8.   How do we Train the Trainers?

The people in the best position to teach others are those who are actually involved in doing the task that needs to be taught. This conviction is behind the goal of creating an experience-based mentored environment for the training of cross-cultural ministers through Northwest Baptist Seminary located on the Trinity Western University campus, Langley, BC, Canada, in partnership with the mission organization Fellowship International.  Unfortunately, those who are most competent in ministry are often unaware of the learning process required for a novice to develop and become proficient – even though they were once beginners themselves who came through such a process.  Thus the goal is not simply to discover those who can model effective ministry, but also to provide training for these “experts” so that they can adequately participate in the process of developing cross-cultural competency in others.

A Survey

With a desire not to “reinvent the wheel” and also to take advantage of those who have greater training and experience in this area, I posed the following question through Brigada (www.brigada.org): “In establishing an experienced based cross-cultural training program for missionaries, the key factor is the enthusiasm and ability of the mentor to guide the process in the cross-cultural context.  Are there resources: books, courses, websites, etc. which would be of help in training missionaries to be successful mentors of interning missionaries?”  Although I received a number of responses with links to resources and organizations involved in cross-cultural leadership development, I have limited inclusion to those that specifically addressed the topic of training experienced missionaries to become successful mentors of interning missionaries.  (Disclaimer: As I am not totally familiar with all the organizations listed here, endorsement should not be assumed and I leave that judgment to the reader).

Challenging the Assumption

JM responded with an excellent challenge to the premise mentioned above:

When I consider what attitudes the new generation needs to have in order to work well in partnership with nationals and each other, I’m not sure the older generation are the best teachers. I’m thinking of the SIL context, but I can imagine the same applies in other organizations. We have a way of doing things that has almost become “sanctified” because it is the way we were taught. Our leaders are saying we need to change the way we do things if we are to get done sooner. Yet when new folks come join us, the old paradigm is still the one they expect to function with. The new way of doing translation is often only given lip service.

Part of the question of training the new generation has to be how to train the old generation into a new vision, and how to train the church and pre-field programs and training institutions into a new vision of what missions is and how it is done. I challenge anyone who is training new people to seriously consider where, and particularly when, their paradigm comes from. Are we training new people into old attitudes of paternalism and “I will do it” rather than cooperation and partnership and helping others do it?

It seems that, by definition, teaching requires an “old paradigm” in order for the material to have any validity as being worthy of being passed on.  In order to take advantage of the value of experience without stifling creative innovation we would do well to instigate immediate application of the teaching in the context of ministry.  Application would put the teaching to the test and allow it to be critiqued and adapted.  In such a setting the mentor guiding the student must be competent in ensuring proper application, while visionary and gracious enough not to stifle the creative thinking and new concepts that can result in more effective ministry.

Jerry Suits, CBInternational training developer ([email protected]), adds that

a mentoring grid will have to be pretty wide and flexible that takes into account the personalities involved and the diversity of cultures it will be ministering in. In Spain we would ideally seek an experienced missionary as a mentor as well as a mature Spaniard.  The challenge was that we found that people in significant ministry roles had overflowing plates and mentoring was just one more addition to an already overscheduled life. And then we found that there existed a significant gap between generations over expectations of what ministry training looked like.

The Learning Process

In Learning To Be A Missionary, Dan Sheffield and Joyce Bellous apply the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition to the development of cross-cultural ministry practitioners.  The model moves from the novice who begins by learning abstract “rules” to the expert whose skill in assessing a situation holistically allows her/him to “intuitively” recognize the correct action in a given situation. Such an understanding of the learning process will help in assessing those who have reached a level of proficiency that qualifies them to become mentors. It also helpfully clarifies one of the main difficulties those proficient in ministry have in communicating their skills to others, namely their “arational” ability to assess a situation correctly which cannot be communicated to but must be internalized by the learners as they develop.  Thus, as one respondent to the survey observed about competent missionaries who are impatient mentors, people forget their early experiences and therefore are often unsympathetic to the novice.  The internalization has created a norm for the expert who fails to appreciate or recall the process by which that internalization has taken place. In the conclusion, the authors consider mentoring especially important for those “struggling with ministry dissonance and culture shock in the second and third year of an assignment.”  In order to develop competency they “must have adequate oversight, informed reflection, and insightful dialogue with proficient missionaries to enable satisfactory cultural adjustment and the development of an appropriate plan or perspective to inform ministry priorities.”

Making the Task Easier

In responding to the survey Dr. Jonathan Lewis adds some insights in explaining the mentoring process used through the Gateway Missionary Training centre (www.gatewaytraining.org/) whose motto is “Get there! Stay there! Be effective!”.  He writes,

We equip the intern through modular study that is keyed to an internship notebook. Although we can’t guarantee that the missionary who is supervising/mentoring the trainee will be enthusiastic or even very available, we have found a very good reception to the internship manual that guides the intern’s activities throughout the three months of their internship. When the missionary mentor doesn’t have to do a lot of handholding, it helps create a positive experience and some have been so pleased, they have requested permission to use the manual with existing missionaries. This may be an indirect answer to the question, but as someone who is involved in mentoring, I know that there is more to it than finding a willing missionary-and those are hard to come by. When we provide some structure for the trainees, the task is easier and it helps create a win/win scenario. Also, Gateway staff maintains contact with the trainee through email and then debriefs trainees on their return. So how do you train the field mentors? Provide those who come to them with the tools that will make their job easier and create a positive experience for all involved.”

Speaking from Experience

Deborah Turner ([email protected]) writes that she and her husband have spent eight years

developing, implementing and documenting an on-the-field, hands-on, practical, missionary training program…. Our training … deals with practical issues which include: communication skills, interpersonal skills, stewardship, partner relations/funding, cultural transitions, language learning concepts, team concepts, servant-leadership, and encompasses local currencies, shopping practices, food purchasing and proper preparation as well as hygiene.  We feel it is imperative to provide the intern with an atmosphere of accuracy in living and working as a career missionary … with no holes barred. The myth of the romanticism of missionary life, along with unrealistic expectations, is abruptly halted as the reality of missionary life unfolds.
What we found as we researched and talked with new and veteran missionaries is that most folks on the receiving end of new missionaries had absolutely no clue as to what to do with new missionaries. Some did not want the burden of dealing with a new missionary in the first place!  Also, what we found after several years of training and sending out well-trained and prepared missionary interns is that the new missionaries were better trained and equipped than the veteran missionaries in many practical areas such as communication skills, interpersonal skills, partner relations and funding. Often times this created further anxiety and even intimidation.
In our case we “trained the trainers” as we went along because our concept was so new at the time. However, as years and time passed we made sure that our trainers were up-to-date on training methods and new concepts. As director, I constantly explored new avenues of training and ideas to pass along to the staff, and a few times sent our staff to training seminars. Now, after eight years we have turned over the training program, located in Guatemala, to new leadership. We are focusing on training based in the US. as well as traveling to world-wide locations offering training to ministries and missionaries in these areas as well as crisis counseling and intervention, which we’ve found to be an area much needed in the missionary community.

Some Guidelines

Mike Bottrell ([email protected]) provides some guidelines for mentoring from 30 years of experience by contrasting healthy (Personal) from unhealthy (Professional) discipling relationships:


  • Relationship between the “Paul” and “Timothy” is the key to the process and progress
  • Longterm relationship is the key to accountability
  • “Timothy” becomes accountable to, and dependent on, God
  • Grace oriented
  • Tailor made, “Timothy” oriented, deals with “Timothy’s” specific questions in spiritual growth
  • Character and commitment determine when “Timothy” is ready to reproduce
  • “Paul” can take a few guys for a few years
  • When “Timothy” is ready, he can reproduce this process with any guys from any culture at any age


  • Information from, and performance for, the “Paul” is the process and determines progress
  • Following a code or checklist determines how long the relationship lasts
  • “Timothy” becomes accountable to, and dependent on, “Paul”
  • Law/Works oriented
  • One size fits all, “Paul” oriented, deals with what “Paul” thinks “Timothy” needs to know and do
  • Completion of course content determines when “Timothy” “has been discipled”
  • The Program can take many guys for a streamlined one semester course
  • When “Timothy” completes the course, he can only take others who are like him through this course as long as they do the requirements

Other Training Centers

Norman Przybylski of the Elijah Company (www.elijahcompany.org) responded by saying, “We mentor people into missions.  A large part of what we do has to do with multiplying the vision for mentorship of missionaries and providing materials for the same.  We are about to start another mentors training (sic) which seeks to answer questions you are asking.”

Scott Groethe wrote about Bethany Fellowship Missions, in Minneapolis MN which is working on setting up one hundred new training centers around the world with a focus on training trainers. Tim Freeman is the head of BFM ([email protected])

JM writes that SIL has several programs for teaching people to be good listeners, mentors: Interpersonal Skills workshop is for people who work with people; Learning that Lasts workshop presents the theory and a method for training adults, and can be applied to training new workers. For more information, contact Margaret Spielmann at [email protected]

Training Resources

The Missionary Training Service provides a manual entitled The Missionary Training Guide with “the goal of helping missionaries be successful mentors of interning missionaries.”  Their material can be viewed through their website: www.missionarytraining.org/.

Another respondent recommends Levi Keidel’s book: Conflict or Connection – Interpersonal Relationships in Cross-Cultural Settings.