When high schoolers are sorting through their college options, they consider a lot of factors. One of the primary selling points is whether or not a school can train them for their chosen career. Without a major or an emphasis on a given vocation, a school gets scratched off the list quickly.
What’s true for other careers should also be true for missionaries. Thankfully, folks called to the mission field have some great choices when it comes to missionary schools. Whether they are looking for a four-year degree or a short-term training program, students have options as they pursue God’s call on their lives.
Honestly, you might be tempted to wonder if you really need the education and training provided by a school of missions. You might think your passion and calling are enough. But it’s hard to deny the benefit of preparation. One value of missionary schools is the connections you make. Along with the basic theological and cultural knowledge, you can also learn what mistakes to avoid from mentors and leaders who learned the hard way.
Most missionary schools also give you the opportunity for hands-on experience, either here at home or overseas. Those experiences are priceless when it comes to defining God’s call more clearly and understanding your own strengths and weaknesses as a missionary.
So, while a missions-related degree may not be required, it certainly can make a difference as you move forward in your ministry.
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On one end of the missionary training spectrum, the opportunities for professionals interested in sharing their knowledge and experience continue to grow. On the other end, students examining their options for education and training also have plenty of choices.
In the list below, we’ve identified 10 trusted missionary schools or organizations. Some of them are colleges that offer undergraduate and even graduate degrees in mission-related fields. Others are missions-related organizations that provide training. Whichever fits your needs best, these missionary schools can give you a great first step toward your future on the mission field.
The unique feature of Bethany Global is that missions and ministry are its only focus. Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, students work in ministry-related jobs rather than pay tuition (though room and board are still required). The highlight of the school’s program is a “Global Internship” for every student. This internship focuses on language studies, cultural immersion, and practical ministry experience. Students also raise support for the internship, but the school provides resources to assist in that process, including prerequisite classes on strategic planning and raising support.
Located in Hope, West Virginia, Appalachian Bible College has been training ministry leaders for more than seven decades. While the school does charge tuition fees, scholarships and financial aid make the education more reasonable. ABS is an accredited institution and provides cross-cultural experiences. Its foundational degree is in Bible and Theology, but most students actually earn double majors that integrate other ministry areas. The missions major comes with a variety of emphases, including aviation, international studies, and healthcare fields.
Located in Phoenix, Arizona, Grand Canyon is one of the larger schools with a missions-related program in the nation. The school has about 70,000 students, including many who study online. GCU offers a bachelor’s degree in Christian Studies with an emphasis on Global Ministry, and this degree is available both on campus or online. The school also has a College of Nursing and Health Care for students looking to integrate missions into a medical career.
Founded in 1971 in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University is considered the largest Christian university in the world. And, like Grand Canyon University, LU has significant online opportunities. Liberty currently offers undergraduate and master’s degrees in Global Studies. This degree is available online and on campus and includes a semester-long Global Studies internship, an emphasis on language studies, and missions-based research projects. For those interested in medical missions, Liberty also has an undergraduate pre-med degree and nursing degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.
For more than a century, Moody Bible Institute in Chicago has emphasized training believers to be on mission for God. Similar to Appalachian Bible College, this missionary school does not charge tuition, leaving students to pay for only room and board. Among Moody’s primary missions-related programs is an Intercultural Studies degree, which includes a semester-long immersive experience through a partner school in another nation. In addition, Moody offers a pair of Missional Leadership degrees that emphasize leadership in diverse cultural settings at home and abroad. The school also has a unique missionary aviation program with two concentrations.
This multidenominational and accredited missionary school in Columbia, South Carolina, is regularly listed as one of the most-respected regional universities in the South. While CIU emphasizes the integration of the gospel in every vocation, it offers an Intercultural Studies degree at the bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. levels. Students can also earn an undergraduate degree in International Community Development. In this program, students “live” in a simulated Third World setting and learn to solve problems through doing. Other missions at the master’s level include Disaster Relief Management, Global Migration Studies, Muslim-Christian Relations, and Missiological Studies.
While not one of the traditional missionary schools, Global Frontier Missions does offer a Missionary Training School twice a year. During this five-month program, students gain practical knowledge about missions while also focusing on character development. Perhaps the strength of this training program is the hands-on experience students get by working in the community around the organization’s headquarters in Clarkston, Georgia. The state of Georgia has officially designated Clarkston as a refugee resettlement city. This fits with Global Frontier’s emphasis on ministering to refugees in America while also providing opportunities for Mission Training School participants to interact with dozens of language groups and ethnicities. A limited amount of scholarship money is available, and the organization works to accommodate students with families.
This global missionary training school is affiliated with Youth with a Mission (also known as YWAM). While it’s not accredited like some other missionary schools, University of the Nations still offers undergraduate degrees in a range of vocations. Within the Biblical Studies degree, students can pursue an emphasis in missions or missions/intercultural studies. Nursing and health care degrees are also a possibility. University of the Nations emphasizes hands-on ministry experience, and its relationship with YWAM provide a deep supply of resources and cultural opportunities. Students also get the experience of raising their own support for international trips.
The Institute for Cross Cultural Training is an academic center affiliated with Wheaton College. Located in Chicago, the center primarily focuses on equipping believers to communicate with other cultures. This includes language learning, as well as training to teach English as a Second Language (ESL). ICCT also provides a fully online course to help individuals planning to live overseas learn how to adapt and thrive in their new settings. While based on Christian principles and dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission, it lacks biblical and theological training. So, that aspect of missionary education will need to be supplemented elsewhere.
Basically, Reach provides on-the-job training for missionaries. This is a 5 to 6-month program, which is part of Operation Mobilization’s ongoing mission efforts that immerses students in an international culture. Like some other training programs, this missionary education program emphasizes practical experience rather than classroom learning. As a result, the biblical and theological training should be gained in another setting. But Reach could be a good starting point for someone interested in missions, or it could be integrated into a larger education strategy that includes another missionary school.
As you think about the variety of missionary schools, it’s good to answer some basic questions. For example, what is your budget? You don’t want to go so deep into debt with training that you can’t afford to go where God has called you. Answering that question could help you choose between a college degree or a shorter training program.
You also should think about things like a school or organization’s doctrinal stance and philosophy of missions. If an institution’s beliefs don’t align with your convictions, you need to steer clear of that missionary school or program and consider another possibility.
As with every mission endeavor, you can never overstate the importance of spiritual disciplines. Through Bible study and prayer, you can hear from God and talk with Him about your thoughts or concerns. Through interaction with wise mentors, you can learn more about yourself and what might be a good fit for you. What’s more, all these help you focus on who you can become as much as who you currently are.
Missionary schools may have their place in God’s plan for you. But don’t ignore the basics as you move toward making your decision.
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