Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Timely Word For Seminaries

A friend of mine is currently helping out at a Peacemaking conference for seminaries in Bangladesh. He sent out an email update earlier this morning, with some reflections by Manfred Kohl on the nature (and dangers) of theological institutions.
Manfred Kohl’s opening remarks were very edifying and challenging. While directed at theological institutions, it’s not a leap to apply them to the local church. The title was Trends and Critical Issues in Theological Education.

He made three general observations and seven points of urgency. I will share them as follows:
  • A. Theologians (substitute noun for your context) within theological institutions like to talk and debate, often with few results. It seems that action or change is to be avoided at any cost.
  • B. Theologians within theological institutions like to focus on the past. To plan ahead, to think futuristically, seems to be outside their comfort zone.
  • C. Theologians within theological institutions seem to have difficulties with issues of management, fundraising, and outcome-oriented assessment.
Here are his seven points:
  1. Theological education (TE) must give more attention to the schools’ constituent churches and their needs. (The need for shepherds > peacemaking > HIV help > how to reach and minister to the young. (50% of all Asians are under 18 years of age.)
  2. TE must be more mission oriented. Mt. 28 must be practiced. Theology has no reason to exist w/o missions. Reach out to the poor and the super rich, both of whom are poverty-stricken w/o Christ.
  3. TE must put greater effort into spiritual formation as a part of ministry skills. (Jesus not only taught but also practiced everything He taught His disciples. He was not a theorist. He taught prayer and practiced prayer, etc. etc.)
  4. TE must focus on training outcomes, on the effectiveness of graduates in ministry. (Assessment of effectiveness: 4 questions. 1) How helpful? 2) What was most valuable? 3) What missing? 4) Least valuable?)
  5. TE must rediscover the value of practical mentorship. (The medical training paradigm; students not only hear but they watch. Who am I mentoring? My children? My ministry?)
  6. TE must address the needs of the laity. (Involvement in the marketplace, the job, business, professional, politicians; lay training.)
  7. TE must start its renewal from the top. (Renewal – change – starts with me. Business world: outcome-oriented assessment. Team effort – retreats, reflection.)
His Summary: Jesus’ seminary, 12 full time students, 70 part time. What subjects did He teach and demonstrate?
  • a) Prayer. Very few schools have a required course on prayer.
  • b) How to serve. Again, very few courses on how to serve. One school issued a certificate and a towel upon completion!
  • c) Stewardship. Giving/sharing. He took his students and observed the offering box; he addressed the rich young ruler.
  • d) Unity. Imagine a course on unity!
  • e) Worship. (Sacraments; love of God; Christ centered, grace driven)
  • f) Peacemaking
  • g) Mission
I would add ministry of the Word as developed by Apostles.

I confess I feel a little out of place. As I was thinking, “What am I doing here?” it occurred to me to be observant and look for someone off by himself. During our first break I noticed a westerner standing by himself. (Turned out to be an American from Chicago). I approached him and had a wonderful conversation. He shared that he felt out of place, as he didn’t know anyone other than Manfred, who invited him; he was not part of any school, but was working with indigenous believers in [Asia] in the house church movement.

I shared a little about Bangladesh and he asked if we had encountered any signs and wonders. As I pondered on how to respond, it occurred to me that an indigenous led, visible church planting movement throughout a Muslim country, with public baptisms and gatherings (in other words, courageous believers living out their faith under great pressure) was surely a sign and a wonder. Anyway, it was a blessing to talk to this brother. Please pray for me to be open and sensitive to others...
Very timely words, not just for theological institutions in Asia, but also for those right here at home, especially in a place like Westminster...

1 Comments:

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Jake Belder said...

Amen! As an aspiring theologian, those are exactly the types of things I want to be thinking about and working through as I study in that particular discipline.

 

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