Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Brain Drain

The brain drain takes many forms. This term refers to a phenomenon that occurs when the brightest and best individuals from one culture leave to be educated in another. This usually occurs because the recipient culture is more advanced, resulting in better educational opportunities. For decades, the flow of the brain drain has been from the developing nations in the global south to Ivy League ivory towers in the USA or to the hallowed halls of Oxford or Cambridge in Great Britain. I am not saying that the preparation and scholarship afforded in such institutions are bad things; rather they are often a great blessing. When international students receive such a stellar education and return home, they are better able to help their country and their people are blessed to have their own ministering among them. Yet sadly, many do not return home. In fact, increasingly, most do not return home. The pursuit of additional degrees or the American dream, when U.S. resident visas are granted, delay or derail the hope that they will return home.

The same brain drain dynamic occurs when missionaries offer pastoral training or seminary education in the capital cities of the nations where they serve. Many of the men who need theological and ministerial education must move to the city where the training is offered. Once there, they learn skills for survival in the city, adopt Western forms of dress, develop high levels of literacy for their studies, enroll their children in city schools, enjoy the benefits of modern medical care for their families, shop at grocery stores, and become very comfortable with city living. When they graduate, many have attained a level of education unmatched by over 95% of the people in the country. Why would they, and how could they return to the countryside, jungle, or mountains to live as subsistence farmers now that they can live as pastors in the city and get paid for preaching?

Brain drains happen in the West, too. A fascinating and encouraging movement has been growing among young evangelicals. There is a renewed zeal for sound theology, responsible exegesis of the Bible, expository preaching, and a devotional life patterned after the Puritans’ example. Young people by the thousands are attending conservative seminaries, expository preaching conferences, and are reading sound theological literature. The most interesting element of this to me has been the number of young people who tell me that they believe God is leading them to be missionary scholars. That may be a new term to you, but I assure you it is becoming commonplace. These young men and women are seeking to know God deeply and to make Him known internationally. God is stirring hearts to reach the nations. These young people are zealous for Truth and burdened for the nations.

However, when these same young men and women attend many of the conferences that claim to be a renewal of sound theology for our generation, they find these conferences being led by pastors, Bible scholars, and theologians. What is wrong with that? Nothing! As far as it goes. But where are the missionaries and missions speakers among them? When young people model their lives after these modern day heroes who promote one another's conferences and ministries, missions is left out of their plans and visions for ministry because there are no missions-minded models to follow on the platform, none among the contributors of articles, and none among those in the inner circle. Many young people leave these conferences struggling with God’s call on their life. Many times, the speakers may challenge them to consider missions, but it comes across as “do as I say, not as I do.” These young men and women look up to these leaders, admire what they have achieved, and aspire to similar ministries. The current slate of leaders are godly men—pastors, theologians, and Bible scholars, but not missionaries or missions scholars. It is amazing to me that the most eloquent Bible expositors and scholars who exegete so beautifully the missionary journeys of Paul have often never been on one themselves. They relate how Paul must have felt to preach where Christ had never been preached, to extend the reach of Christianity, and the zeal for establishing sound churches among pagan peoples, but they have not done so and have no plans to start. Missions is talked about, but not for any of the ones on the platform. They model a ministry that talks about the nations but does not walk among the nations.

One may hear an occasional sermon or read some teaching that encourages the work of missions, but always in the abstract. In actual practice, missions is something better suited for challenges and admonitions. Don’t misunderstand me, these men have lived lives that are worthy of emulation. We should indeed give honor where honor is due and learn from them. However, when none of them speaks for missions from experience and life investment, the resulting lesson is that missions is peripheral to serious ministry. When it comes down to actual practice, how serious are we about reaching the nations? Unbelievably, two of the leading evangelical publishers (one of which would arguably be the most popular publisher among the crowd of self-proclaimed missionary scholars, and the other could be) have recently remarked that they do not publish missions books. One stated the opinion that “no one buys missions books.” The other claimed that they had no missions audience, i.e. their readers are not interested in missions.

If that is really true, then I am confused. Are you? Southern Seminary is hosting this week its first Great Commission Lecture Series. Dr. David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham. AL, has been challenging our faculty and students with God’s desire for the nations that all disciples should share. Although we do not regularly have chapel on Wednesday mornings, Dr. Platt spoke at the free hour Wednesday morning. Not only was the hall packed with workers putting out extra chairs, there were people standing around the walls during the entire hour. This is increasingly the reality among the brightest and best. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like young people care about missions.

Are you wondering what all of this has to do with the brain drain? It works like this. The brightest and best aspire to follow and emulate these godly teachers, preachers, Bible scholars, and theologians who unfortunately do not model missions as a worthy life investment. As much as young people want it to, missions does not seem to fit into any responsible, biblical expression of ministry because none of the leaders or inner circle members is missions focused in anything but talk. After a time of confused struggling, young people pack away their passion for missions as misguided zeal. Too often missions is relegated to a lesser form of ministry for the lesser gifted among us—(I mean, after all, if the missiological thinkers, speakers, and practitioners were as bright and gifted, they would be in the inner circle, right?). No one ever intends for the brain drain to happen, but it is always a waste when it does.

However, as always, God is shining a ray of hope. The most brilliant man I have ever personally met, Dr. Al Mohler, a man with sufficient responsibilities and health concerns to beg off any mission trip, is leading the challenge among his colleagues. He began this academic year with a strong challenge to embrace what he has termed a “year of living dangerously.” He has committed to go on at least one mission trip this year and has challenged us all to do the same. He reminded the congregation in convocation that the majority of them are free to do things now that they may not be free to do later. He has not stood in the pulpit this semester without challenging us to consider a missions commitment. Another man who is stepping up to the plate is my Dean, Chuck Lawless. He has just accepted the role of Global Consultant for Theological Education for the International Mission Board of the SBC. This role will require him to rearrange and reprioritize virtually every aspect of his life and ministry, but advancing the kingdom matters to him. Other professors among us are also sacrificing family time, writing opportunities, and personal plans to lead trips, teach internationally, and train pastors who are buried in obscurity in the uttermost parts of the world.

The evangelical stars among us in the circles that I am referring to are not dripping with diamonds or sitting in gold chairs with mauve hair and plastic smiles. They are not emerging or diverging. They are sound exegetes of the inerrant, infallible Word of God and they are some of the best teachers, preachers, and theologians the church has ever known. But, still 1/3 of the world has never heard the gospel and tens of thousands who have never heard Jesus’ name die and go into an eternal hell daily. In far too many lands, God is not worshiped and His Word is not taught. It is time for conferences to take the next step to challenge men and women, and to do this by example. It is time for publishers to look beyond the profit margin that grows as readers get more of what they have and read what they already know. It is time for young would-be missionary scholars to find models among their heroes, models to emulate, learn from, and live or die with on the field.

Imagine a world where God stirs a young heart with a passion for Truth, zeal to reach the nations for Christ’s sake, and a desire to be as educated as possible. This young person sees a group of teachers, preachers, authors, pastors, and leaders who share this zeal and passion. As he learns, grows, and fellowships with other like-minded believers, one element is missing. For a lack of any model to follow, missions becomes amorphous and intangible. Reaching the nations is mentioned in the same breath as feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, and helping the persecuted church—who are they and how does that really happen?. Missions is accepted in principle and lauded as something nice, warm and fuzzy. However, it never seems to show up in reality on the platform with flesh and bone. The best sources of sound literature will not offer anything challenging or engaging about missions until sufficient profit can be guaranteed. The conference platforms are bereft of missions-minded models to follow. Then, the concept of missionary scholar begins to seem like puppy love, an idealistic construct of the na├»ve young believer. The plug is pulled, when the water starts to swirl, the future’s ministers grab for like-minded models with skin on, and the rest goes down the drain. That is our world and the reality of the missiological brain drain.

There is something for us to do. For those of us who are burdened for the nations, have a high view of Scripture, love the conferences, listen to the preachers, and read what we can find. We need to find and use our voices. It is not enough to swallow what is spoonfed to us. Good stewardship of the lives and opportunities that God gives requires that we speak up and let these forces know that we want to hear godly missiologists, missionaries, and missions mobilizers who share our views on doctrine and Scripture. Jesus and Paul taught their hearers in their day about the need and command to disciple the nations. Who will teach us today? Demand the hard truth and clear teachers of it.


Doug said...

Dr. Sills,

You are right! Young people do care about missions!

I for one am heading to the Nations for THIS VERY PURPOSE! (Albeit my mission board may label it otherwise!)...To train and equip pastors where they are! Spreading pastors’ schools all over that country!

You have expressed my hearts cry! I have been torn about going or staying...and the answer has to be GO!

Doug Whitaker

Terry Delaney said...

Dr. Sills,

I am still speechless after today's message. However, the one thing I do know is that after reading your book and (to my chagrin) struggling with missions work and where I am "called" and then this week, I am convinced that the least I can do is offer up one week a year for foreign missions.

I am not sure how this will be financed or where it will be--I will let God sort all of that out--but I do know that I will be going somewhere in the near future.

Manuel Sosa said...

Dr. Sills,

Amen! It is said that those who can't do teach but unfortunately those that do, to many times do not teach. So it is in missions.

We do have so many capable mission scholars who need to realize that their voices and writings are needed where they are and in the states. But as you state, maybe the opportunities are not afforded us back in the states simply because we are out of the country for 3, 4 or more years at a time that no one knows about what we can offer in this venue also.

I have been burdened by the fact that so little is being written by our missionaries who are living and ministering on a daily basis cross-culturally. It would be good to hear from them more about their experiences, not from others but from those who are doing it day in and day out. Maybe there aren't too many of what some would call "success stories," but we need to write also about the daily struggles, toils and sacrifices of doing ministry within a certain country and people group. All of it is a learning process for those of us living it and will be a blessing for those that read it in the states and of particular interest to those who might follow us where we are at or go into different areas.

I am sure there are many "young" scholarly missionaries or future missionaries but along with them their is an army of "experienced," missionaries that will not only speak from a scholarly base but will add experience and practicality to their writings and conferences.

Take this as an invitation for fellow missionaries to write down your experiences so the rest of us can learn about your ministry and what God is doing in your particular area of the world.

Keep up the good work and the good word, Dr. Sills.

Manuel Sosa
IMB/Buenos Aires

David said...

Dr. Sills,
My name is David Crane and I have served with the IMB since 1993. I served as the CESA Region's first Regional Missions Personalizer from 06/2004 to 01/2008. I met you and other faculty there at the SBTS while carrying out that ministry. My wife and I are back in Kenya teaching at the KBTC. We helped to host Chuck and Pam Lawless back in June. I just wanted to say that your thoughts have challenged and blessed me today. The thoughts you have expressed so well have struggled to form and find expression in my own mind and heart, but alas I do not have your writing ability. I suspect many other IMB Ms, after reading this blog, will feel the same way. Thanks for going out on a limb to say what many of us have certainly thought, or perhaps have tried to say, but unfortunately with less force and clarity.

JTapp said...

To me, the real “brain drain” is seeing plenty of smart and talented tentmakers decide instead to become professional missionaries, pastors, theologians, etc. because they’ve bought into the much-propagated lie that you can’t glorify God nearly as much as a tentmaker as you can through professional preaching, teaching, or scholarship.

Dr. Still’s post still smacks of this. Let’s “live dangerously” by going on at least 1 mission trip a year?? If our leaders have to recommit themselves to actually living out Jesus' words, then this is truly a sad day.

I got an email from a friend of mine who works with the IMB in Central Asia to set up for-profit businesses because humanitarians are no longer allowed. They (the IMB and my friend’s organization) are desperate for committed Christians who have business talents/experience but all they have are a bunch of MDivs who look down on business as secular activity that they’re unable to glorify God to His fullest through. That’s what they graduated seminary believing.

The greatest evangelization taking place in China right now is through Christians who own factories and are able to demonstrate the Gospel through their actions and are rewarded with a freedom to share the Gospel with their mouths. It’s incredible and being mostly ignored by missiologists.

Christians just don’t take Jesus at His word. The least in the Kingdom of Heaven will be the professional pastors/theologians/preachers/missionaries that are on stage or heavily published. The greatest will be the people they looked down on who are getting the job done.

Keith Walters said...

I think his description of US educated foreigners in his introduction is a tragedy of modern missiology. In seeking to be theologically trained many move to the US and never return home to apply the training which they have received and honestly I have doubts as to how well such training will translate into their non-US context.

“To me, the real ‘brain drain’ is seeing plenty of smart and talented tentmakers decide instead to become professional missionaries, pastors, etc. because they’ve bought into the much-propagated lie that you can’t glorify God nearly as much as a tentmaker as you can through professional preaching, teaching, or scholarship.”

I agree and yet I think this thought needs to be taken further. The issue goes far beyond the false dichotomy of vocational and bi-vocational ministry even beyond the false dichotomy between laity and clergy. The real “brain drain” is far beyond an issue that involves individual pastors and missionaries. The real “brain drain” has resulted in the church denying something that is at the very core of her identity and purpose. The issue is not that talented tentmakers have decided to become professional missionaries and tentmakers; the issue is that the church has professionalized its pulpits and professionalized its mission.

The church has gone far beyond plundering the treasures of Egypt to becoming Egyptian. We have seen the western education system and taken it for our own and thus imposing this modern understanding of education on II Timothy 2:2 so that it reads “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will establish institutions to teach others also.” We have seen the western business model and taken it for own so that pastoral search committees are formed to review candidates based upon their natural ability and scholastic achievement rather than spiritual qualifications and so that pastors hop from church to church as if each one is a new business venture and opportunity for advancement.

Indeed that is where we have failed. If the church truly desires to reclaim a central tenet of its identity as a sent body and overcome the brain drain then we must return theological and missiological training to the place it belongs, in the church. I have no issue with seminaries, I have been to several; however, if the primary requirement to serve as a missionary or pastor is scholastic theological training and the primary means of training pastors and missionaries is in a scholastic institution then the church will continue to lose its identity and fail to carry out its mission. The church needs to stop professionalizing its officers, for lack of a better word, and reclaim responsibility for their training. Only then will the brain drain stop and the church truly be in a place where it can “live dangerously.”

As for Dr. Sills’ mention of these pastors and conference speakers who “model a ministry that talks about the nations but does not walk among the nations.” If that is truly the case then they are ultimately poor examples of both missionaries but poor examples as pastors as well. After all Paul exhorts Timothy to “Watch [his] life and doctrine closely.” Are these pastors and conference speakers to be known only for their theology proclaimed or their theology lived out as well? Are short-term mission trips helpful? Yes. Do they give you a bigger picture of what God is doing in the world? Yes. Is a one week trip the necessary qualification that a pastor/missionary/conference speaker must meet in order to adequately equip a generation of young people to embrace the Missio Dei? Certainly not! My question for these individuals is do you spend your days living as a missionary in your context? Are you living the Missio Dei as you interact with your neighbors? A short-term trip is helpful, but like JTapp I think claiming that as “living dangerously” is ultimately a copout, if you are really living dangerously then the Missio Dei should have an overarching effect on the entire course of life, not merely a couple weeks. That is what I want to see from pastors, conference speakers, seminary professors, theologians, missionaries etcetera.

David Sills, D.Miss, Ph.D. said...

I appreciate the feedback and comments on this post. I want to clarify a few points. First, I think it would be helpful to define terms. The term “tentmaker” technically refers to a person who is not associated with a mission agency nor appointed as a missionary, but rather works in a career that allows him/her to live in another country. This often happens when a worker whose company sends him to another country to live and work longs to help the missionaries or churches while there. The term “creative access missionary” refers to missionaries who intentionally obtain entrance and visas to live in countries that are closed to traditional missionaries. Creative access missionaries do not normally receive their full support from these ministries, but rather merely access into the countries where they work. This allows sufficient time for ministry. The reason that traditional tentmaker missionaries have not made more news or impact is because they simply do not have the time or energy to involve themselves in serious ministry. The model of the Apostle Paul is not the tentmaker of today. In fact, readers who work fulltime in the USA need only think how much they would love to see the kingdom advance in their own churches and neighborhoods. How much time and energy do they really have to dedicate themselves to the task if they are also putting in an honest forty hours per week? Not as much as they would wish; that is why many leave their jobs for fulltime ministry. Likewise, tentmakers, as technically defined, express frustration that they cannot spend more time in serious ministry. I spent my first three years of ministry as a bivocational minister. I know very well the time limitations that hamper anyone blending a secular career with a separate ministry.

Second, the brain-drain is not referring to people who move from one mission field to another, or to administration, or to the classroom, or to being missions mobilizers in local churches. The Holy Spirit guides missionaries to live and serve in the places and ministries according to His will, not ours. The brain-drain in the blog refers to young Christians who are rising up and are burdened for the nations as well as sound theology. However, many of the theologians and conference speakers that they hear will speak of the value of missions but these conferences and their personalities are often bereft of any real missions involvement. The end result is that they often give up their thoughts of missions since their heroes do not seem to take it seriously.

Third, to understand what is meant by the year of living dangerously, all one needs to do is click on the link and find out that it is a challenge issued by the President of SBTS and subsequent chapel speakers. They called for students and professors in a highly academic theological environment to take seriously God’s call to go to the nations. Among many other steps they suggested, anyone not thinking about missions should step out of their comfort zone and go on at least one trip this academic year. Once a reader understands the context, it becomes clear that they were not saying that a one-week trip is sufficient for a lifetime of missions service, but rather that this is the bare minimum effort for someone who does not even have missions on their radar screen. I mean, honestly, does anyone seriously think it has been suggested that a one-week international trip is a year of living dangerously?

One statement from the first post that was quoted in the second really stands out and needs some insight. J.Trapp said,
“To me, the real “brain drain” is seeing plenty of smart and talented tentmakers
decide instead to become professional missionaries, pastors, theologians, etc.
because they’ve bought into the much-propagated lie that you can’t glorify God
nearly as much as a tentmaker as you can through professional preaching,
teaching, or scholarship.”

I have never seen this written or heard it spoken by anyone anywhere any time. The highest and best use of anyone’s life is to do what God has called them to do where He calls them to do it. Everyone can glorify God by loving Him and doing what He commands. If God has called anyone to be a tentmaker, professor, fulltime field missionary, or pastor, then he should do it to the glory of God. Granted, tentmakers do not have the time to be involved in ministry as much as fulltime missionaries do, but they can still be used and their service should be recognized and appreciated.

The point is radical obedience to whatever task God has called us. Comparisons and evaluations are only as helpful as they drive us to greater faithfulness, not casting stones.

Keith Walters said...

Dr. Sills,
Thank you for the response. I am aware of Al Mohler’s fall convocation address and I agree that it issued a strong challenge to financially strapped seminary students, a challenge which several of my close friends are taking up, and I am very glad to see this. My reference of this was more concerned with whether or not a one week trip truly separates “a ministry that talks about the nations but does not walk among the nations” from a ministry that both talks about and walks among the nations. Ultimately I concluded that it does not. Rather I pointed to the necessity that pastors must live missionaly in their immediate context if they are to provide an example for young missions-minded individuals to emulate. If we are to look up to these men then they must be diligent to exegete the text of Scripture as well as the context of life. If I am called to Uganda do I need to attend a church where the pastor has spent a week in Uganda? No, I need a pastor who is deeply involved in understanding, in loving, and in engaging individuals, within his context, with the gospel. The problem is not that the modern American pastor never leaves his country; the problem is that he never leaves his study to engage the brokenness and sin that is right outside his front door. I do not need a pastor who was bust living as a missionary last summer I need, and the church needs, pastors who are busy living as missionaries right now; who are desperately striving to see the gospel proclaimed and lived out in the city that God has put them, not merely in their pulpits.

In your reply, speaking of my quotation of JTapp, you said, “I have never seen this written or heard it spoken by anyone anywhere any time.” I think you provided a prime example of this phenomenon just paragraphs above in your reply where you stated, “I know very well the time limitations that hamper anyone blending a secular career with a separate ministry.” I wholeheartedly agree that there are huge limitations, specifically in the amount of time one has to study; at the same time I would argue that there are huge benefits of such a ministry. Having previously been involved in bi-vocational church planting, with future plans to do so again, I too realize these benefits and limitations.

However, I think the issue is between the terms “secular career” and “separate ministry.” Nancy Pearcey thoroughly addresses the false sacred/secular dichotomy and I do not think that a “call to the ministry” negates ones responsibility to have dominion and subdue the earth. I think there are many who would argue for a missional understanding of vocation. In my previous church planting experience I worked for a particular company, we will call it Company-X, as did two of the other church planters. Eventually it became a joke that we were Company-X Church as so many of those who were members were either employees or customers of that particular company. I did not view my work as a pastor and my work as an employee as separate, they were one in the same (Colossians 3:22-4:1; Titus 2:9-10). I could, as could others, give you countless stories of how the gospel was proclaimed through this venue. This was made possible not because I viewed work at the church as a separate and more important ministry but because I realized that my secular vocation was not secular but an opportunity to glorify God in ways that I could not if I bought into the popular American concept of pastor as business professional. I agree 100% with JTapp’s statement and I think that it represents a decision that countless pastors and missionaries will make as they decide that God will be more glorified by their eloquence in the pulpit and diligence in the study than He will if they strive to make God known in the marketplace and side streets and lead their congregations to do likewise. The latter is what it looks like when both a pastor/missionary and a congregation embrace the Missio Dei you have a congregation who gathers to submit to the preaching of the Word and then follows their pastor into the city as they seek to live out and proclaim the Word preached; diligence in study and faithfulness in preaching are still necessary they just find new impetus in the context of life.

In your comment you said, “Comparisons and evaluations are only as helpful as they drive us to greater faithfulness, not casting stones.” I agree and I hope I do not come across as one who throws stones. I have likely been to many of the conferences and admire many of the conference speakers to which you are referring in your original post. I am likewise saddened by the lack of missions literature available. Furthermore, I lament that much of what passes as missions literature is flooded with pragmatism and lacks the theological acumen presented in theological works by the same publishers; ironically such phrasing makes it appear that missiology is not a theological enterprise which would be far from true. I have appreciated the discussion and look forward to your reply.

David Sills, D.Miss, Ph.D. said...

You seem to continue missing my point in responding to the quote from JTrapp. Very clearly and succinctly, my point continues to be that no one can tell anyone else that they cannot glorify God in one profession as well as they can in another. I was trying to say that I am not aware of anyone who says tentmakers cannot glorify God as well as fulltime missionaries. A man called and equipped to be a carpenter or plumber or bank teller will glorify God in his obedience and faithfulness as he could do in no other way. If I need to say it more clearly- I do not believe that a fulltime pastor, or missionary, or theologian can glorify God better than a tentmaker. My point is NOT that tentmakers are not useful or are not glorifying God, nor even that they could somehow glorfiy God better in some other role. That may be a point that you have encountered elsewhere, but please do not superimpose it or project it onto my views; that would be inaccurate and untrue. However, from decades of experience in ministry in several countries and from the witness of many friends in such ministry, I still maintain that my tentmaker friends are the first to say that their time limitations are frustrating. Tentmakers are happy, fruitful, glorifing God, living dangerously, and have virtually nothing to do with the blog, but it has been good to get to know you through this exchange.

Grace and peace,


Keith Walters said...

"Very clearly and succinctly, my point continues to be that no one can tell anyone else that they cannot glorify God in one profession as well as they can in another."

I completely agree sorry about the confusion.