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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Myths Regarding Missions 5 The myth of the specialized missionary

We hear much these days about specialization in all fields of human endeavor. Automation and cybernation make it possible for more and more tasks to be performed by fewer and fewer highly skilled people in key positions. Before long only the specialists will be able to find employment. By the year 2000 only 10 percent of the work force will be employed. The other 90 percent will be paid by the government to do nothing!

There is no doubt about it—specialization is the name of the game. Wherein then lies the myth? There are really two myths, not one, so far as missionary work is concerned.

The first myth is the idea that the day of the general missionary is over; now only specialists need apply. Indeed, there seems to be a conspiracy to downgrade the general missionary in favor of the specialist. The general missionary is regarded as a jack-of-all-trades and therefore master of none. As such he is definitely a second-class 1 worker in the vineyard of the Lord.

There is some misunderstanding at this point. The truth of the matter is that from the beginning of the missionary movement we have had both general and specialized missionaries. There is no rivalry between them. The one supplements and complements the other.

What people don’t understand is that the East is still several decades behind the West and the need for specialists there is not so great as it is here. Moreover, there are not enough missionaries to permit the missions to indulge in the luxury of specialization.

A good seminary in the United States will probably have two or three professors in the New Testament department, and the Old Testament department will have the same. These men teach only in the area of their concentration. But on the mission field, where the average seminary has twenty-five students and only two or three full-time faculty members, it is obvious that specialization, however desirable, is out of the question. The Old Testament professor will be asked to teach homiletics and apologetics in addition to Old Testament. The church history man will be required to teach evangelism and missions as well as church history.

For this reason mission executives prefer men who are versatile and flexible. Indeed, versatility is the greatest single human virtue any missionary can possess. Without it he may feel like a square peg in a round hole and blame the mission for his feelings of frustration.

The same goes for the medical missionary.

The doctor on the mission field must be both a physician and a surgeon, for often he is the only doctor on the hospital staff. The heart, eye, and bone specialists will have ample scope for their special skills, but they must be prepared to function as general practitioners. Indeed, most mission doctors have to pitch in and help solve the problem when there is a short in the electrical system or when the incubator, the jeep, or the X-ray machine breaks down. At such times versatility is a priceless asset. Some doctors have been known to build their own hospitals!

The other myth is the idea that only doctors, nurses, teachers, radio technicians, agriculturalists, etc., are specialists. All others are lumped together and referred to as general missionaries. Is the evangelist not a specialist? What about the seminary professor, the youth worker, the business manager, or the area superintendent? Are they not specialists? If a man has four years of medical school we call him a specialist. If another man spends three or four years in a seminary, he is a general missionary. This doesn’t make sense.

J. Herbert Kane, The Making of a Missionary

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