requirements of both academy and agency. The ministry mentor oversees the student to ensure that the competencies are clearly evident within the ministry of the student. As noted in the research paper cited above, “A mentoring team is one of the best things about the program. Personal character growth has occurred, beyond just education. The student is observed from different perspectives, ensuring a more holistic development.”
The future of intercultural ministry training is in the collaboration between agency and academy. Holistic training requires significant investment by both, but the fruit is evident from the development of competencies and confidence through the mentoring process; an investment that will have ongoing impact.