Reflections on Theological Education in International Mission
Today’s post on Theological Education somes to us from a guest contributor, Dr. Timothy Quill.
Reflections on Theological Education in International Mission
By Dr. Timothy C. J. Quill, Director of Theological Education, LCMS Office of International Mission and Dean of International Studies, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne
Since being appointed as Director of Theological Education for the LCMS Office of International Mission in July, my new responsibilities have taken me to Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Hong Kong, China Mainland, Taiwan, Lithuania, Latvia and Kyrgyzstan. On these trips I met with partner church seminary faculties, bishops, presidents and LCMS missionaries who are involved in theological education. Although I have been traveling extensively throughout the world for the past fifteen years as Dean of International Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, the last six months has been cause for renewed reflection on the shape of theological education around the world.
First of all the visits have given me a deepened appreciation for the missionaries who at great personal sacrifice have gone before us. They endured extreme hardship with faith and courage in order to bring the light of Christ into some of the world’s most remote regions and to cultures alien to our own—and they planted Lutheran Churches. They had to learn a new language so they could preach Christ and the Gospel into the ears of the people. Next they translated the Small Catechism and the Bible. And they translated the Liturgy and hymnody so they could “sing the Gospel into the ears,” as Bishop Obare has so eloquently phrased it in the Preface to the new Swahili Hymnbook of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya.
As Director of Theological Education, my attention has been focused on Lutheran seminaries, however, I was repeatedly struck by the way in which the first missionaries also built hospitals and Christian schools alongside churches and seminaries. It was a comprehensive mission strategy in which witness, mercy and life together were integrated in a very natural and effective way. LCMS missionaries first set foot in Papua New Guinea in the 1949. They trekked on foot from the coast into the rugged mountains of the untamed Enga province of the central highlands. All earthly possession had to be carried by the missionaries and their porters.
The missionaries build churches and a seminary to prepare pastors. They also build Lutheran schools, hospitals and medical clinics. Today the majority of the leadership of the government of the Enga Province, including the Governor himself, are Lutherans who were educated in Lutheran schools. When I departed PNG from the international airport in Port Moresby, I inadvertently met the PNG ambassador to the United States. When he heard that I was a Lutheran, he admitted that he was a Seventh Day Adventist, but he proudly added, “I was educated in your Lutheran schools in the Enga Province.”
Today Bishop Nicodemus and the leaders of the Guitnius Lutheran Church have asked the LCMS to send professors to help restore their Seminary and pre-seminary Bible Schools which have fallen in to disrepair. They want their pastors to be as well educated as possible to meet the many challenges facing the church today. At the same time the Lutheran clergy have joined forces with Lutheran in government position to appeal to the LCMS to once again sent Lutheran teachers to their schools. For a mission church to grow into a strong, self-sustaining church it requires well trained pastors and theologians as well as educated laity who can support the church financially. The approach to mission undertaken by the first trailblazing missionaries that combined church, seminary, schools and medicine demonstrated great wisdom.
The same picture emerged on my trip to Nigeria for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria on September 10, 2011. In 1928 Jonathon Ekong came to the United States to obtain a theological education and to search for a church that was willing to send missionaries to the Ibesikpo people—“A Church Body that would teach the Word of God in its purity and also help in establishing good schools for them.” The Lord led Jonathan Ekong to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and to the Lutheran Churches of the Synodical Conference.
 A Short History of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (Obot Idim, P.A. Uyo: The Lutheran Press, 1986), 8.
On April 24, 1939 Dr. Henry Nau came to Ibesikpo as the first resident Lutheran missionary. In early 1937 he was joined by Vernon Koeper, Pastor William H. Schweppe, Miss Helen Kluck, R.N. Then over the course of the next seventy-five years scores of dedicated missionaries served alongside the faithful pastors, teachers and laypeople of the Lutheran Church in Nigeria to build congregations, schools, seminary and medical clinics. In his memoirs, the founder of the LCN, the sainted Rev. Dr. Jonathan Udo Ekong (1881-1982) wrote some very kind words about the Lutheran missionaries who came to Nigeria from America. He called on Nigerians to thank God “for the men and women who came out to our land to bring us the knowledge of God’s saving Word.”
Those people passed through rough and difficult paths—many of them lost their lives—in order to bring this message of salvation to our country. They did not come to grab wealth for themselves; they did not come to trade in slaves, as did the Portuguese. But they came out to our land with hearts filled with love and compassion, and their only desire was to proclaim to us the love of Jesus Christ, which sent Him to the cross to die for sinners.
In his Key Note address which was read to approximately 3000 people who gathered to celebrate the anniversary in Obot Idim, President Harrision said:
It is my fervent prayer that the people of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria and the LCMS continue to embody this love for Jesus Christ and to have hearts filled with love and compassion for the lost. I know that this is true among many of the pastors and laity in the LCMS and from what I’ve heard, it is descriptive of our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Nigeria.
 Udo Etuk, Jonathan Udo Ekong The Log-Bell Ringer: Memoirs of a Patriarch (The Lutheran Church of Nigeria, 1997), 134.
Nigeria holds a special place in my heart. I lived there during my high schools years. Part of my time was spent on the Jonathon Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary campus where my father taught. In meetings with Archbishop Ekong and the faculty I heard the plea yet again to help the LCN strengthen their clergy through strengthening theological education. So we are planning a week long faculty continuing education retreat, making plans to send visiting professors, sending Prof. Robert Roethemeyer (Director of Library Services at CTS) to visit the library and develop a plan for the renovation of the facilities, expansion of it library holdings, and raising funds for faculty development. It is vital to provide scholarships enabling young Nigerians—the next generation of theologians and church leaders—to do graduate work at our seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis.
The training of pastors is an intense, costly, time-consuming enterprise. There are no short cuts. Whenever short cuts are taken, it is more costly to the church in the end. Some Protestant denominations and mission organizations have adopted mission models or strategies built on training leaders with minimal theological education. December 7-11, I attended a meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan with Dr. Al Collver and Rev. Daniel Johnson to discuss the future of theological education in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The participants consisted of seminary rectors (presidents), church bishops, faculty and clergy. One morning at breakfast, Rev. Alexander Fisunov (Kazakhstan) who is involved in planting four house churches asked to speak to us about pastoral education. He began by saying, “One well trained soldier is worth a lot more than ten untrained soldiers.”
The words written in 590 AD by St. Gregory the Great in his book Regula Pastoralis (Pastoral Care) offer timely advice for those around the world who are involved in theological education today.
“No one ventures to teach any art unless he learned it after deep thought. With rashness, then, would the pastoral office be undertaken by the unfit, seeing that the government [care] of souls is the art of arts! For who does not realize that the wounds of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body? Yet, although those who have no knowledge of the powers of drugs shrink from giving themselves out as physicians of the flesh, people who are utterly ignorant of spiritual precepts are often not afraid of professing themselves to be physicians of the heart.”
Gregory also admonishes men who are unfit to preach yet who are impelled by impatience and hastiness to the office. “They should not presume to preach before they [are] competent to do so.” They are like “young birds who attempt to fly upward before their wings are fully developed; they fall down from where they tried to soar.” They are like a new building in which the frame has not been sufficiently strengthened and heavy timbers are placed on it, the result is not a dwelling but a ruin. They are like a woman who gives birth to offspring not fully developed; they are filling not a home but a sepulcher.
There are still some areas remaining in the world in which missionaries are involved in planting a church where none exists. In most areas, however, indigenous churches have been established and national pastors and evangelists are preaching the Gospel, catechizing, baptizing and leading the divine services. So is there still a need for western missionaries in the 21st century, and if so, what is the nature of their task? The answer is quite simple—they will teach theology. Everywhere I travel bishops, seminary presidents, faculty and pastors are pleading with the LCMS to 1) send qualified professors to teach at their seminaries and 2) make it possible for the brightest and best (the next generation of teachers and church leaders) to study at our two seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis.
Whenever I speak with American seminarians who are interested in overseas mission work, I encourage them to consider doing graduate work following the M.Div. Lutheran seminaries around the world will need missionaries with STM and PhDs for many years to come. Lutheran seminaries the world over (e.g. Kenya, South Africa, India, Latvia, Hong Kong, Japan, Brazil to name but a few) have matured to the point where they offer accredited degree which require professors with advanced degrees along with proper campus facilities with well stocked libraries.
The plea for help in building high quality seminaries is, however, not limited to academic excellence. The purpose of a seminary is to produce pastors and missionaries for the church. This requires the training of pastors in the practical art of preaching, teaching, spiritual care and conducting the liturgy and pastoral rites of the church with prayerful understanding. Dr. Darius Petkunas, pastor, theologian and church historian in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania recently made the insightful observation, “The maturity of a church can be seen in the liturgy and hymnody they produce and use.” In short, the ideal missionary for the 21st century will possess both theological and practical depth. Ordained ministers who have complete graduate work, spent time in the parish and possess a pastoral heart will be in demand as missionaries for years to come.
 Gregory, Ibid. Part III, Chap. 25, p. 180.
Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations
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