Is it OK to bring internationals to the US for pastoral training?

Updated: Nov 21, 2019




We got this inquiry with a great idea from a genuinely concerned, missions-minded pastor:

Pastor K.I. wrote:

I have a quick random question for you.  Assume that the opportunity arose for 4-8 young internationals to travel to the U.S. and live with a pastor’s family in order to get practical training for ministry.  They would learn to pray with him, study the Word with him, do practical ministry, street evangelism etc. with him on a daily basis.  They would study Old Testament, New Testament, Systematic Theology, and Practical spirituality AND have opportunities to hear from other solid pastors and missionaries for a year on important practical and theological topics.

If such an opportunity were to arise, would this be something that is even needed?  Or are our seminaries offering such good deals to internationals that they can come be educated in the states if they desire already?

I know this is a random and vague question, but I would appreciate your thoughts if you have any.

Is this even needed?  Would it be helpful to young international aspiring pastors who might not be able to get into an official seminary?

Thanks for your time.

A most unworthy servant of so good a Master, Pastor K.I.

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Here’s how we responded:

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Hello, dear brother!

Hey, that’s not a random question at all.  It’s a good, thoughtful question. Thanks for asking.

The bottom line is:  It’s a great idea; and, it’s way more complicated than you might think.

Is it needed?  Yes, I think so. You can make a case for it.

  1. seminaries and Bible schools are expensive

  2. while they may have scholarship programs, rarely is it a full, full ride

  3. seminaries and Bible schools are a classroom experience, not real-life ministry experience

However, here are some significant obstacles to consider. I’ll just state them right out from my experience:

  1. You’ve got to take super-clear precautions against the temptations of gaining a life in the USA:

  2. don’t accept single men

  3. have them sign a “I will return to my home country” declaration before they leave their home with really tough language in it about what happens if they skip out or don’t return to their home country

  4. make sure their church leadership in their home country expects them to return and will commit to helping them become established in ministry upon their return; too often, foreign students may adapt so well to the extraction culture (like America) that they don’t fit in back home, or don’t want to go back home, or might not even be welcome back home because they are perceived as haughty and arrogant because of their overseas training

  5. You’ve got visa issues:

  6. if your training is NOT accredited, they won’t be on a student visa; visitor visas are usually limited to six months

  7. from many countries, you will have difficulty obtaining the visa for them and must include financial guarantees from you for their care

  8. You’re extracting them from their home culture and environment:

  9. your model may be difficult for them to translate into a realistic contextualized model back in their home

  10. the culture shock and learning to adjust to America might be a harder, more time-consuming challenge than you could imagine

  11. the costs to feed, cloth, house, mentor, provide health care, help them adjust to culture and life here – both in time, money, and manpower might overwhelm optimistic expectations with a harder reality

  12. You’ve got built-in integrity problems:

  13. I wouldn’t accept anyone into the program who didn’t have sterling references from an Expatriate/American Christian leader/pastor/missionary.

  14. There is an almost 100% guaranteed problem with communicating and handling obligations, responsibilities, and financial matters between our culture and language and their culture and language. You should expect problems in this area.

The best option is to find a way to structure and monitor a similar environment in their home place (or a lot closer to their home and home culture). Really. It may mean that a series of pastors or pastoral trips to them provide some of the content and mentoring, while you find a way to have local supervision of them in the program through local mature ministers. The key is that such a program is cheaper in the long run, doesn’t have the inherent visa, cost, and integrity problems, and that it is reproducible in their culture and context. There are some excellent models and practices of modular training that might encourage you along those lines. Contact: S.K. about how their church is training church leaders in the Himalayas. Contact D.D. about Tri-M modular Bible school training in Eastern Europe and beyond. There are lots of good models and agencies employing T.E.E. (Theological Education by Extension), B.E.E. (Biblical Education by Extension), and modular training (e.g. in creative access countries in the Far East, Near East, and Muslim world) that you could copy or partner with.

Hey, I know this may feel like a blast against the idea.  It’s not. But I want you to be realistic about the process and outcomes.

I love, love, love your creativity and idealism in even thinking about it. May God grant grace and guidance in whatever you do.

>>>>----------------->
Your servant in God's grace,

David


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