by Wayne C. Weld
At a recent church growth/evangelism workshop in Colombia the national pastors and missionaries were asked to list the major obstacles to the growth of their churches.
At a recent church growth/evangelism workshop in Colombia the national pastors and missionaries were asked to list the major obstacles to the growth of their churches. The list was headed by the lack of effective teaching in the church and the insufficient number of leaders both lay and ordained. It is because of similar conditions around the world that Christian leaders are taking a critical look at theological education and are considering new ways of accomplishing the task.
An adequate program of theological education must simultaneously provide the training of highly educated men for urban churches and the preparation of myriads of men able to lead the rapidly growing number of Christians on to maturity and responsible membership in the churches. On one hand is the danger that there will be no one capable of winning the respect and retaining the allegiance of the better educated second generation Christians. On the other is the tragedy of withholding from the Christian masses sound teaching, guidance and the sacraments.
The church growth workshops, which in themselves could point to a significant means of theological education, have already indicated the urgency of the situation. The five-year growth projections for congregations and for denominations often run over 300 percent. The experience of the second Venezuelan workshop demonstrates that these expectations may well be realized. When the number of believers and of congregations quadruples in five years or less there is a tremendous need for more leaders. The most common cause of nominalism in rapidly growing churches has been the absence of adequate pastoral care. The situation as aggravated by the fact that rapid church growth is most likely to occur among the lower class and recent migrants to urban centers, in newly colonized areas and through people movements among rural animists. All of these groups are characterized by insufficient secular education to be able to take advantage of traditional theological education.
The upgrading of some institutions and the establishment of others has been designed to provide leaders who can command the respect of Christians and non-Christians alike. Bible institutes have become seminaries by raising the entrance requirements. The faculty has been strengthened by recruiting teachers with more advanced degrees or by enabling present professors to continue their own theological training. Funds have been invested in libraries and in the translation of books. Cooperative efforts have resulted in graduate programs such as the China Evangelical Seminary and an international B.Th. program has been proposed. Graduates of such institutions are expected not only to be able to minister to urban, welleducated peoples, but also to provide the church with theologians capable of forming an African, Asian, or Latin American theology of equal stature to that formulated and now copied from the United States and Europe.
While such striving for excellence is a worthy goal for a few, the masses have been groping for a form of theological education within their reach and which can minister to the realities of the church. Traditional theological education has been beset by many problems such as its high cost per student, the cultural dislocation of the students who attend and the improper selection of those who are to receive theological training. Often preference is given to young single men rather than to mature, married men who are respected as leaders in their churches and communities, but whose responsibilities keep them from attending residence studies.
Certain outside influences have caused a critical evaluation of the whole educative process. In Latin America Paulo Freire sees education as a process toward liberation with all its political overtones. This is "conscientization," the need to bring the people to awareness of the conditions in which they live and what to do about them. Ivan Illich proposes "learning webs" as more effective educational means than the present system. Learning could take place more readily as interests are matched and small groups search together for knowledge. Priority must be given, he states, to providing learning opportunities and resources for those already motivated.
These factors have caused theological educators to seek or to recognize less traditional means of pastoral training. This change of attitude is reflected in the emphases given by the Theological Education Fund since its inception in 1958. Its first mandate was primarily concerned with raising academic standards and strengthening institutions. The second mandate had to do with relevance as seen in the production of vernacular textbooks and the training of nationals as teachers. One of the principle interests of the third mandate which extends to 1977 is in developing alternatives in theological education. Resident studies have long been supplemented or replaced by correspondence courses, night schools, short term institutes and apprenticeship training.
THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION BY EXTENSION
The most important and widely disseminated innovation in ministerial training during the last ten years is theological education by extension. The idea originated in the Presbyterian Seminary in Guatemala in 1963 and ten years later bias spread to every continent to reach a total of more than 20,000 students. The flexibility of TEE is seen in its use among semi-literate believers in Central America and its ability to challenge college graduates, several with Ph.D.’s in India. Course content depends on the use of manuals, texts and programmed instructional materials, which can be prepared for any academic level. The weekly or less frequent class period is spent in discussion of what has already been studied at home and in its application to the situation of the student and his ministry in the local church.
Programs are being set up in various areas to train experts in TEE and to promote workshops which will concentrate on the preparation of programmed instructional materials and on the orientation of teachers who will participate in the program. The weekly seminar must be a period of interaction, not of monologue. As materials become available in vernacular languages we may expect a shift in student body to lower academic levels where the greatest need exists for training leaders among responsive elements of the population.
TRENDS FOR NEXT TEN YEARS
1. Continual upgrading of many traditional seminaries and institutes.
2. Further expansion of theological education by extension, particularly to meet the needs at the lower academic levels.
3. Wider use of workshops as a means of stimulating certain kinds of study and of imparting certain skills best learned in concentrated and supervised sessions.
4. Greater efforts toward contextualization, including the transfer of administration as well as greater teaching responsibilities to nationals.
5. Further experimentation and implementation of "holistic" and "nuclear" types of training an which the apprentice or disciple receives an orientation or formation for all of life. Witty his mentor or pastor he experiences all the aspects and implications of the gospel and learns to deal with problems through observation and guided participation.
6. These trends in theological education will issue in a continued evaluation of the role of the ministry and may contribute toward the formation of a ministry which is multiple or shared by various individuals in the congregation, is voluntary rather than paid, and which depends more on spiritual gifts than on formal preparation.
THE ROLE OF THE MISSIONARY
There is still room for the missionary as a professor in many traditional seminaries and Bible institutes. It is less likely that he will assume an administrative role in these institutions. Christian education experts who can develop theological education programs at the lowest level in the local churches and who will work under the administration of the national church are needed. Missionaries with a knowledge of the techniques of programmed instruction are needed to work with nationals in the production of materials for extension studies. Correspondence course materials could also be improved by persons prepared in programming and other educational principles. Missionaries will also have opportunities to participate in workshops, in short term institutes and other means of sharing their specialized knowledge with others and orienting them toward further study. Finally, missionaries, particularly those with evangelistic and pastoral duties, should be considering the formation of leaders through informal means of example, encouragement and personal instruction. At all these levels of formal and informal leadership training missionaries may be able to exercise their spiritual gifts in the service of a rapidly growing and needy church.
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