Missionary Interview #1. Adesegun Olayiwola

I am starting a series of interviews of different missionaries that I have connections with. This one is a Q&A. Adesegun Hammad Olayiwola was one of my students. He is active in Nigeria, and has written many books on issues of African Missions, Evangelism, and Muslim ministry. (Most of these are available on Amazon.) For more about him, you can read his answers.

Adesegun Olayiwola

Can you tell us about your family background?

I was born into a practicing Muslim family in a mostly Qur’an scholars city called Epe, in Lagos State, Nigeria. I started informal Qur’anic school at age of 7; I was practicing Islam as well as worshiping idols as I grew up. Islam was the religion of my parents. My Mum died just before I clocked 5 years and my family was the head of a polygamous family. I was the first child and my Mum was also the first wife.

Please share with me how you became a convert to Christianity.

Sometime in 1985, I was 16years old then in Form 3 in secondary school; I remembered I picked up a tract written by a former Muslim who accepted Christ. Back then, that type of tract cannot be handed over to people but only placed on the ground at night because of fear of attacks from the Muslims. The tract was about a passage in the Qur’an, where Muhammed told his followers that, he has no knowledge of what will happen to him nor his followers after death. In a word he cannot promise them heaven because he is like a blind man showing a way to the blind.

The passage reads, “Say O Muhammed I am not a new thing among the Messengers (of Allah i.e I am not the first Messenger) nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner”. [Surah Al- Ahqaf, Qur’an Chapter 46 vs. 9] and it was also re-echoed in Hadith of Muhammed in Saheeh Bukhari Volume 5, Book 58, Number 266. When I read the passage again and again in the Qur’an myself, I believed the Holy Spirit started the work then because I had so many questions about Muhammed and his messages, because the tract also analyzed Jesus’s claim and assurances in John Chapter 14 from verse 1 which I also read. That was the time I thought God had started my salvation process, although, I did not accept Jesus until May 1990. My heart was divided then, and at times started thinking about two prophets here, one was sure of the hereafter and one was not. The decision to follow Christ must also be weighed carefully because of the family I belong to, making me me think that the Christians are only trying to twist a Qur’anic passage to gain converts. However, the thought refused to go away from my heart and head for 5 years.

Because of a situation in my life in 1990, I was pushed to ask a Christian friend to pray for me, because I was desperately looking for a solution. Telling my Christian friend to pray for me was a shock and seemed unbelievable to him, and so he at first refused to take me seriously. This was because of my initial responses and arguments on the issue of incarnation of Jesus Christ, in which all Muslims believe that God has no son. But then, whether Jesus is a son of God or God Himself has not important to me— all I wanted was a way out. However, when my friend noticed that I was interested in the prayer, he said he will not pray for me except I come to his Church. Church? It has no big meaning to me, and I promised to attend the following Sunday which was 13th of May 1990, I went the following day as promised, because I was really desperate for a solution to my then problems.

My first Sunday services experience was another story, because I went for prayers for financial breakthrough, but the pastor led by the Holy Spirit preached on a topic call ‘THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLD’— the text was taken from Revelation chapter 8 from verses 1 to the end. The message of that day was clear and direct enough for me to understand that everything in the world will come to an end one day. My heart was touched by the Holy Spirit because the message was so frightening, I could not even think about prayers for financial breakthrough again. Instead my concern was about how I will be saved from the destruction of the world and how I will be raptured and escape those tribulations that the pastor claimed will happen soon. To me that Sunday, it was as if the world will be destroyed that day, and when I considered my life of recklessness and idol worship, I felt I will be doomed with the world. The pastor didn’t not do an altar call that Sunday, however, we were allowed to pray for ourselves and my only prayer that day, was ‘Jesus save me,’ because that was the only solution given to us to be free from torment after rapture and even in heaven.

What have been some of the struggles you have faced as a Christian minister in your setting?

There are struggles I passed through and I am still passing through as a Christian

  1. The struggle of family and relatives was one of those struggles that I went through. I have to relocate to another city to be able to practice my Christian faith.
  2. Also the church, I faced the challenges of people known or non-Christian background problems. People to refrain from you or let me just say that, since I don’t have any family or relatives in the church, most people found it difficult to relate with me.
  3. Even when I started the planting of a church alone, many members of the church found it difficult to believe that God called me to do the ministry. May be I should call it the challenges of my identity as a Muslim background believer.

What are some of the blessings you have experienced serving God as a minister?

  • One which is outstanding was the way God used people I don’t know to train me in the sense of scholarship to study theological education.
  • Joy in my heart is another blessing I am still receiving from God up till this date.
  • God is still using some people outside Africa to support me spiritually.
  • I also received financial blessings, somehow.  

What are things you wish that Christians knew about Muslims?

I cannot complete everything here but I wish Christians were more aware of:

  1. The doctrines of Islam are important to know, to help the discipler to know exactly the fears of new Muslim background Christian converts
  2. The likely persecution that might be faced by Muslim converts
  3. How to contextualized/find connections between some of the doctrines of Islam and the gospel messages
  4. Understand that Muslims don’t have a good Biblical studies foundation so Christian should go easy on them.
  5. Be aware of some of the Do’s and Don’ts in Muslim/Christian communications and relationship.
  6. Recognize that Muslims are also human beings created in the image of God and can be saved
  7. Recognize that Muslims are also part of the blessing of Abraham
  8. Christians should know that all Muslims are not terrorists.

What are things you wish that Christians knew about (or do for) Muslim Background Believers?

  • Be aware of some of the likely challenges that may be faced by the MBBs including the challenges of Isolation, Challenges of adapting to Christian Culture, Fear of Persecution, Challenges of Identity, Fear of Dangers of Becoming Apostate in Islam, and even the  Challenges of Death.
  • Show MBBs special love
  • Trust them and allow God to use them
  • Give them the same opportunities as Christian background believers
  • Give them time
  • Because most of them would be ostracized, we need to know that they also have needs to be met, they need education, take care of their family and e.t.c.
  • Be available for them always
  • If possible allow trained MBBs to disciple new MBBs converts

Please tell us about your ministry work.

I believed God called me to do missions in Africa. I actually started mission work with Church planting since January 1994. I believed then that God wanted me to take the gospel to a village where I was going to do charms before I got converted, when I got born again God told me to take gospel to the village after some unwillingness to go I finally gave up and I went to start the work in January 1994. The church started in 1994, and 6 years later in May 2000 I moved to another village called Ido in the local government of Oyo state. In Dec. 2008, I was transferred to another church with no members, the church God started was with only me before I traveled to Philippines in 2013. I also went to Shamata in Nyandarua county of Kenya in 2019 as a missionary to open a Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary – Seminary Education by Extension which I was the Coordinator and the only lecturer.

Where is God leading you in your work?

I believed God is calling me back to East African countries but currently I have an invitation to do missions with Emmanuel International Organization in Uganda. There I would have a series of lecturing opportunities— seminars and Muslims ministries have been scheduled for my visit in Uganda.

How do you balance your life as a husband and father with your ministry work?

Well, I think that is a little bit suffering because I don’t have specific source of income as a missionary, I depend on God for his provisions. At times many things were left undone including my children’s education because of my meager or little income. However God has been faithful in all.

How others could be involved in African missions?

People could visit us, come for medical missions, send books for our library, volunteer to come and teach and e.t.c

How can people pray for you or support you?

  1. People could pray for provisions for the mission work in Uganda
  2. People could pray for my ministry, ONLY WAY EVANGELICAL MINISTRY
  3. People could pray for me because I still wish to start a Theological Seminary where people could learn about Muslims Ministries
  4. People could support me financially for the Uganda work
  5. People could pray for more sponsors who will support me regularly
  6. People could pray for me for Partners
  7. People could pray for my family
  8. People could pray for my protection and provisions
  9. My current contact are:

Email: segunflawless@gmail.com 

Whatsapp: +2348060981639

Telephone: +2348037814559

Facebook: Vision For African Missions

Easter. It’s Okay… Really.

I wrote a post a few years ago called, “Christmas. It’s Okay… Really.” You can read it by CLICKING HERE.

I am writing this during Holy Week (Maundy Thursday to be exact). Easter is just three days away. The points of my previous post also applies to this holiday. The former post had several points:

  • It is Okay to Christianize a “Pagan” Holiday (Issue of Contextualization). I deal with this in more detail with regards to Christmas. In actuality, Christmas does not actually appear to have sprung up from a pagan holiday, but has been affected by pagan festivities over the centuries. Good contextualization comes from making a connection of the divine with the cultural. In some ways Easter is even less ‘pagan’ than Christmas. Unlike Christmas where the birthday of Jesus is highly speculative, we know fairly precisely when Jesus was crucified and when He rose (especially if utilizing a lunar calendar). Additionally, Easter is connected to the Jewish holiday of Passover. On the other hand, some practices, such as Easter eggs and Easter bunnies have connection to pre-Christian practices (apparently). And regardless of pagan roots, the eggs and bunnies are tied to the cycle of life as both relate to productivity and fertility— issues of special importance in Springtime, especially in Norther temperate climates. A few days ago, I was sent an article that connected Easter to all sorts of pagan practices. Some sure sounded quite… fanciful. some were based on more solid data. However, I am not focusing on the details here because I don’t have problems with “redeeming a holiday.” No day of the year is off-limits to Christian celebration.
  • It is Okay to Celebrate a “Civil” Holiday (Issue of Separation). Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Pentecost Sunday, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday and such are Christian religious holidays. The same can be said of Christmas, Easter, and Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). The difference of these last three is that each of these share their day with a civil holiday of the same name, at least in some parts of the world. Christmas has a civil Christmas that is rather disconnected from its religious anchor. The same can be said of Easter and Mardi Gras. Some are very bothered by this, but there is something quite wonderful in that Christians and non-Christian can join together and celebrate the same day together. Of course, both Mardi Gras and Christmas have civil elements of excess that is quite problematic. It is rather nice that, generally speaking, civil Easter does not have this as much. Yes, candy companies have tried to make Easter a springtime equivalent to Halloween to market various products, but the excess has never been as ridiculous as with the other two. As such, I think it is quite nice that Christian and non-Christian alike can join together on Easter.
  • It is Okay to Celebrate Easter when we do (Issue of Historicity). I know the Eastern and Western churches have separated on when to celebrate Easter. Some wanted to separate Easter from Passover (a rather stupid idea I think). That being said, the key point is that it is meant to be a memorial to the event of Christ’s resurrection. Eusebius of Caesarea spoke in the early part of the 4th century on this matter of Easter. He notes that at that time, there were two “ancient traditions.” (Those today that see Easter as rejected by the early church are certainly guilty of over-simplifying the issue.) In the time of Eusebius, one group saw celebration of Jesus’s resurrection once a week on the Lord’s Day as sufficient. The other believed it good to have a once a year festival (presumably in addition to the Lord’s Day, not a replacement for it. You can read on this HERE. One group does not appear to be better than the other.
  • It is Okay to Celebrate (Issue of Asceticism). I don’t have anything to add from the one on Christmas. However, we should learn to get comfortable with addressing the issue of celebration. I have written on that somewhat: A Theology of Celebration. It is in two parts— PART ONE, and PART TWO.
  • It is Okay not to Listen to me (Issue of Conformity). I recently left an online discussion where one of the participants took great offense that many of the others did not agree with him. He appeared to believe that the rest of us were disagreeing with the Bible. In truth, what we were disagreeing with was his interpretation of the Bible and with the theological construct that he developed, in part, from the Bible. I won’t do that. You can take what I say to heart or not.

I will add one more:

  • It is Okay to Change the Name (Issue of Labeling). Some are concerned by the name Easter because of its non-Christian roots. They prefer the term “Resurrection Sunday.” That is perfectly fine. It certainly reminds us, as Christians, “the reason for the season.” However, I would recommend NOT trying to push this on everyone. As noted before, Easter has the benefit of being a celebration (in many countries) that bridges faiths. As a Christian with Christians, I celebrate Resurrection Sunday, but as a Christian with a more diverse crowd, I can joyously celebrate Easter— that strange holiday that brings together the religious and the mundane.

What’s Wrong With a Good Mystery (in Theology)?— Part 2

Continued from Part One

As noted before, Conservative Christians tend not to want to say “I don’t know” when it comes to Biblical or Theological questions. Some of that may be cultural. Having taught in a rather conservative seminary, I have certainly met my fair share of students who don’t like “wishy-washy” answers to questions. This is especially common with students who have received their training primarily from TV or Radio preachers (or from local pastors trained by those same individuals) who treat their own opinions as canon. There is something pretty shameful in this.

Perhaps no greater rejection of Mystery is found in Theology than Theodicy. This area seeks to explain or “justify” the existence of evil and suffering in a world created and maintained by an omnipotent and benevolent God. People REALLY don’t like to answer “I don’t know” to questions of Theodicy. I recall a class that I was leading where Psalm 44 was being reviewed. This is a wonderful lament with a lot of ambiguity. Bad things are happening without any simple answer as to why. One of my students, a pastor, did not like this at all… and went through a whole lot of mental gymnastics to show how that Psalm was consistent with his own view of suffering. (Fine… that is each person’s right.) Theodicy is not a strength of mine, but being an administrator of a counseling center certainly has led me to dwell on some of these issues more than some. After all, when someone asks, “Why is this happening to me?” after (or during) a crisis, it begs a theological answer. Although not always. Often it is rhetorical, saying, “I am in pain, please listen to me and be with me.” Still, when an answer is actually requested, what are some of the answers you have heard to this sort of question?

  • It is God’s will. (Do we know this? Doesn’t the Lord’s Prayer, and a number of statements of Jesus, suggest that many things happen that are NOT God’s will?)
  • It is for your good. (Again… do we know this? Certainly many things have indeed ‘come together for good,’ but does this mean that God intentionally did something harmful? And what about situations where redeeming the past is not really feasible?)
  • It is for your punishment. (This works for those who believe like Job’s friends that God only gives enjoyable things to those he favors, and only miserable things to those he does not. However, since Job’s friends were wrong, and much of history seems to bring doubt to this as well, it seems best to question this.

The Bible gives many different answers:

#1. Bad things happen to bad people (and good things happen to good people). Those who like this simple principle are attracted to places like Deuteronomy 24-25, and Proverbs.

#2. Bad things happen to good people. 1 Peter and much of the Gospels makes it clear that suffering is an expected result of faithfulness to Christ.

#3. Bad things and Good things happen to good (faithful) people. Read Hebrews 11.

#4. Bad things and Good things happen to both good and bad people. Read Ecclesiastes.

#5. We cannot know why Bad things or Good things happen to good people. Read Job or Psalm 44. Note that even though the book of Job gives a limited answer to us why bad things happened to Job, that information was not shared to him or others.

#6. We really shouldn’t speculate too much on why Bad things happen to people, especially as to whether they are bad or good. Read Christ’s guidance in Luke 13:1-4.

I am sure there are more answers given, and more nuanced variations of these, but just looking these over should make one reticent in giving universal answers to evil and suffering. Nevertheless, there are still attempts to come up with universal answers. One of my supervisees was leading a class where he was teaching different models for Theodicy. He listed four. They are Christian views and so do not include other answers like the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I forget the titles, but the following are the descriptions:

Model One. Suffering exists because God chose to give us Free Will, and that freedom of choice has resulted in a lot of bad things happening. This does not really address Natural Disasters very well, in my opinion. I guess this is more of a Reformed theologian favorite.

Model Two. Suffering exists to give us opportunities to grow. This was promoted by John Hick.

Model Three. Suffering exists in a condition of mutuality with God. God suffers with us in our pain. This is promoted by Jurgen Moltmann, along with, I believe, some Liberation Theologians.

Model Four. I believe this is called the Anti-theodicy view, and rejects coming up with a justification for evil and suffering. Rather, one should focus more on what is practical— What should I do with regards to the the existence of suffering and evil?

I tend to gravitate to the fourth one. The others appear to me to be too narrow. However, I really don’t like the name. “Anti-theodicy” to me suggests a turning off of the mind to the searching and reflecting on this issue. That may not be the intent.

I prefer the term “Mystery.” I like the term because I believe it points to two truths.

First, the ancient meaning of mystery refers to what is hidden. The reason/justification for the existence of evil and suffering has not been fully revealed. It may not be that we lack the faith to accept the truth. It may not be that we have not studied hard enough. It may simply be that God has not fully revealed it… only giving us tiny bits and clues.

Second, in the more modern understanding of mystery, it is something that drives a quest for truth. Just because we may not have been informed fully on this topic does not mean we throw up our arms and say that it is hidden and so a waste of time to even think about. Logical Positivists would state that questions that could not be answered in terms of definitions or empirical tests were meaningless. This is a rather lazy way to avoid most of the most interesting questions out there. To simply say that the reason for evil and suffering is hidden to us by God and so it is a waste of time to consider the question is, I feel, rather like the Logical Positivists.

Instead of that, we can recognize that God may have kept this hidden from us. However, that truth should not invalidate the question. We can grow greatly in questions that cannot be completely answered; but we should be very cautious of anyone who has claimed to answer it fully.

I believe there are a lot of mysteries in the Bible. We don’t really know what Heaven is like— is it a natural paradise? Is it a bejeweled city of gold? It is a giant room with a throne in the center? Is it a place of leisurely perfection, unceasing adoration, or of meaningful service? Each of these can be argued true based on very limited clues we are given. What is Hell actually like? Outside of being a place you or I (or anyone for that matter) would want to be (or perhaps cease to be), we only have hints. What are the actual boundaries of God’s grace? Do we absolutely know who is beyond God’s grace?

Mysteries are not necessarily to be answered… but they are to be explored. When we are given an ambiguous answer, we are in effect, being told “This is the whole truth. Stop looking.”

Happy exploring.

What’s Wrong With a Good Mystery (in Theology)? —Part 1

I do enjoy a good mystery novel. I enjoy True Crime podcasts as well. Of these, I particularly like solved crimes. I think solved satisfies my yearning for justice, something that unsolved crimes lack. However, there probably is also a bit of a side to me that just wants to know what is— as Paul Harvey would say— “The REST of the Story.”

This happens in Christian Theology as well. I have heard so many give very dogmatic answers to very good questions that appear to lack a clear unambiguous answer. I have sat in many Bible Studies where the leader (usually it is the leader) struggles to crush a great question with a dogmatic answer. It seems like this is especially true in Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity. Perhaps it is true of other branches of Christianity as well. After all, the Roman Catholic Church has the Magisterium, and many denominations have creeds and catechisms that exist, in part at least, to avoid giving the answer, “Well, I really don’t know.”

I think in Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity (a land I am more familiar with) the issue is probably tied to Sola Scriptura and “Sufficiency of Scripture.” While Sola Scriptura is historically different from “Sufficiency of Scripture,” in some denominations they have melded together. Quoting from that famous theologian, Wikipedia (in the article, ‘Sola Scriptura’), “Some evangelical and Baptist denominations state the doctrine of sola scriptura more strongly: Scripture is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian Doctrine.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith says something similar,

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

I don’t really care for the Westminster Confession. The term “deduced from Scripture” appears to me to be a bit cavalier— encouraging people to find clear dogma where there is none. becomes bad when people read into it meanings that were not necessarily intended. Also the broadness of the first part of the sentence is concerning— ‘whole counsel,’ ‘all things necessary’ for glory, salvation, faith and life. The term ‘Life’ is pretty broad. Does the Bible give whole counsel in how to fill out a tax return. No doubt the Bible gives ethical principles and Christians regarding honesty, finances, and relationship to government— but is that the same as ‘whole counsel.’ I am sure the crafters of the confession has a more narrow understanding of the word ‘Life,’ but the term certainly lends itself to abuse. Words can inform, but also confuse. Much like the “T” in TULIP (Total Depravity of Man) does not really mean that everyone is always living in complete depravity (understanding ‘depravity’ in the normal laymen’s use of the term), Sola Scriptura does not really mean “Only Scripture,”— the approximate direct translation of the term. That is part of the reason I prefer “Prima Scriptura” (since I feel it is simply more intellectually honest— no one has EVER theologized or lived out their Christian life through Sola Scriptura).

Why am I talking about this when I am supposed to be talking about Mystery? Because, some people when they hear Sola Scriptura (Only Scripture or Scripture Alone) what they interpret it as is, “The Bible has the answer to every question that I have— I only have to dig deep enough.” This has led to many novel things such as using numerology to figure out secret messages in the Bible to determine the time of the return of Christ. Many have found such secret messages while somehow not seeing the clear statements that Jesus did not know the time, and that we are to be ‘always ready.’ Of course, looking for secret messages goes back to the impulse of the Gnostics of the first few centuries of Christianity: so it is most definitely not a new thing.

I recall a Bible School extension facilitator that refused to use textbooks or other reference books for any of the classes at the center based on the argument that the only book a pastor needs is the Bible. And yet there are many things that a pastor is expected to know and do that are not in the Bible— such as “How to write a sermon,” “How to develop a music ministry,” and “What should be included in a church covenant.” Even the basic question of “What does a Pastor do?” is only answered in a very general way in the Bible. In Pastoral Counseling, there was the Biblical Counseling movement that interpreted Sola Scriptura as “Everything one needs to know about counseling in behavior and in counseling content is in the Bible.” Often this has led to some pretty heavy cherry-picking of Bible verses to try to work around the fact that the Bible is silent on many things.

But we are still not talking about Mystery. Up to this point, I am only talking about the fact that many people think that all answers are in the Bible, when there is no such claim in the Bible. However, you can see how this disconnect can lead to an avoidance of Theological mystery. After all, if a theological question comes up where the answer appears to be “I don’t know,” some would say that simply means one must DIG DEEPER (in Scripture). Sadly, digging deeper often means coming up with theological constructs that are grounded on one’s own preferences and held together with a loose collection of proof-texts. So, to take a question that is important to some people, “Do Dogs Go to Heaven?”, the Bible is stunningly silent. Some don’t leave it at “I don’t know”— a perfectly valid answer— but start suggesting drawing on Genesis one with humans having the breath of life to suggest that dogs have no souls… and therefore cannot be in heaven. Others give a pretty strong affirmative answer to the question based on how wonderful and perfect Heaven is, based on numerous Bible passages, and how could such a place be perfect if one’s favorite pet wasn’t there as well for eternity? The intellectually honest answer is “I Don’t Know and my lack of a definitive answer is NOT because I have not dug deep enough, but because God has (quite intentionally I presume) chosen not to give a definitive answer, but rather to leave it for speculation and mystery.”

Of course, to say that there is not clear answer should not be a call to stop thinking. I believe God has left us a lot of mysteries for our benefit. The benefit is, largely, in our opportunity to explore and to contemplate. Not having a final answer actually adds to the joy, rather than detracting from it.

I will explore this further in PART TWO— with Theodicy as the primary are of consideration.

Wicked Missions

I first heard the terms “Wicked Learning Environment” versus “Kind Learning Environment” in an interesting little Youtube video a few days ago on a channel called “Curious Tangents.” Then only a yesterday it came up again when talking to a cousin of mine in the context of the work of Daniel Kahneman (in his book, Thinking Fast as Slow). I decided to look into it a bit more. As far as I can see, the terms were developed by Emre Soyer and Hogarth.

Conceptually, it is quite simple. A “Kind Learning Environment” (KLE) is one in which one’s experience (one could also say training in all of its flavors) can be considered reliable in preparing one for future activity in that environment. A “Wicked Learning Environment” (WLE) is one in which one’ experience must be recognized as unreliable in preparing one for future activity in that environment.

Generally, Kind environments (or domains) are ones where the rules don’t change or the object of study does not change. Chess rules don’t change (as most sports don’t change, or change very slowly), so training and experience in chess in the past will be informative in the future. Human anatomy doesn’t change so training in human anatomy will remain helpful for those fields of work that have to deal with that domain.

This is not to say that there is no need for continuing education in Kind domains. Things still change, but even then, the changes can be understood as specific “tweaks” to the foundation of learning rather than the need to throw things out.

Wicked domains are those where the rules keep changing (software design) or the object studied is constantly changing (like business). Ones past competence is not only necessarily a good indicator of future performance. And further, it is possible that the experiences and lessons one has gained from the past may be an impediment for success in the future.

With this in mind, Christian Missions is VERY WICKED. First, Christian Missions is heavily contextual in terms of ministry setting and time. Things change over time. What is needed in missions in 2020 is not what was needed in 1820 or 620. Settings vary geographically and culturally with varying needs. Based on this alone, if a person had 20 years of experience in Setting A as a missionary, there is no certainty that this experience will be helpful in Setting B.

Second, Christian Missions has different goals. While some (like McGavran or Winter) saw this in terms of evangelism and churchplanting, other goals are almost always realistic, whether it is community development, relief ministry, leadership development and more. And even if one believed that evangelism and churchplanting were the only goals, the specific, strategies to do this may vary greatly in terms of time and place.

Third, the factors that make experience unreliable as a predictor of success is even more true of formal education in missions. Much of missions education is limited to only certain goals, utilizing only certain systems of missions (like 4F — foreign, full-time, fully-financed, forever— missions), that is applicable in only certain places. Add to that, the missions training was probably developed by older missionaries that had developed their knowledge base from their experiences from decades before, and you have a real problem.

Does this mean that formal education and experience has no value? NO. However, one must more consciously enter every mission situation as a learner. At the point where one concludes that one has it all figured out, we are starting down the wrong road. As Daniel Kahneman notes in the book I referenced above, we tend to use our own experiences as reality— that is just the way it is. It it may be that that WAS just the way it was at that point, in that place, under those circumstances.

Personally, I think this is why it is better to learn Theology of Missions to provide a centering for missions. It is also good to study History of Missions, not to learn exactly what to do and who to copy, but rather to understand missions in its variety, its changing quality, and the harshness of lessons. It is also good to learn the principles of Cultural Anthropology, not to understand a culture, but to learn the process for tentatively understanding cultures. It is further important to learn how to do research (especially qualitative research) and how to interpret and utilize findings.