Equipping the Whole Person in Mission Training

Welcome to our first IMTN bulletin 

The aim of the bulletin is to stimulate conversation between mission trainers around the world.  It is an urgent – and massive – task today to equip the church for mission. Today the global church is sending out unprecedented numbers of its members across the cultures to bear witness to Jesus Christ.  Yet what kind of preparation is given and what kind of impact is this mass movement having on receiving churches, on sending churches and on those who are going?

The scale of the challenge can result in expedient training solutions.  We have to do something so let’s do what we can (pragmatic) with the resources we have (feasibility).  But expedient solutions may not be the most fruitful.   Mission trainers need to think critically – and we need to think together- about best practices in preparing men and women for crossing the cultures.  

To start our engagement in critical reflection this bulletin will focus on the issue of equipping the whole person.   Effective ministry requires more than knowing information and more than knowing how to apply that information in other contexts.  Effective ministry also requires mature and godly emotions and the ability to relate to God, to self and to others in ways that are healthy and resilient.  

Examining the ‘head-heart-hands’ of mission training

For several decades the popular mission training slogan, ‘head-heart-hands’ with its alternative ‘knowing-being-doing’ has been used to summarise whole person learning. Take a look at the websites and brochures of many mission training institutions around the world and they will present this slogan as their ethos for training. [1][1]  But what does head-heart-hands really mean and is this triplet a useful or adequate description for the kind of whole person learning so essential in Christian mission training?  

The ‘head-heart-hands/know-be-do’ motif neatly signifies three domains of learning that were described in the 1950s and 1960s by Benjamin Bloom.  He conceived learning in three domains that he described as cognitive, affective and psychomotor. The cognitive domain refers to developing knowledge, the affective domain refers to attitudes and psychomotor refers to skills.  Importantly, Bloom’s taxonomy was developed in the context of Western academic institutions.[2][2]

Mission trainers recognise that preparation for mission is not solely a cognitive process leading to knowledge acquisition but must also include the development of right attitudes and appropriate skills.   So the ‘head-heart-hand/ know-be-do’ appears to be a helpful way for mission trainers to design training that equips people with appropriate knowledge, attitudes and skills.  However, there are two significant problems with this understanding of learning.

Firstly, the ‘head-heart-hand/ know-be-do’ motif ignores a crucial social dimension of learning.  Understanding about learning has developed since the 1950s and 60s and educators now recognise that all learning is both situated (cannot take place in a vacuum) and a social process.  The social dimension of learning is essential not only to understand whole person learning but also, in the context of Christian discipleship and mission training because missionaries’ ability to relate is crucial. 

Secondly, the ‘head-heart-hands/ know-be-do’ over emphasises the cognitive (thinking) dimension of learning. Knowledge and skills are essentially both cognitive processes. Therefore, if educators use the ‘head-heart-hands/ know-be-do’ slogan to guide their training design they are likely to emphasis the cognitive.  It is also much easier to measure and test the cognitive (knowledge development and skills abilities) so training is skewed towards ‘knowing and doing’ with less attention to emotions and no explicit attention to the social dimension.