The Church Missionary Society (CMS) vision is for A World that Knows Jesus, and a sound understanding of God’s word is at the heart of this. From the time people start to consider missionary service with CMS to the time they finally complete their time on location, theological education plays an important role in equipping, sustaining, and growing them. We are very aware that theological education shapes people and shapes their work and ministry.
Theological education and new applicants
Serving long-term in mission requires in-depth training, with Bible-based theological education, followed by specialised mission preparation. The CMS Inquirers Guide lists the prerequisites for those contemplating missionary service. Regarding theological education, it states:
“…We are looking for people who, as well as being professionally trained, have completed a minimum of at least one-year full-time study (or equivalent) at an approved Bible college. If you want to be involved in fulltime ministry in a church or in student ministry, you will need at least a degree in theology. If you want to work in theological education, you will need a theological qualification one step higher than the level at which you will be teaching.”
However, theological education for CMS missionaries is not about ticking a box, nor is it just about preparation. The tools that it provides are invaluable. We want our missionaries to be continually growing and using what they have learned, irrespective of their situation. We want all missionaries to be able to think and reflect theologically.
Theological Education and self-care
Before leaving for location, each CMS missionary is expected to complete a pastoral care plan outlining steps they will take to care for themselves physically, spiritually and emotionally. Many will be in situations where they will not be spiritually fed in the same way they are accustomed to in their usual Australian church and Bible study group. In completing this plan, missionaries are asked to think about helpful patterns of reflecting, growing, and learning. They are also asked to consider both professional and personal development, and the sorts of inputs needed to effectively grow as a Christian and as a missionary with CMS.
Most people find that the theological study they have completed enriches personal Bible study and enables them to access great resources. To be sustained spiritually, when living in a situation where there is little available in the way of teaching and Christian fellowship, is essential in longevity as a missionary.
Theological education and equipping for ministry
The model of using theological education and training to pass on to others is described in Paul’s letters to Timothy, and echoed around the world by our CMS missionaries through MOCLAM courses throughout Latin America and Spain, student ministry throughout the world, and teaching in established Bible Colleges and Universities. People who have been taught well, who have skills in reading and understanding the Bible, and who reflect this in their own godly behaviour, are those who are equipped to train and disciple others.
My husband Malcolm and I spent six years as CMS missionaries in Zaire (now DR Congo) with, what was then, the minimum requirement of theological education. Malcolm expected to be using his professional skills as an Optometrist and I expected to be supervising my three children’s correspondence school lessons. Things changed! We found ourselves involved in youth work and evangelism, running youth camps, providing training for clergy, training leaders for children’s holiday programmes attended by 600 children, and teaching Theological Education by Extension (TEE) to a group of literate women in our church. We were very stretched in every way, and clearly saw that further theological education would open doors to many new opportunities to train and equip church leaders.
When we returned to DR Congo after a break of ten years, we appreciated the additional theological education we had both undertaken and experienced the difference it made to be better equipped. We were immediately involved in the task of establishing a new Bible School to train the Diocesan clergy, and were thankful for the great theological education we had received from Moore College, that enabled us to pass this on to others.
Theological education and today’s challenges
CMS works in a myriad of cultures, and workers are faced with both old and new challenges as they teach and train. Theological education equips people to trust the Bible for themselves, to look to it for answers, and to use it in formal and informal settings. Sound Biblical understanding enables people to engage with confidence in discussion about the issues raised in their context.
In some countries that are considered “Christianised”, the church is under threat as people are now confronted by secularism as a real alternative. Increasing education among young people in developing countries leads to questioning of their parents’ beliefs. The internet also opens endless sources of Biblical teaching and interpretation, much of it confusing. How does someone separate what is helpful from what is unhelpful? Further, trauma continues to impact people around the world and raises questions of God’s sovereignty and purpose. Theological education is incredibly important in being able to combat these, and many other challenges that arise, providing theologically rich answers. The people being trained today will be shaping the church of tomorrow.
Ongoing Theological Education
As a missionary’s life and work circumstances change and new issues arise, it is important for them to continue growing and to keep both spiritually and theologically sharp. Ongoing theological education is an important tool for developing skills in ministry and provides an opportunity for reflection and fresh approaches. In some situations, higher qualifications have opened doors to visas that would not have otherwise been possible.
CMS places a high value on theological education for our missionaries and for our partners in the gospel. Not only do we look for opportunities to engage in providing formal theological education, but we encourage all our missionaries, in whatever capacity they are working, to find opportunities to proclaim the gospel. Through having gospel centred conversations and discipling believers, our missionaries envision Christians around the world being trained and in turn passing on their learning to others.