A young man from one of our supporting churches recently emailed with the following question, "I was wondering if you have ever heard of anyone using music education as a platform for missions. If someone wanted to do something like that, how might they get started?" I imagine that there are lots of Christians out there who are interested in missions but not quite sure if their interests and skills are usable on the mission field and if so, how. So I thought I would post our answer to his question in hopes that others who are wondering about getting involved in missions, particularly in the area of music, would be benefited.
"There are lots of ways to use music education in missions. Formally, you can get a job teaching music education in a school, either in the local language or more likely in English. In a number of countries, there are schools that want to offer an international track where local students have all their classes in English, including various subject matter like science, math, music and so forth. Of course, there are also international schools, both secular and Christian where one can also be a music teacher. The requirements to teach in the Christian (MK) schools are probably lower than the secular ones. Getting a job as a music teacher in a school is something that
can be done in an open or a closed country.
Informally, if you are in an open country, doing church planting, student work, or some other kind of ministry, you can teach music classes as a way to build relationships and get to know local people as a way to share the Gospel. This would most likely need to be done in the local language. And when you are in church based (or parachurch) ministry, there is always going to be worship music and worship leading of some sort. Neither my wife nor I are musical so if we were going to form a new church planting team, we would want to have a co-worker (missionary or local) who is musical. Worship is a really important part of the local church and we need music people to complement the other gifts on the team/in the church. Here in Thailand, it is common to teach guitar as form of outreach and I heard about a woman in Cambodia who teaches French horn.
Where to get started? If you are going to do something formal, like teach music education in a school, I'd get a degree in music and teaching/education and spend a few years teaching music in a school in the U.S., all the while serving in your local church. Then after you have some formal experience on your resume, contact the missions agencies working in the country where you want to go and ask about the possibilities for music education and missions. Or you could make some inquiries up front before finishing a music degree or starting to teach. It can never hurt to have some solid information on options before you begin down a certain track. If you want to use music informally for outreach, I'd check into the missions agencies in the country where you want to work and tell them that music is one of the things that you want to do. The more information that the missions agency or denominational missions board has about who you are and what you want to do, the better they will be able to point you in the right direction and match you up with a church planting team or ministry who is in need of someone with your interests and skills.
There is also the area of ethno-musicology which deals with study of indigenous forms of music in order to develop contextualized forms of worship. I don't know much about that but I think that Wycliffe has some people working in that area so you might ask them if interested."