APM - History of the APM

The Association of Professors of Mission: The First Thirty-five Years, 1952-1987
Norman A. Horner
International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 11:3 (July 1987): 120-24. 
Posted with permission from OMSC.

Events leading to a North American association of missions professors grew out of the interest generated by the 1910 World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh, Scotland. A group of missions teachers in the eastern part of the United States began to meet informally as early as 1917,1 to promote fellowship and professional usefulness, sharing their research through papers and discussion of mission issues. There were only four full professorships of missions in American seminaries at the time of the Edinburgh Conference: Southern Baptist (Louisville, Ky.), Yale Divinity School (New Haven, Conn.), Episcopal Theological School (Cambridge, Mass.), and Omaha Seminary (a Presbyterian institution in Omaha, Neb., which has since ceased to exist except as an endowed program of continuing education).2 However, many other seminaries, colleges, and Bible schools were offering courses in missions within the decade after 1910. By the early 1930s the eastern fellowship was meeting on a regular basis, twice a year. In 1940, with some twenty-nine members, the participants adopted a constitution, naming their group the Fellowship of Professors of Missions of the Middle Atlantic Region.3 But the group continued to be known popularly as the Eastern Fellowship.

A wider association in the United States and Canada was a logical next step, and the Association of Professors of Missions (APM) was organized in June 1952 at Louisville, Kentucky. The group often thereafter became known as the Association of Professors of Mission, in the singular, although this change in terminology was never officially made. An invitation to the organizational meeting had been extended by H. Cornell Goeme of the Southern Baptist Seminary in that city and Norman A. Horner of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. Goemer was elected the first president of the association, and Homer the first secretary-treasurer.

It was appropriate to hold the inaugural meeting at Southern Baptist Seminary. That institution justifiably claims the oldest continuing department of missions in America.4 There were indeed earlier professors at other seminaries who devoted part time to teaching missions courses,5 but the assignment of Southern Baptist's William Owen Carver to a new Department of Comparative Religion and Missions in 1899 marks the beginning of full status for this discipline in the curriculum of any American seminary.

The year of the APM's organization more than a half century later was in no other respect a high point in the history of missions as a recognized academic discipline in American theological education. Reflecting on it in 1974, R. Pierce Beaver wrote:

Mission teachers and scholars as well as field missionaries and board executives had the ground cut from under them. New justification for the inclusion of missions in the seminary curriculum had to be found and the very existence of the discipline had to be defended. Our Association of Professors of Missions came into existence in 1950 [sic] not as an expression of the old missionary triumphalism but as an attempt to build a lifeboat for floundering brothers and sisters. It really marks the beginning of a new era rather than the climax of the older development. The biennial reports of the Association reveal the wrestling we have done over our reason for being, curriculum, and teaching methods during the past twenty-odd years.6

The APM met biennially for a period of twenty years, from 1952 to 1972, ordinarily in conjunction with scheduled meetings of the American Association of Theological Schools (AATS). During those two decades the membership was drawn chiefly from the United States, although a few Canadian professors participated from the beginning. The charter members were all Protestants, mainly because Roman Catholic seminaries then offered few if any missions courses in their curriculum.7 There were no women members in the earliest years of the organization. By the time of the 1962 meeting one woman had enrolled, and only three were included in a total membership of ninety-seven listed in the biennial report of 1972.

A constitution was drafted and approved at the second meeting of the association, on June 15, 1954. It specified that APM membership was open to professors of missions at seminaries belonging to the AATS and, by action of the Executive Committee, to other qualified persons. During the early years "other qualified persons" were almost entirely teachers of missions at seminaries, colleges, and Bible schools not related to the AATS. A few were executives of mission agencies and ecumenical organizations, but the emphasis was clearly on people actually involved in classroom teaching. At the first three meetings, through 1956, considerable attention was given to such practical concerns as sharing course syllabi and teaching methods.

Pedagogical matters were by no means the only emphasis, however. From the outset the APM as a professional society challenged its members to engage in scholarly research into contemporary mission issues and to share that research through papers read and discussed at the biennial meetings. From 1958 through 1974 those papers were mimeographed and bound, along with the minutes of each meeting. The largest document, that of 1958, included not only the full text of all the papers but also those of the formal critiques. It was 152 pages in length. These and subsequent APM Proceedings were made available not only to the APM membership but, at modest cost, to other interested individuals and institutions. They include lasting scholarly contributions to the field of missiology, studies that are frequently cited in the missiological literature even today. The considerable variety of themes they addressed are as follows:

1958 (Boston)-"Missionary Vocation"
1960 (Richmond, Va.)-Frontiers of the Christian World Mission since 1938: Essays in Honor of Kenneth Scott Latourette, ed. Wilber C. Harr, and published as a book (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962)
1962 (Toronto)-"Our Teaching Responsibility in the Light of the De-emphasis on the Words 'Missions' and 'Missionary'"
1964 (Philadelphia)-"Theology of the World Apostolate"
1966 (Takoma Park, Md.)-"An Inquiry into the Implications of Joint Action for Mission"
1968 (Webster Groves, Mo.)-"The Theology of Religions"
1970 (Washington, D.C.)-"Salvation and Mission"
1972 (Nashville, Tenn.)-"The Church Growth Movement"
1974 (Wheaton, Ill.)--"Missions in Theological Education"

The regional fellowship groups did not lose their importance. A Midwest Fellowship of Professors of Missions, centered in Chicago, had begun to meet informally sometime during the 1950s and was formally organized in 1957.8 From then on the biennial minutes of the APM normally included reports from both the Eastern and the Midwest fellowships. The first APM constitution (1954) provided that, in addition to the president, vice president, and secretary-treasurer of the APM, one member from each of those regional fellowship groups should serve on its Executive Committee, and that remained the practice until 1974. A plan to organize Southern and Southwestern fellowship groups was frequently mentioned but never carried through.

During the 1960s a small but increasing number of Roman Catholic professors joined the APM, four of them being admitted to membership at the 1968 meeting alone. By then it had become standard practice to have all three traditions--conciliar Protestant, Roman Catholic, and conservative-evangelical Protestant--represented in those assigned to read papers at each biennial meeting. The APM was thus in some important respects the most widely ecumenical body in North America at that time.

By the early 1960s the majority of missions teachers were no longer in the institutions of conciliar Protestantism but in the conservative-evangelical schools. The "mainline" Protestant mission agencies were appointing candidates primarily for short term rather than lifetime missionary service, and they began to use the brief but intensive orientation courses at Stony Point, New York, and elsewhere rather than the traditionally longer academic preparation for appointees to overseas service. This signaled the demise of some distinguished and ecumenically oriented schools of mission and the emergence in strength of conservative-evangelical schools. As Walter Cason noted in his paper read at the APM interim meeting in 1973:

Clear signs of changing interests in specialized missionary training are to be seen in the rise and fall of institutions or departments devoted primarily to this task. Among those who have grown since 1962 are: the School of World Mission and Institute of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary; the School of World Mission of Trinity Evangelical Divinity school; and the School of World Mission of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Protestant institutions which have ended this type of program include the Hartford Seminary Foundation, Scarritt College, and the Lutheran School of Theology at Maywood.9

Throughout the period from 1958 to 1972 the APM maintained a fairly large total membership, usually well over 100, but attendance at the biennial gatherings was sometimes disappointing. Only twenty-two registered for the meeting in 1968, and the number dropped to fourteen, along with a few invited guests, in 1970. Those in attendance at the 1970 meeting expressed a concern to reevaluate the purpose of the association and the nature of its membership. They directed the Executive Committee to study the matter, seek suggestions from the members about possible changes, and report to the next meeting.10

Some twenty-five members and a few invited guests registered for the meeting in 1972, but that small increase afforded little encouragement. Moreover, the total membership roll, recently pruned of those who had not so much as paid their dues for the previous four years, was considerably reduced. Clearly something was needed to increase interest. The Executive Committee reported the results of a questionnaire it had distributed.11 Of the forty-two replies returned, a large majority (86%) favored relaxing the membership requirement to include professors of other disciplines who are also concerned with the study of missions. A smaller but still substantial majority (69%) favored including mission-board members and executives, representatives of publishing companies, and others professionally involved in mission studies. And more than half (55%) approved of opening the membership to field missionaries, graduate students, and others--"anyone interested in the purpose of the association." It had become clear that whatever else might emerge in a future restructuring, article III of the constitution, requiring special action to admit professors of missions in seminaries not related to the AATS, was clearly obsolete. That article was therefore amended to read: "Membership shall be open to all professors of missions and, by invitation of the Executive Committee, to other qualified persons."12

Early in June 1972, just prior to the eleventh biennial meeting of the APM in Nashville, a small group of the association's members had met during "Expo '72" in Dallas, Texas, to discuss the future of the association. They concluded that it would be wiser to begin a more inclusive organization, to be called the American Society of Missiology (ASM), rather than merely try to broaden the scope of the APM. This, they argued, would attract a much wider constituency. It would also help to avoid the danger of further polarization, and would solve the problem of attempting to merge the APM with the recently organized Association of Evangelical Professors of Missions. Moreover, a larger organization would be better able to undertake publication of a scholarly journal, a goal of the APM first articulated ten years earlier at the 1962 meeting and reiterated in 1970 but always frustrated by the insurmountable problem of financial cost.

The proposal to organize the new and more comprehensive society was conveyed to the Nashville meeting of the APM by Gerald H. Anderson, chairman of the ASM Continuation Committee.13 Despite a few expressions of regret that the timing of the proposal seemed to preempt the APM's effort to accomplish a similar purpose by restructuring its own organization, the reception was generally favorable. The mind of the group seems best summarized in the comment made by R. Pierce Beaver:

I am probably the only charter member of the APM present. I have long felt the need for an association that included professors of diverse fields, an organization that would bring together scholars and experts with an interest in the mission of Christ's Church. . . . We in the field of missions need the light, guidance and help of men from many other fields, like anthropology, sociology, linguistics, etc. I am doubtful whether our APM could be enlarged in such a way as to draw these others in. . . . I think there are tremendous advantages in a new organization that right from the start is based on comprehensiveness. We have been through a period of polarization. It has been a great obstacle to our common concern and task. A new society offers the possibility of broader development including Conservative Evangelicals, Ecumenicals and Roman Catholics. . . . The new society also offers the possibility of enlisting lay members (from industry, etc.) who can have effect on others. Perhaps it will also be more effective in producing a reading public for mission studies, something we all desire and need.14

A remaining question was whether or not the APM should attempt to retain its independent identity or simply be absorbed into the proposed larger organization. That question was tentatively answered by a decision at the 1972 meeting to gather again the following year under its own APM auspices but in association with the inaugural meeting of the ASM. In effect this was a decision to continue as an independent association of professors, but it was also a recognition that most APM members would be unable or unwilling to attend the national meetings of both organizations unless those meetings were held at the same place, one following immediately upon the other. Just as the APM meetings had maintained a "piggy-back" relationship to the biennial gatherings of the AATS for the previous twenty years, the APM was now moving in the direction of meeting annually in conjunction with the American Society of Missiology.

The APM met again in June 1973 at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, for its "twelfth interim meeting," called to celebrate "the creation of the American Society of Missiology with the help and blessing of the Association of Professors of Missions."15 Members of the APM conducted their own business sessions. Three papers on the theme "Missions in Theological Education," previously assigned and intended for the twelfth biennial meeting in 1974, were read and discussed. A fourth paper and further discussion of the same general theme were scheduled for the following year. The secretary was asked to investigate the possibility of having those and future papers published in the new ASM journal, Missiology: An International Review, no decision having yet been made about whether or not the APM wouI4 continue to publish its Proceedings in the accustomed format.16

At the meeting in 1974, article V of the APM constitution was changed to read: "This Association shall convene annually, preferably in conjunction with the meeting of the American Society of Missiology."17 The association had thus firmly established its affiliation with the new organization. Some fears were expressed by those present that interest in the APM with its more specialized concerns would decline in consequence, but quite the opposite has occurred. Attendance at the annual meetings since 1974 has consistently been at least double that of the old biennial gatherings. More than seventy registered for the meeting in 1986, the largest attendance in the association's history. The total membership roll, currently 119, is larger and more diversified than it has been for a number of years. In brief, the Association of Professors of Missions is flourishing because of, and not in spite of, its relationship to the American Society of Missiology.

Some APM members nevertheless continue to feel that the association need not maintain an independent identity but should become merely a special-interest section of the ASM. Motions to that effect were introduced at every annual meeting from 1979 to 1983, the liveliest discussion of the matter taking place in 1981. Such motions have invariably failed by a wide margin to pass. In 1984 a committee of APM/ASM members again moved to have the question reviewed, but that motion was tabled indefinitely by a vote of more than two to one.

Thus the continued existence of the APM as an autonomous organization seems reasonably secure, but only if it continues to meet the special needs and interests of its membership in ways the ASM cannot do. This means focusing on issues that relate specifically to the responsibilities of teachers, its main reason for being. To deal solely or even primarily with such broad missiological issues as characterized several of its meetings in the 1960s and early 1970s would risk merely duplicating the function of the ASM. Hence the recurrent appeal from APM members for more focus on pedagogical matters as such. The theme of the 1986 meeting was "Approaches to the Teaching of Missions," and there are regular requests to share course syllabi again as was done in the past.

Throughout the past thirty-five years the APM has brought together professors from as wide an ecumenical spectrum as that of any other professional society in North America. Their sharing of scholarly interests has resulted in more than personal satisfaction and professional usefulness. The Association of Professors of Missions no longer serves as "a lifeboat for floundering brothers and sisters," as was the case in 1952. It has helped to restore a measure of prominence to their academic discipline in American theological education. Its wider influence can be seen not only in the rise of the American Society of Missiology but, to a more limited extent, in the organization in 1972 of the International Association for Mission Studies.18

Olav Guttorm Myklebust, The Study of Missions in Theological Education, vol. 2 (Oslo: Egede Institute, 1957), p. 71.

Ibid. Myklebust mentions only the first three of these schools. He does not refer to Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary, but it should be included. See Edinburgh Conference Reports, vol. 6, p. 175.

Myklebust, vol. 2, p. 185. Myklebust bases this information on an unpublished typescript, "History of the Fellowship of Professors of Missions," dated 1955, written by Daniel J. Fleming, then professor of missions at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and an active member of the eastern fellowship; also a letter from R. Pierce Beaver dated Nov. 29, 1955. Neither Myklebust nor Union Seminary library were able to locate or provide copies of these in December 1986.

See Hugo H. Culpepper, "The Legacy of William Owen Carver," in International Bulletin of Missionary Research 5 (July 1981): 119-22.

See R. Pierce Beaver, "The American Theological Seminary and Missions: An Historical Survey," in APM, Proceedings, Twelfth Biennial Meeting (Wheaton, Ill., June 9-10, 1974), pp. 7-14. Beaver states that missions courses were offered at Princeton Seminary from 1836 to 1839 by Charles Breckinridge, professor of pastoral theology and missionary instruction, but the subject disappeared from the curriculum entirely in 1855. George Lewis Prentiss was appointed professor of pastoral theology, church polity, and mission work at Union Seminary, New York City, in 1873, but missions constituted a very small part of his teaching, and it was not until 1918 that Daniel J. Fleming became the first full-time professor of missions at that school. In 1885 Cumberland University of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Lebanon, Tenn., recognized H. C. Bell, a mission board executive, as professor of homiletics and missions, without salary, again a part-time teaching function. However, by the 1880s and 1890s missions courses had begun to appear widely in American Protestant schools.

Ibid., p. 13. Beaver here mistakenly dates the beginning of the APM as 1950. There was undoubtedly serious discussion about such a society by 1950 or earlier, but the organizational meeting was in 1952.

As late as 1973, only five of the twenty-nine Roman Catholic seminaries replying to a questionnaire reported having any teachers who offered courses in missions. See Charles W. Forman, "The Role of Mission Studies in Theological Education," in APM, Proceedings, Twelfth Biennial Meeting, p. 36.

The Midwest Fellowship first adopted a constitution on March 30, 1957. Charles Van Engen, the current secretary, indicates that records prior to that date no longer exist. However, article V of the constitution provides for charter membership to "any person who attended meetings of the Fellowship up to the time of the adoption of the constitution." In Van Engen's opinion, the group had met informally for several years prior to 1957 and was probably stimulated to organize on a more formal basis by the emergence of the APM in 1952.

Cason, "Missions in Theological Education: The Present Situation," in APM, Proceedings, Twelfth Biennial Meeting (1974), pp. 31-32. (Papers and minutes from the 1973 and 1974 meetings were published together in this 1974 document.)

APM, Proceedings, Tenth Biennial Meeting (Washington, D.C., June 16-18, 1970), p. 37.

See APM, Proceedings, Eleventh Biennial Meeting (Nashville, Tenn., June 12-14, 1972), pp. 79-83.

Ibid., p. 84 ("The Association of Professors of Missions, Constitution Adopted June 15, 1954, Revised June 14, 1972"). This amendment of article III, Membership, was the first substantive revision of the constitution. A 1962 modification had merely authorized each meeting to determine the amount of biennial dues.

Ibid., pp. 71-72.


APM, Proceedings: Twelfth Biennial Meeting (Wheaton, Ill., June 9-10, 1974), p. 3.

Ibid., pp. 5, 47.

Ibid., p. 48.

O. G. Myklebust, "On the Origin of IAMS," in Mission Studies III-1 (1986): 4. Myklebust credits R. Pierce Beaver's paper read at the APM meeting in 1952 with having given encouragement to the Oslo proposal to establish the international society.