Why do our missionaries support postgraduate students?
Posted on: 12th February 2018
Why do we support missionaries teaching at a postgraduate level of academia? Isn’t it enough to teach simple Bible subjects at local church level? CMS missionary Nathan Lovell, serving with Diane in South Africa, answers these questions in relation to his ministry teaching the Old Testament at a Bible college.
I teach at George Whitefield College (GWC) in Cape Town, South Africa. One of the most exciting things that has happened for us recently is that we have been accredited to offer a masters degree, both by research and by coursework. I love being an academic and I love the kind of work that comes along with teaching postgraduate students. But I’m also a missionary and I have a heart for the gospel. And so it raises an issue. Should we, as CMS and as missionaries, really invest in postgraduate studies and research, or would we be better off focusing on giving people a working knowledge of the Bible? Should we rather focus on grassroots theological education?
Well, let me say, I’m a huge believer in grassroots training, just as I’m a huge believer in theological education at every level. But when it comes to the question of postgraduate education and research, there is a strong case to be made that it really is important and that it’s something we should get involved with as missionaries.
You often hear the adage that Christianity in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep, and in my experience that’s true, to a large extent. By some counts there are approximately 350 million people who call themselves Christians in Africa and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the majority of them don’t really know very much about what that means. That’s fairly common knowledge. But have you ever wondered how we might address that problem?
How do you provide trained pastors for 350 million African Christians? The answer is that we can’t. That number is too big. There are too many people, too many churches, too many languages and too many countries. In fact, there’s no amount of missionary activity—teaching the Bible, pastoring churches, training pastors even—that is ever going to address this wider situation. Those are all good things. As missionaries we want to be doing them.
But the answer, if there is one, is going to have to come from Africa itself. The truth is that the African Church will grow in depth as the body of Christ there builds itself up in love. It’s going to happen slowly, as Africans build the infrastructure that supports theological leadership all over the continent. Africans need to plant Bible colleges and develop curriculums for African students. Africans need to grow and nurture their own mature church leadership. Africans need to write textbooks for Africans. It’s not good that for most of the books in the Bible, there are no commentaries written by anyone from Africa! (How good do you think your preacher’s sermons would be if the only commentaries he had access to were written on another continent?)
So, Africans need to resource the flourishing Church with material written by African pastors and scholars for African Christians. And all of this kind of activity requires strong theological education. This is the exact reason why GWC got involved with postgraduate training. And even in the short time we’ve been doing that, the results have been amazing. GWC alumni have gone on to lecture in over twenty different colleges across the continent, three of which were planted by our graduates.
Now imagine what God might do if each of those colleges starts producing graduates who do the same thing! Pretty soon there would be 400. And then 1000.
GWC’s vision is that Africa be filled with preachers and teachers who deeply love the Lord Jesus and who have a profound understanding of Scripture. CMS’s vision is a world that knows Jesus. It seems to me that those two things go hand in hand.
The truth is that getting involved in postgraduate education as a missionary is a great way of coming alongside God’s people and training them to equip others. So please do pray for GWC’s graduates, who are charged with the enormously daunting task of equipping the 350 million or so African saints for the work of ministry in Africa.
The financial giving generously provided by CMS supporters enables our fellowship to send missionaries to teach in Bible colleges around the world. Through their work, we hope to see local believers equipped to grow their churches and people by contributing to theological leadership and thought at both academic and grassroots levels. Can you commit to supporting missionaries like Nathan & Diane Lovell at GWC as they support African theological students?