Pitfalls of Trained Incapacity: The Unintended Effects of Integral Missionary Training in the Basel Mission on its Early Work in Ghana (1828-1840)

By Birgit Herppich

A historical case-study of the pioneering German missionary group the Basel Mission, and how its training methods affected early missionary work in Africa.

ISBN: 9780227176214


The need to train Christian missionaries was an afterthought of the Protestant missionary movement in the early nineteenth century. The Basel Missionary Training Institute (BMTI) was the first school designed solely for the purpose of preparing European missionaries for ministry in non-European lands. Pitfalls of Trained Incapacity explores the various sociological and historical factors that influenced the BMTI “community of practice” and how the outcomes affected the work of the Basel Mission in Ghana in its initial phase. It shows that the integral training of the BMTI resulted in missionary practices that lacked flexibility to adjust attitudes and behaviour to the vastly different circumstances in Africa, impeded the realisation of mission objectives, and hindered the emergence of an African appropriation of Christianity.

By exploring educational and sociological perspectives in a pre-colonial context, this study reaches beyond its historical significance to raise questions of unintended effects of integral ministry training in other times and places. The natural cultural bias of groups with shared theological assumptions and social ideals – like the Basel Mission – suggests a strong propensity for trained incapacity, that is, for training processes that establish inflexible mental frameworks that are potentially detrimental to intercultural engagement.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 382

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Birgit Herppich (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is a native of Germany and served with WEC International as a missionary in Ghana for eight years. She now coordinates the Membership Departments of WEC International.


Tables and Figures
Foreword by Wilbert R. Shenk
List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Integral Missionary Training and the Basel Mission

Part I: The Community of Practice of the Basel Mission Training Institute
1. A Learning Community Shaped by German Pietism
2. A Shared Vision of Christian Foreign Mission
3. Diverse Participants with a Shared Practice

Part II: Indications for Trained Incapacity in the Beginnings of the Basel Mission in Ghana
4. The African Context and the Early Basel Mission (1828-1831)
5. Andreas Riis’s Pioneering (1832-1840)
6. Early Failures at Mission Work (1836-1840)

Conclusion: Pitfalls of Trained Incapacity in Integral Missionary Training



Endorsements and Reviews

Twenty-first-century people are as prone to ethnocentric reaction to other cultures as were explorers, traders, and missionaries two centuries ago. Pitfalls of Trained Incapacity graphically shows that what is learned in one culture as ‘state of the art’ theory and practice can create enormous barriers to effective engagement with people of another culture. This carefully researched and well-written case study of the group of German missionaries trained at the Basel Missionary Training Institute and sent by the Basel Mission to establish their work in Ghana throws fresh light on the challenges of crossing cultural boundaries.
Wilbert R. Shenk, Senior Professor of Mission History, Fuller Graduate School of Intercultural Studies, Pasadena, California

A wonderful book … at the innovative and fruitful intersection of educational and missionary studies.
David Onnekink, in Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Herppich makes a valuable contribution to mission studies and does so sensitively. … the issues are as relevant for mission today as ever.
Carl Chambers, in Churchman, Vol 133, No 3, Autumn 2019