GMI Connection

Training researchers or making disciples? GMI Connection - Issue 9 : Article 3

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nl9-3.jpgTraining Researchers or Making Disciples?

The deadline fell on Tuesday, December 4. Ten South Asian researchers were scheduled to submit a complete first draft of their master's thesis research, an important milestone in the M.A. in Organizational Leadership program run by Development Associates International, using GMI's Breakthrough! research manual as the core text.


Only one did so.


"These researchers are not off in a seminary library somewhere, insulated by hundreds of miles from all the realities of family responsibilities and full-time ministry," said Stan Nussbaum, their research coach and GMI's staff missiologist. "There is no protective bubble around them."


Nussbaum indicates that his top priority as a research coach is not training researchers; it is making disciples. That puts tricky, time-consuming, and sometimes heart-wrenching demands on him as a coach and discipler which would not be there if he were just an ordinary trainer.


"I am not just their deadline enforcer. I am their ally, trying to come alongside them, understand their situations, and provide whatever guidance, encouragement, or discipline each one needs at this particular point," he said. "I try to keep tabs on them personally, and when I do, I find that good coaching has to take all kinds of things into account."


Nussbaum reported the following "real world" situations among his cohort this month:

  • Criminal accusations by a disgruntled recipient of the researcher's ministry services, temporarily bringing the ministry and all study to a standstill; 
  • Unexpected death of a supervisor one week before the assignment was due;
  • Illness of a supervisor, requiring the researcher to take charge of his agency's annual conference on short notice (the assignment came due during the conference); and
  • Back pain that has not responded to treatment over the last several months and is affecting all aspects of life, ministry, and study.

One resourceful researcher faced a similar difficulty but managed to turn it to her advantage. Knowing that a few days after the deadline she would travel hundreds of miles to be with her sister while she receives treatment for stage-three cancer, she pushed herself to meet the deadline, and she succeeded.


Besides these external factors, there are various personal areas where the researchers need to grow as disciples. Nussbaum lists these:

  • One researcher is tempted to accept an invitation to participate in an international conference soon. This could overload the researcher's schedule –how to coach him through it?
  • Two are battling perfectionism. Nussbaum is coaching them toward being less fussy about their work (the opposite of the way he coaches most people). He also has to warn them to stay focused on God's glory, not the glory they might receive from people if they refine their work to "perfection."
  • Two slipped badly behind on assignments three months ago. They seem to be doing better now, but it is tricky to give them the right combination of encouragement and pressure to show disciplined time management.

Nussbaum also reports a third layer of challenges which are simply the normal challenges of researchers, such as:

  • One discovered from his initial research that one of his core assumptions had been wrong. He has had to scrap his topic and start everything again. 
  • One had more trouble than expected getting people to respond to his questions, to the point that he is wondering if he should give up the whole thing.
  • Two are just plain late, although both have been in touch and have done everything well up to this point in the process.
  • Six or seven struggle with occasionally unreliable Internet access

Although a research coach is not a pastor, it simply wouldn't do to tell researchers amidst the struggles of life in the Global South to "pull their socks up." Instead, he has to care. If a coach were so effective that his researchers could "fathom all mysteries and all knowledge" but he had no love, he would amount to nothing.


Thanks for your prayers for GMI staff and for those in the Global South whom they encourage and disciple. Yes, pray for good research, but especially pray for good disciples to be formed through the research process.


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