In this article, Allen McClymont conveys the continuing need for theological educators in East Asia and challenges mission organizations to recruit people who can join this ministry and to identify gifted people who are already on the field who can be further developed toward this end.
Allen and his wife Litsa have been members of OMF since 2003. They are currently two of OMF’s Area Representatives in London and the Southeast of England. Between 2004 and 2012, Allen was a lecturer at Seminary Theoloji Malaysia in Malaysia where he taught New Testament, Theology, and Greek. In 2021, he successfully completed his doctoral research on the remarkable growth of Christianity in West Malaysia after the Second World War, which he will happily talk to you about for hours if you let him.
Mobilising Workers to Advance Discipleship in East and Southeast Asia
Mission Round Table Vol. 17 No. 2 (May-Dec 2022): 32-34
To download a PDF of this edition, visit this post on Mission Round Table 17:2.
In September, I had the privilege of attending the Theological Educator’s Consultation that is the focus of this issue of Mission Round Table. As an Area Representative, I was interested in understanding better who OMF should be mobilising to meet the needs for discipleship in the countries where we serve. While the consultation covered a wide range of issues, I will focus on the third of the five questions discussed in the consultation:
What are the five most important things that foreigners can do to help theological education in your country? What type of ministries can they best do and what level should they work at? What kind of person is needed to do it? How can they be best prepared for this?’
Our focus will be on the future and look at the “what,” “where,” and “who” OMF International should focus on when mobilising people to serve in the area of discipleship and theological education.
The focus of the consultation was on the need to “make disciples” among the people groups in East and Southeast Asia. This included both non-formal discipleship training and formally accredited education of the academy.
Participants included representatives from both groups. Those focused on non-formal training included the Increase Association (https://www.increaseassociation.org), an organisation that is focused on multi-lingual, church-based TEE training. Its vision is to see churches equipped to disciple and empower church members for mission, ministry, and leadership. Non-formal training was also represented by the Langham Partnership (https://uk.langham.org), which seeks to improve the quality of preaching and other aspects of ministry in churches. OMF already has several members linked with this organisation. Mobilising workers requires that we find people who will support and encourage the training of church members to be disciples of Jesus Christ in their local context.
While the focus of some of attendees was on non-formal training, the majority of those who came focused on the formal training of pastors and other full-time workers. This includes teaching the core subjects that make up a formal degree as well as practical subjects, including global mission, which are usually taught as electives. OMF is often seen as a source of teachers for elective subjects because of its experience in church planting across the region. For these subjects, practical experience is valued above theological qualifications. OMF is also a source of teachers for core subjects in the curriculum. For these subjects, a higher level of theological qualification is required and candidates with advanced degrees are needed.
The consultation recognised the need for OMF to provide suitably qualified workers across the curriculum, and not just in missiological subjects. It particularly valued the way OMF can provide special skills and an “outsiders’ perspective.” The key caveat raised by the consultation was the need for these teachers to have the right attitude as Christian servants. The need is for people who will come to work alongside Asian colleagues rather than come as experts to show how teaching “should be done.”
The consultation also recognised that OMF has at times been criticised for leaving institutions and churches “to fend for themselves” before they were ready. Transition is always difficult and is an important factor for OMF fields and leadership to consider as a church or institution develops local leaders. Good communication is essential to avoid misunderstandings and maintain relationships.
Where: East and Southeast Asia
One of the joys of attending the consultation was the opportunity to meet with guests and OMF members from a range of peoples, nations, and languages (Revelation 7:9). They represented the wonderful diversity that exists among the people groups that OMF serves. The consultation also highlighted the challenge of working with churches in different countries among different people groups at different stages of their development.
When considering where OMF could send people to work in formal theological education, the type of worker needed will vary depending on the stage of development a church is at. At one end of the scale are countries like Malaysia and Singapore where the need for workers has diminished. Locally trained leaders are available, and, except in very specific circumstances, visas can be difficult to obtain. At the other end of the scale are countries where formal theological education is in its infancy. In these countries, there is a need for lecturers who are fluent in the local language and gifted in teaching.
The situation in Asia is fluid and changes quickly but this table aims to reflect the situation at the time of the consultation for the countries of East and Southeast Asia represented.
The table highlights that the greatest need is for members who can lecture in the local language, have a good understanding of the culture, and are good teachers. While it is possible to recruit people with the necessary qualifications from sending countries outside Asia, it may be better to look at people who already serve in OMF and people sent from or trained in East and Southeast Asian countries.
Who: Qualities and q ualifications n eeded
In my role as an Area Representative, we often ask field directors what kind of members they would like to receive. Inevitably, they ask for qualities related to character rather than skills. To last in cross-cultural mission requires perseverance, adaptability, and love for the people you are partnering with. To teach in theological education, however, there is also the need for a particular level of qualifications. While this is an oversimplification and there are many exceptions, to teach elective subjects and in the local language at a diploma or BTh level, a minimum master’s qualification is needed. To teach core subjects or in English at the master’s level or above, there is an increasing need for qualifications at a doctoral level. The challenge is not just to find an academic, but one that wants to see the churches in Asia equipped with leaders who are well trained and are able as disciples of Jesus Christ to disciple others.
While the assumption is that the source of these people will be “ready-made” individuals who have achieved the required level of qualifications and are seeking to work cross culturally, the consultation highlighted the need for OMF to intentionally look for members from within the mission who might consider taking up this form of ministry. The best people to meet this need are those who have worked in the country and have experienced and understand the culture.
Has the time come when OMF should encourage enquirers who are interested in making disciples in Asia to prepare themselves by completing their theological education in English in Singapore, Malaysia, or the Philippines, or in Chinese in Taiwan? Any practical problems that may arise for someone wanting to obtain a visa to study in Asia would be repaid significantly as he or she is able to prepare for service with OMF in Asia itself.
An area where OMF could also consider allocating resources is to work even more closely with organisations that are not part of formal theological education. OMF already has a good relationship with Langham, but this and other opportunities could be looked at to enhance the reach of programmes in countries where OMF has a presence.
In conclusion, in answer to the “what” question, the consultation highlighted the need to focus more broadly on discipleship and not only on formal theological education. The answer to the “where” question was “it depends.” As always, OMF should be led by the field and its relationship with the church, to partner in a way that is appropriate to the stage of development the church is at. And in answer to the “who” question, there was a recognition that OMF sending countries should mobilise people to join the mission to work in theological education and OMF fields should identify workers already on the field who may be able to take up more significant roles in theological education, whether in formal or non-formal settings.
As OMF’s role in countries develops from evangelism and church planting to discipleship and partnering in the healthy growth of the church, we need to become more intentional in identifying and training suitable members from within the field to work with those involved in discipleship training for church members and in formal training institutes for pastors and full-time workers. At the same time, sending countries need to be looking to recruit Bible college and seminary-trained workers with a heart for working with the church in East and Southeast Asia to develop and train members and leaders so that local churches can grow spiritually and numerically.
 For an example of how this can work, see David Chang’s article in this issue.