by Peter Savage
The church in the Third World is awakening to the fact that some of the models imported by missionaries from their sending countries are failing to meet the need of growing churches. In an open letter to mission executives from key Asian leaders, the concern was expressed for the growing crisis in theological education.
The church in the Third World is awakening to the fact that some of the models imported by missionaries from their sending countries are failing to meet the need of growing churches. In an open letter to mission executives from key Asian leaders, the concern was expressed for the growing crisis in theological education. "Many of our seminaries and Bible Schools are stereotypes of Western models and are curriculum-examination orientated rather than training men practically for pastoral ministry in Asia."1
The crisis can be seen in four areas of theological education: What is third world seminary training attempting to accomplish? What should be the qualifications for the faculty? What should the thrust be for the school’s curriculum? Has the overemphasis on cognitive measurement undermined the total training of the man of God?
The first key area involves the objectives which the seminary desires to reach in training its students. Many seminaries have never undertaken an examination of the total needs of the ministry and thus established a comprehensible statement of objectives. They have been satisfied that a certain quotum of knowledge, adequately digested, will give the graduate a degree which in turn will give him status in the church community as a pastor, teacher or evangelist. Many today are asking whether this degree is really a valid statement of qualifications for a church ministry. Could it be comparable with, say, a jet pilot, who when he graduates from flying school can really fly? An airline hiring this pilot must be assured of his competence, skill and knowledge to fly its plane. Does a B.D., Th.M. or Th.D., really assure a church that the man is sufficiently trained, skilled, competent, and knowledgeable, to become its leader?
Some would quickly retort that these degrees cannot be compared to an industrial qualification which states competence for a given task. They serve rather as a measure of academic excellence. They are prestige symbols in the hierarchy of the status structure of society. For the seminary they help towards defining its accreditation. Is this what the church really wants?
The real problem does not lie in the type of degree that the seminary should offer (since the church will always look for some sort of prestige symbol for its ministers), but what the degree measures. In other words, what is the seminary aiming for? Most churches would require that the seminary aim for the four following high objectives: (1) that each graduate be a man of God; (2) that he rightly divide the Word of God; (3) that he develop to the full the gifts of ministry which he has been given; and (4) that he have a balanced social stance in the society in which he lives. Two of these objectives have to do with what the graduate should be. This has to do with his person, character, spiritual maturity, attitudes and convictions. Two of these objectives have to do with what the graduate will do. He must be a man of the Word who can, with a freshness and relevancy, come to the Lord’s people and speak his voice. He must know how to feed, protect and lead his flock. Does a B.D. from a conservative seminary provide any assurance that a graduate has reached these four objectives?
The urgent task of the seminary today is to sit down with the church and discover afresh the type of training that will lead to an effective ministry – a ministry that will lead the church on in real growth! The second key area that needs a revolution is in the faculty room. What image does the faculty member have of himself, as a theologian or as an educator? What are the symptoms of this crisis in the faculty room? Few current faculties provide training in education, pedagogy, instructional principles and techniques. Many theologians have an adequate grasp of their subject but cannot communicate it. Many theologians have the subconscious goal of making men just like themselves. Instead of producing pastors and church planters, they are instead producing maladjusted theologians in a pastoral context. Many of the theologians are on the staff of a seminary because they have an academic degree, not because they have led a person to Christ, discipled converts, pastured or taught in a local church for ten years or so. All this has naturally led seminaries to become content-orientated rather than student-orientated. Paul’s priority with Timothy was that he should be a mature minister, fully developed in his gifts. Paul was student-orientated. This does not mean he placed no emphasis on truth as knowledge, but that truth must authenticate itself as a living letter read by all.
This content-orientation has led first to an obsessive interest in abstract reality on the part of many theological professors. Their hearts have ceased to beat at the awfulness of sin and awfulness of God, they have become enamoured with the delight of a conceptual debate, withdrawn from the reality of the daily life of the church. This has led to a greater and greater specialization in a narrowing theological field leading to severe fragmentation. The struggling student is often left to build the bridges between each department. The most absurd element in this seminary syndrome are the irrelevant thesis topics that are often assigned. It is true that they might show academic excellence, but in the final analysis do they lead to the church growth? Will the church benefit from new insights discovered, or are they academic exercises that will simply give men high prestige symbols?
All this has meant that many professors enter their lecture room without the necessary educational tools and without a real educational objective to face the growing demands of a student in a learning situation.
The third crisis follows naturally from the second – from the faculty crisis to the curriculum crisis. The classic curriculum found in most seminaries and Bible colleges has followed the patterns that have existed for the last two hundred years, where emphasis has been placed on the digestion of packets of knowledge rather than on bringing each student to spiritual maturity and effective ministry. It is but natural that the teacher who concentrates on the content and feels his primary responsibility is to communicate this content will tend to overlook the educative and pastoral responsibility he has towards his student-brother in the Lord. It is sad to see the frequent chasm that exists between teacher and student – the teacher hides himself behind his lectern giving out his knowledge "paternalistically," while the tensions, frustrations, identity crises, depressions, etc., of his students are unknown to him. His flurries of Greek and Hebrew may impress the student but do not answer the crucial questions that are burning in his students’ hearts.
When we turn to two models that are to be found in the New Testament we find that in both cases the curriculum was centered not on content (although content was important) but on the growth of each disciple. The Lord’s objectives are clearly defined in Mark 3:14,15. He takes them step by step to these goals through sermons, discussions, debates with his opponents and living experiences, all these tailor-made to each disciple. Paul follows the same pattern when he sets his goals in bringing each to maturity (Col. 1:28) and then takes his students through a relevant training program. In no way did Paul neglect the continuous exposition of the Word to his students, but he placed it in the living context of the frustrations, failures and glory of daily life.
Alongside the biblical patterns, current educational practice places greater emphasis on the "child-centered" curriculum. Since 1952, under Skinner great advances have been made in the study of human learning and as a result of Alvin C. Erich’s research, five basic learning principles have been clearly demonstrated.2
1. Whatever a student learns, he must learn for himself – no one can learn for him.
2. Each student learns at his own rate, and for any age group the variation in rates of learning is considerable.
3. A student learns more when each step he takes is immediately reinforced.
4. A full, rather than partial mastery of each step makes total learning more meaningful.
5. When given the responsibility of his own learning, the student is more highly motivated; he learns and retains more. Sad to say, few seminaries and Bible colleges have structured their curriculum in terms of these principles.
This in no way means that the "how" of learning should be the determinative factor of the "what" of learning. Yet on the other hand, as Ivan Illich states so well, we must not imagine that "what" can be reduced to an institutionalized package presented in a given period. We must be careful not to allow the "institutionalized school" to get in the way of our education. Rather we must so structure the curriculum so as to ensure that the full and formative learning process continues through life. For too many seminaries, the training program only produces ecclesiastical technicians, when they should exercise a creative, self-renewing ministry.
All this means that the curriculum must be restructured to meet the needs of a church that requires a man of God – a man who is familiar with God; a man of the Word – a man who becomes the voice of God; a shepherd of the sheep – a man who is identified with his flock; and a man who lives fully in his time and society.
The fourth crisis facing third world seminary training is to be found in the area of measurement. The classic approach is to have examinations that barely measure one area of learning cognitive input. Sad to say, even this is reduced to the learning of facts, data, outlines, etc. Often the students’ ability to interpret, analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply is neglected. In many cases in the third world, the student is measured for his ability to reproduce in rote fashion what the teacher has dictated.
As was inferred earlier in the article, academic degrees generally testify to mere cognitive accomplishment, without taking into account character development or abilities developed in a practical ministerial area.
Many have questioned the basis for this type of measurement of a quotum of knowledge against a measurement of gifts. Could it be that this quotum measurement has brought some historic denominations to a standstill in church growth? In the Chilean Pentecostal Church for a man to graduate as a "worker," he must have won so many people to Christ; to graduate as a "pastor" he must have led people to Christ, brought them together and formed a missionary church; to graduate as "reverend" he must have planted five or six churches. How many current graduates of our seminaries can plant a new church? On a visit to eight seminaries in the United Kingdom, the author did not find one which had a course on church planting, yet all were preparing missionaries for the mission field!
Unfortunately, seminaries and Bible colleges have generally aped the current educational system which in the past has placed its emphasis on the academic and information which requires the student to master the content of various courses. Seminary training must recognize that if effective gaining is taking place, measurement of such must not only rest in the cognitive dimension, but must also measure the effective growth and integration, personal faith, moral character, responsiveness in personal relationship, development of pastoral skills and stability in the strains and stresses of the student’s cultural milieu. Today educational science is providing some of the measurement tools that can be very well adapted for use in theological education. Attitude scales help to indicate the general progress of the student in character formation. Sociometry measurements help to demonstrate the involvement of a given student in a group. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory` for religious personnel may well be suggestive of new approaches in comprehensive measurement or evaluation.
These approaches in evaluation of a student’s progress within a seminary may appear threatening to some. It should be remembered, however, that the Pauline and Johanine forms of measurement of the new creature, the spiritually mature, and those qualified for the ministry followed these lines. A careful study of 1 Timothy 3 will indicate definite measurable guidelines, that will, in turn, show growth in faith, character, group involvement. These were the measurements that were underlined rather than mere cognitive information. Surely such a change in measurement and evaluation of the seminary student would bring a more healthy and realistic concept of the leadership, ministry and growth of the church.
How far can we say that these four areas are the unconscious stumbling block to the real and enriching growth of the church? Is the classic seminary in danger of being discarded because of certain weaknesses in its structure, methodology, approach, etc., by the living church? Are these additional courses, workshops, and training programs, which are coming into vogue, simply symptoms of an acute crisis that the church is facing in the training of its ministry?
Today the church requires a dynamic, creative ministry that will lead her in effective mission; a church that grows-because of her enriching ministry to herself and to the world; a church that grows because every Christian is a true minister of the gospel so discipling the nations. The key to the church of tomorrow is its ministry in mission.
1. Appendix A. An open letter to mission executives, missionary theological educators and national, church leaders in Asia from participants in the second Asia Evangelical Consultation held in Singapore, June 8-12, 1972. Report and Minutes.
2. Alvin C. Erich of the Ford Foundation research learning project. Quoted in "Programmed Learning in Perspective" by C. A. Thomas and I. K. Davies, Educational Methods, Inc.
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