FMB initiative to enhance missionary leader skills

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--A new program to enhance Southern Baptist missionaries' leadership skills on their fields of service will be directed by Ben Sells, a leader in distance learning programs at the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, Calif.

Sells, a Missouri native, will head the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board's new International Centre for Excellence in Leadership, to better equip missionaries for the challenges of starting and developing churches in other cultures.

ICEL is a direct response to missionaries' requests for help, said Sam James, the board's vice president for creative leadership development.

"Missionaries are leaders wherever they are, but we have never really given attention to helping them improve their effectiveness as leaders," James said. "Once they are overseas, they have no opportunity for hands-on training in leadership skills, unless they are motivated to come back on furlough and seek out some training."

The new program will provide practical studies in six areas: strategic thinking; team effectiveness; interpersonal relations; spiritual maturity and personal growth; ministry multiplication; and management disciplines.

It uses videotape and computer-based training techniques and incorporates e-mail feedback from instructors. Individualized study courses will be tailored to strengths and to areas that could benefit from development, identified during three-day assessment sessions at the board's Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va.

ICEL needed a director with a background in adult education and distance learning who also understands missions and has experience in cross-cultural settings, James said. "The position is tailored for Ben," he said.

As chairman of the mission training division of the U.S. Center for World Mission and president of the center's William Carey International University, Sells knows the challenges of providing training to missionaries on their fields of service, James said. Sells and his wife, Lisa, also taught English in a university in China through Cooperative Services International, the Southern Baptist relief and development agency.

Sells holds both master's and doctor's degrees in adult education from the University of Missouri in Columbia. He also served as vice president for admissions and student life at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, Mo., from 1992-94.

"In many ways, ICEL reflects the exploding adult education movement in our own country," Sells said. "Like everyone else, missionaries need to have the right skills at the right time to perform their roles. The need is even greater for missionaries because they face the especially challenging task of planting churches in cross-cultural contexts."

Training missionaries in leadership issues is an even more urgent need under the restructuring plan adopted by Foreign Mission Board trustees in April, James said.

In the new structure, missionary teams will shoulder the responsibility for shaping and implementing their own strategies. Working together -- instead of individually -- requires people who know how to lead and work effectively in teams, James explained.

Foreign Mission Board leaders also hope to open the training program to their "Great Commission partners" around the world, James said. "There are Baptist union and convention leaders, as well as missionaries with other evangelical groups, who can benefit from leadership enhancement on the field," he noted.

"God has greatly blessed the work of missionaries around the world, yet so many feel an urgent need for leadership training," James said. "When they get the training they need, this has the potential of being very explosive on the field."

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