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Renewing the Missionary Calling - Johannes Aagaard

- The Double Apostolate (Part 2)

By Johannes Aagaard


Many Christians today are of the opinion that missionaries are out-dated. They say that what we need are inter-church workers whom we can send out to assist churches in an act of solidarity. But this is all wrong. Today more than ever we need distinct and dedicated missionaries. who are willing to invest their whole lives to be Christian pioneers outside the frontiers of the churches wherever in the world it may be.

Missionaries are a special category of co-workers in the Church. They explore new religions, and social and cultural contacts. Nobody becomes a missionary just by going to a distant country. A missionary is a person who has decided to use his or her life to translate the Gospel and the Christian faith in new ways. Missionaries are frontiersmen who live outside the framework of the churches. Consequently there is a big difference between pastors and missionaries. Both hold important offices; and often a good missionary is not a good pastor. and vice versa. Therefore missionaries must be trained and educated differently. although the basic theological training program may be the same.

Missionaries must be trained to go out of the camp and cross frontiers. They therefore have to become inventive, and exploratory, and have their pioneer mentality aroused. They must have a solid knowledge of languages and some idea of how to pick up foreign languages. They must have a good grasp of subjects related to the studies of "foreign religions" i.e. knowledge of other religions combined with an analytic and critical attitude. Not only are theoretical studies relevant, but also field work which may be learned through excursions to other cultures.

The objection is often raised that nationals are best qualified for local mission. Why not leave the task of mission to the Ethiopians, the Indians, the Danes, the Japanese - because they know their own cultures from within? But in fact this is not the case. Nationals often lack such vital knowledge. As we all know, living in Denmark does not automatically imply that a Dane is well-informed about the religion and culture of this country!. The same is true of inhabitants of other nations. Furthermore, most Christians in the Third World have been recruited from the fringes of society. from groups outside the main religious systems. They have never had the opportunity to study these religions, and in many cases even have a deep-rooted fear of doing so. Expatriates often have far better opportunities than nationals. This is, of course, a rule to which there are exceptions; but it is generally true. It is a well-known fact that international mission teams often are more able to communicate with adherents of local religious systems than national churches are.

We must emphasize that the term missionary is not confined to Western missionaries. We no longer maintain the old distinction between Home Mission and Foreign Mission. Mission is fundamentally world mission, and is relevant wherever people live without real contact with the Church or the Gospel. Such mission should always be international. It should not be a kind of Western commando raid into a territory, leaving "dead and wounded" to the care of the local churches. In all efforts there should be a strong national element, trained in their way as missionaries and in fruitful co-operation with expatriate missionaries. The terms "mission" and "missionary" must be liberated from Western connotations. If this does not happen, everything will be in vain. All mission teams should be composed of members from several countries. and should demonstrate real team-work.

An important missionary approach is to visit religious leaders and to establish continuous dialogue with them. Missionary travels should be given a top priority. Paul did not have a patent on travelling. Important parts of mission history relate to travelling missionaries from Ansgar to Livingstone. They could be important today too. Travelling missionaries could perhaps relieve the mission societies of their constant problem of obtaining visas for their staff members. It is possible to open many dialogues on a tourist visa. Travelling missionaries would not spend their time keeping the bungalow in order, or on administrative business. They have all the time at their disposal, and if they are a team the combined efforts can be very effective. Not all evangelists who work in mobile mission, of course, need to be travelling missionaries; but such missionaries do belong in the picture. There will, however, also be work of a more stationary kind, with long term activities. Here the United Mission in Nepal may serve as a model. The experiences which have been gained here may help to work out guidelines for missionary efforts in other parts of the world.
The Missionary calling

A missionary is a person who takes care of specific services in the Church. Missionaries work for the translation of the Gospel and the Christian faith into entirely new milieus, cultures and religious contexts. The missionary calling should be for life, and the training programs should be of a specific nature. Today. however. the instruction and training of missionaries is often non-existent or very insufficient. Today the missionary societies make the mistake of turning out standardised candidates, thinking that it doesn't make much difference whether one is a pastor, teacher, or nurse in Denmark, in Tanzania, Ethiopia, or India. If mission were nothing but inter-church assistance and mutual help between churches, this might be true. But mission is more than that.

The low priority of missionary training programs is partly related to the idea of short-term missionaries. People go out as missionaries for a limited period of time, and therefore (it is maintained) not too much money should be spent on their training. In fact it ought to be the opposite, for short-term service is only successful if there has been good preparation.

We must conclude that being A missionary is a life-long job, irrespective of the locality in which one serves as a missionary. A missionary should be employed by a missionary society, receive a special training, may occasionally be on leave, but is attached to the society in a life-long capacity.
The Missionary Community

It is important to understand that missionary societies need to be changed into missionary communities that can offer co-workers a life-long employment in togetherness and fellowship. A life-long employment in the service of a missionary society makes it possible for co-workers to identify fully with their work. It is also important to understand that missionaries should be "recycled." It is unwise to qualify people for a few years service - to teach them Japanese or Danish for instance - and then call them back again after only a few years. How could they continue to make a sensible use of their qualifications? What about the money invested in their training? When a society profits from a candidate's willingness to enter into a life-long service, is it not fair that the future prospects of the candidate are taken into consideration in a reasonable and responsible way?

When we give priority to missionary activities, we must consider whether similar activities are found in the home country. We must give priority to activities for which we can train people at home, and to which they can come back after their mission. In this way, real expertise is accumulated and the best use is made of our means.

It also implies that we need not ask our sister churches for permission to help them in their missionary work. We can offer them qualified and experienced assistance and co-operation in the common work of mission. and stimulate mission locally, by locating mission communities in their midst. This procedure will create equality between them and us.
Training for Mission

Missionaries must be given special training in the form of a life-long education in the service of the society. Co-workers should be regarded as one extended family. Considering the financial resources at our disposal, we could. by a simple reallocation of our means, improve the quality of our training programs and make them much more efficient.

We must concentrate first on improving the training of missionaries. We need missionaries with a specific spirituality and discipline, and they must be the best educated within their field. How can this be done?


1. First, the training must be regarded as a life-long process divided into different phases. Missionaries may be on leave from service for a period of time, but only in order to qualify themselves for further service. Even retired persons remain as co-workers. The missionary Society as a whole is a family to which co-workers belong. A society cannot survive with less commitment.

Missionary societies, on the other hand, must respond by doing all they can to equip staff members with everything needed for doing a good job; and to support the missionaries with a radical loyalty. The whole life of the society must be dictated by a family-feeling expressive of mutual education. where everybody helps one another to do his or her best


2. When people contact the society it is important that there is a regular procedure for them to follow afterwards. They are "novices," who want to be admitted to a missionary society as co-workers. They must be thoroughly tested. Leaders should spend time with candidates on special courses of at least one week duration. before a final employment is granted. Candidates should be asked to present some theses in writing as well as orally. Those leaders who admit candidates to the staff should continue to have a personal relationship with the candidates.

Every missionary society ought to have an adviser who is in charge of the preparation of the courses, who is responsible for the planing of the different training programs, and who can also act as a spiritual adviser. This post cannot be held by a person who is on the board of the missionary society, because the personal assistance which the adviser should be able to offer is incompatible with having any kind of administrative influence or power over the person whom he or she is supposed to assist. The relation between the two parties must be one of freedom and independence. The adviser must present the various study-projects and training programs to the board and act as spokesperson for the missionaries, seeing to it that they are trained in the best possible way.


3. The first phase of training will be from the time candidates are admitted. until they are sent out. We will take for granted that all candidates have an elementary knowledge of Christianity. A supplementary theological training, however, must be given continuously in which individual needs are taken into considera­tion. Sometimes it will no doubt be wise to send the candidate to the actual area of work to acquire some basic understanding of the problems which are sure to crop up, so that a goal-oriented training program can be arranged.

For many missionaries. linguistic training will be at first a question of learning the language which is used as a tool for further linguistic studies, e.g. English or French. It is of course unwise to ignore the importance of having a good command of the "tool-language" before arriving at the actual field of mission. A common mistake is to let missionaries learn a foreign language by means of a foreign language which they do not know very well. It is a sure way to deprive missionaries of their zest and self-confidence.


4. During the first period of active field work a relevant training program must be prepared for the first period at home, so that missionaries have the opportunity to improve their qualifications further when they come home on leave. The student adviser must be in constant contact with the new missionaries, and be active in finding or preparing the best training programs at home or elsewhere. It would probably be ad­visable to let student advisers from different societies assist each other.

Besides this, missionaries can find good support from the Department for Mission Theology in many modern universities. It is possible to draw on the fund of insight, knowledge and experience of faculty members in general, when training programs must be worked out and study guidance must be offered to missionaries. It is important, however, for the mission board to keep a tight rein on the policy of the training program, and to remain in control of the long-term development. A university as such does not represent any specific kind of spirituality or esprit de corps - and nor should it - but it does have relevant resources. We may make use of these to an extent that far exceeds ordinary imagination.


5. Missionaries can, individually or as groups, make use of such resources when they face difficulties that require special assistance. Faculty members often take a vivid interest in the insight and special knowledge of the missionaries, and are ready to co-operate wherever it is possible. In addition the rules concerning the acquisition of a Ph.D. open up opportunities for further studies. To some missionaries a Ph.D. would be helpful in their work and could serve as an additional impetus to a thorough and systematic investigation into their field of activity. The departments are available with support for candidates, who want to pursue studies.

Today very few missionaries are engaged in studies of non-Christian religions, in spite of the fact that they often work in a cultural and religious context which makes such studies highly relevant. This malpractice could easily be corrected through a constructive co-operation between university departments and the missionaries. Advice on relevant field studies could be given and missionaries could be brought into contact with specialists. If advisers were appointed by missionary societies. they could act as counsellors for the department and vice versa.


Next: Evangelism and the Church at Home

In 1956-98 Dr. Aagaard was Professor of Mission Theology and Ecumenical Theology at the University of Aarhus. He is a member of the Danish Missionary Council, the Danish Ecumenical Council and the Danish Inter-church Council. He is also on the Board for the Nordic Institute for Missionary and Ecumenical Research and is chairman of the Dialogue Center and of the Dialogue Center-International in Aarhus. Currently he is Chairman of the Christian Mission to Buddhists. Editor of MISSION (the Nordic Mission Periodical, Responsible Editor. DEN NYE DIALOG and OSTEN OG VI, and a Responsible Editor of AREOPAGUS. He has published a number of books and papers - among others his doctor's thesis "Mission, Konfession, Kirche" I-II. 1967 - and a large number of articles in magazines, papers and periodicals in Denmark and abroad.