by Peter Savage
Are some of our American and British structures for ministerial training inadequate for the younger churches? Are the schools on the mission field really facing the social, cultural and spiritual problems that are innate to their soil? Does our theological education effectively aid a virile and effective growth in the church?
Are some of our American and British structures for ministerial training inadequate for the younger churches? Are the schools on the mission field really facing the social, cultural and spiritual problems that are innate to their soil? Does our theological education effectively aid a virile and effective growth in the church? I believe the time has come to let down the draw bridges from the castles we have built around our institutions. We must attempt a realistic evaluation of our present structures in the light of the special set of problems that face us in the development of leadership in the younger churches. What follows is an effort to do this from the perspective of Latin America.
Well may we ask, "What are the problems?" First, and one of the most acute, is social mobility. In a developing country there are rich prizes to be won if a man ascends the educational ladder. Once this mobility based on a materialistic way of life has been set in motion, those on the lower rungs set out either personally or by proxy through their children to climb this social ladder. This affects our theological education in at least two areas.
First, the school may be used as a springboard for ambitious young men and women to reach higher levels in their social climb. Some well-meaning fathers will place their children in a Bible school with the hope that through it the children will reach the heights to which they had aspired. The school tends to become little more than inexpensive secondary education. In some cases the school serves as the gateway from rural life to urban life, providing the student with the needed introduction to the utopia he has longed for.
Social mobility also relates to the development of the churches’ present leadership and the educational level of the congregation. A leader is more likely to be respected as long as he is at least equal to the top church members in terms of spiritual growth, intellectual development, and maturity. This is an acute problem for urban churches. In many cases lay leaders are better prepared, and in some cases more capable, than their pastors. This can produce frustration in the pastor, and an authoritarian stance because of a deep sense of inferiority.
What should be our structures in the light of this problem? Should we fight social mobility, claiming that the truly spiritual youth or leader will not allow himself to be sucked into this fast-moving stream? Or should we not rather move our program along with social mobility? Should we not attempt to train those who already have arrived at the top and who are actual leaders? Should we not give those gifted professionals in our churches the opportunity for serious and systematic theological education, so as to enable them to enter the ministry? Should not our pastoral training program be continuous so as to allow the pastor to move with his congregation up the educational scale?
A second problem that is plaguing our present training methods is multieducational levels. Theological education usually has been designed to cater to one educational level, whether it be full primary or full secondary, but the fact is that prospective students have varying levels of education, not to mention ability. In many schools the classroom situation is made up of students with barely the sufficient entrance requirements, others with three to five years of secondary education, and possibly a university student or two.
The most acute problem that meets the teacher is how to present his lectures in such a way that they will challenge every student. The most intelligent, best educated students will not always be challenged to the full. They coast along and develop a sense of superiority over fellow students, and a false sense of confidence over subject matter. The slower students, who may well be capable leaders in a rural setting, find that they cannot cope, and thus develop a crippling sense of inferiority.
How can webest train the potential or actual leaders at the educational level they have already attained? The church demands a multilevel leadership: rural-urban; national-international. How can we so diversify our program to meet this challenge without attempting to steamroll everyone on one simplified stratum? Furthermore, how can we make our programs flexible enough so that the student can study at the pace that he is most capable of, a pace that will draw the best out of him, without forcing him into an impartial and impersonal structure? Could we not reverse our structures? Instead of the student’s adjusting to the school, could not the school adjust to the student?
Another problem is the variety of subcultures from which, the typical seminary or Bible institute draws its students. Generally due to the limited financial resources of the national church or mission, a central school is set up that unconsciously attempts to merge these cultural differences. A further culture is introduced into the school when it is run by North Americans or Europeans. The missionary director or teacher tends to organize the school in terms of his own culture and experience. In many cases the students become cultural hybrids.
Time and again graduating students have returned enthusiastically to their regions, with real and great vision for the future. Sad to say, they are now foreigners! Their people suspect them, detest their "foreignness" and finally reject them. This may be totally unknown to the missionary or to the Bible school. Within a period of time, frustrated and possibly broken, the rejected Christian school graduate seeks secular employment in a city where he feels at home. The undiscerning missionary classifies him as unspirituall and carnal. Who was to blame? Could it not be our present structures? Vernon A. Reimer states it well: "Some students from the rural churches, having received several years of institute training, experience difficulty in adjusting themselves to the humble life of the community to which they minister, feeling that to adapt themselves to the lowly customs of the villagers would be a step down for them. Nor do they fit into the urban church situation."1
Could we not train the actual leaders within their own cultural contexts, so that the gospel becomes meaningful to their own people?
The economic problems of missions are further accentuated in that our present imported structures of theological education are geared to a well-to-do, middle class church, which can comfortably afford to give endowments and heavy scholarships to underwrite students’ fees and expenses during their stay at Bible school or seminary. In many cases the local church or denomination will guarantee to support the student and his family through his ministerial training. This is not the case in Latin America, where it has been necessary for Bible schools and seminaries to work on heavily-subsidized budgets, so as to offer the student an inexpensive (for him) course of study. In many cases the schools cover all expenses, regardless of the student’s merits or initiative. The institution develops into an unwieldy monolithic structure, which could not be church-financed within the next hundred years. The student learns to receive without knowing the cost involved. Does this not rob the student of initiative and responsibility.? Could not our structures follow the pattern of Latin American universities where the student struggles through financing his way?
Melvin Hodges states the problem well when he says, "Boys and girls are kept on the mission station at mission expense over a period of years. After years of training, the missionary suddenly begins to discover problems with his protege or blueeyed boy. First, the worker may not be able to lead the national church; second, this pastor lacks initiative. He waits for the missionary to tell him to visit a new locality. Third, he may continue to depend onthe missionary to meet his financial needs and be unable to demonstrate a robust faith in God. Granted that he looks too much to the missionary for his support, but what else could be expected? Has not the missionary always provided for him, first in his local church, then in the Bible school, and then in the pastorate? He has never really had to, struggle to face his economic situation."2
Another characterisic in. Latin America is the semiliterate. This is not merely the problem of those who can barely write, but of many university, secondary, and primary students. They can read, they can memorize, but they cannot think. They cannot discern or even understand. All their learning process is geared to the rote system, without any intellectual exercise or real mental digestion. This problem becomes even more acute when the student is not working in his mother tongue. His real conceptual thought is carried out in his heart language, while his day-to-day contact with the outside world is carried out in his secondary language. All the lectures are given in his secondary language. As a result, he never breaks through the conceptual barrier in theological thought. Ideas and spiritual reality do not reach him in the warmth of his inner life, they are often cold, impersonal, and without real depth of meaning. He will naturally find rote learning the easy way to education and social achievement, even though at the heart of things it is almost meaningless to him. New methods engineered to make the students think conceptually and creatively must be found.
Have not these problems brought us to the crossroads? Have we come to the point where we must discard imported patterns, and restructure our schools so they will effectively produce the leadership our churches need? Will it be possible to create new structures that will adapt to the real crisis in leadership training in Latin America? Is there a way to train those 60,000 Latin American leaders who have never had adequate training? Are we asking too much? Are we in danger of reducing our good academic standards? Will we turn out inefficient pastors?
Under the leadership of Ralph Winter and James Emery, an attempt was made several years ago to revolutionize the Presbyterian Seminary in Guatemala. Up to 1960 the school had failed to turn out enough trained leaders for the growing Presbyterian church. There was no doubt that leadership material was to be found in the churches, but the real leaders were not finding their way into the seminary. What was the blockage?
Missionaries found that the actual, gifted, and called leaders were married and settled in a profession, business, or job. To bring them into a residential seminary/Bible school program would demand a heavy subsidy or scholarship. Being cut off from their business associates for three years would cost them their vital contacts that had made them effective leaders.
The seminary reversed roles. Instead of the students attempting to meet the requirements laid down by the seminary, the seminary adjusted to the students. This philosophy was based on a sound biblical principle: the church requires leaders at all cultural and educational levels within the society in which the church is ministering. Our present theological schools and Bible institutes have attempted to produce a stereo-typed product for the ministry, hoping to fit the variety of needs that the church of Christ has in any given country. The result has been that many pastors have only begun to learn and to prepare themselves for their particular ministry after graduating from seminary.
The seminary under this new arrangement meets the student as he functions as a leader in his local church situation. There is a balance between experience and knowledge. As the student produces as a pastor, as he communicates as a teacher, the seminary becomes more effective in training him. There is a direct and immediate relationship between the school andthe church member. The seminary is involved dynamically in the growth and the outreach of the church. It is no longer the "holy huddle" living its life out in monastic-type isolation.
The keys to this kind of seminary training are: (1) the weekly meeting between professor and student; (2) the programmed text book; (3) the monthly community gathering of the whole seminary family. In areas where there are a number of functioning pastors, already exercising leadership gifts, an extension center is set up. The center is the miniature seminar in action. On a given day, the professor drives in from his central school. The students from the various churches come to the center. This meeting does not duplicate any classroom setting. Essentially, it is the place where the tutorial activities between teacher and student are fulfilled. The main learning activity has taken place during the interval between weekly meetings. The main purpose of the meeting is to stimulate the student in his programmed studies by helping him over some conceptual hurdles, while at the same time helping him to come to grips with his material. The professor sees himself as a midwife, helping the student bring to birth biblical truth in his mind and heart. The student is "in labor." He must go through the birth pangs as he struggles with concepts, ideas, and currents of thought. No longer is he informed of the truth by mere rote memorization. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he is helped to come to the light of the truth.
In this set-up the professor is involved in a more personal, intimate, and dynamic relationship with his student than he had previously experienced in his more formal class presentation. Furthermore, a deeper sense of pastoral responsibility develops, so that in a spiritual and vital sense the professor projects his own personality. He rubs shoulders with the students, with their problems, with their pastoral visions and failures. This gives him a direct and spiritual ministry to the churches. There emerges more Paul-Timothy relationships.
The cornerstone of the decentralized seminary is the programmed textbook. This is no miracle book that gives the seminary any short-cuts or produces quickie pastors. It is based on the accepted pedagogical fact that the student who actively participates in directed investigation will have a deeper learning experience. As a result, he will retain more than the student who has been spoon-fed in monologue classroom teaching.
The material to be taught is prepared in its main divisions and subdivisions, with defined goals in mind. In each subdivision, a series of steps are built up that will lead the student to the achievement of his goal. The student is drawn on by his own interest as well as by that sense of achievement in reaching the goals that are set before him. As he climbs from one stage to another, he takes steps in which certain learning ,activity and thought are involved. It is at this critical point that the supernatural illumination of the Holy Spirit blends with the intuitive rational discernment that provides the insight into the answer. Here the skill of the professor is demonstrated; both in the programmed text book he has written and also in the weekly meeting, where he is assured that the student has grasped the essence of the lesson.
There is no one stereotyped lesson that is prepared. for every student. The seminary adjusts to the students, not only in terms of geographical location, but also in educational and intelligence level. One student may be an accomplished leader in his simple rural church, another, an able lay preacher in the downtown church. They may be poles apart in their innate ability to master biblical thought. One may only have had three years of primary education, while the latter may be a graduate of the local university. Both are leaders. Both have received God-given gifts as pastors and preachers within the boundary of their localchurch in its particular social setting.
Both study in the same center, both study programmed material; both study the same subjects, but there the similarity ends. Each studies to the depth that his education and intelligence allow him. The former will end up with a Diploma in Theology, while the latter will bold a Bachelor of Divinity. The former will have studied on a very simplified level, while the latter will have had to undertake more reading and research.
Furthermore, learning is geared to suit the student’s particular situation. He may be a shopkeeper with plenty of time on his hands while he waits for his customers. He has plenty of time to work on his programmed material, so he can well take a full load. Another who may be just as capable can find time only to take two courses per semester instead of the full five. The seminary is elastic to suit the student. One will graduate in three years, another in five.
This does not mean that the seminary is composed of a conglomerate of students working in distant centers. The seminary continues as a live and dynamic community through its monthly gatherings in the central buildings. Here leaders from varying strata of society and backgrounds of culture gather to share in a true koinonia experience. Voices are blended in a choir; opinions and ideas are merged in plans; experiences and insights are moulded into patterns. The devotional chapel times, the group discussions on relevant church topics, the choir rehearsal, the examinations during the two-day gathering all serve to motivate the student in his programmed studies. He feels he belongs to a wider student community deeply involved in the life of the church.
In this decentralized seminary the residential school does not have to be done away with. In some cases, due to severe geographical barriers, a residential program may have to be continued. Whether the student, however, lives in or out, he too studies through programmed materials and meets his teach
er weekly. The student in the extension center has a real advantage over his fellow student in the residential program; he already has a field in which to work out his theories. Those in the residential program have to work in an artificial arrangement. On the other hand the resident student enjoys the advantages of a larger library and more frequent social contact with the faculty.
In some of the programmed studies there is a direct relationship between the student and his flock, in that he preaches messages based on his studies. In some cases, he teaches in his midweek meetings a series of studies based on his programmed text, with materials prepared for his own church members. There is a double pedagogical exercise here. First, he prepares to teach; second, he must teach so as to communicate. The success of these courses is judged by the ability of his church members to pass exams on the material the student has taught.
An effective theological education program must lead to concrete results in terms of church growth and new churches planted. The practical work is not only directed to pastoral and teaching ministry but also to evangelism.
Since 1960 some twenty-three seminaries and institutes have started, or are in the process of moving into an extension program. As a result, a committee termed CLATT (Comite Latinoamericano de Textos Teologicos) was formed from some twenty participating schools. This committee is responsible for the preparation and accreditation of the programmed text books that have been written and others that will be prepared in the near future.
Interest in extension seminary concepts is mushrooming all over Latin America. During July and August, 1968, some five workshops were held in different parts of the continent. In the Bolivian workshop all twenty schools operating in that country attended.
Could this be the answer to our crisis in leadership training? Is there a parting of the ways with the old patterns of seminary/Bible institute work? To some the farewells will be costly and sad, while others will welcome the new path, with its more realistic involvement in the life and growth of the church.
1. Vernon A. Reimer, More Trained Leaders in Colombia (mimeographed).
2. Melvin L. Hodges, The Indigenous Church (Gospel Publishing House).
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