This article is the second of a two-part series. Read the first article.
1. Our education is Christ-centred
Theological and ministry education must stay focused on the main thing—forming women and men as disciples of Jesus Christ and inspiring and shaping them to love and serve Jesus and his church and his world.
Our training needs to be Christ-centred, gospel-focused and biblically-grounded if it is going to lead to discipleship. We need to ensure that we place Jesus Christ and his gospel at the centre of our teaching, formation, research, writing, and everything else we do. And we place Scripture at the heart of our theological education and ministry training. We evaluate our training and formation through the lens of Scripture. We teach students to be disciples of Jesus who read and interpret and communicate Scripture accurately, contextually, skilfully, and clearly.
2. Our education develops learning communities
As we developed the Winter School Online units, we asked ourselves, “Do these units help people learn in community and value Christian community?”
Students and educators pursue learning together. Lecturers may have more knowledge in a particular area. But it isn’t that some are ‘experts’ and others ‘novices’. Instead, theological education happens best in learning communities. This kind of training is experiential, participatory, interactive, and communal.
Together we explore faith, theology, curriculum, mission and ministry. Together we shape learning communities characterised by contextual theology, global conversations and grassroots participation.
This is a move from hierarchy to equality. It’s a change from monological transmission of information to participatory learning. It’s a shift from mere intellectual stimulation to the formation of whole persons in life and community.
Learning communities build shared educational experiences, inviting contributions from educators, students, families, churches, and others to evaluate curriculum and methods. They foster emotional authenticity, interpersonal connection, active teaming, spiritual depth, community vitality, and interaction.
3. Our education forms heads, hearts, and hands
Theological and ministry education should focus learning around the holistic formation of students’ hearts and hands and heads. This involves inviting the active participation of students in their learning and formation. Student-led education is a consumeristic enterprise. It shapes education around the tastes and choices of students. It rarely asks whether these choices positively contribute to student formation. This is why we prefer a student-focused approach over a student-led approach to theological education.
We need theological colleges that form the whole person, in collaboration with students and churches. These colleges prioritise ministry competency, theological insight, missional enthusiasm, and spiritual passion.
At Stirling Theological College, we seek to develop the ABCs (Affective and Behavioural and Cognitive domains). These shape our educational approach and come through in our Winter School Online. The first is the head (cognitive development, acquisition of knowledge, and intellectual progress). The second is the heart (maturation of attitudes, values, faith, and spirituality). The third is the hands (achievement of practical competencies).
Our theological education and ministry training should help you gain competent theological and biblical skills. Here are some examples of what we mean:
- Interpret the Bible accurately for yourself
- Demonstrate an understanding of the Word of God, including appreciating the big picture and plotline of Scripture
- Be able to grow and feed yourself in understanding and skills beyond study at theological college
- Affirm the Bible as authoritative and believe that it’s God’s revelation to humanity
- Understand and appreciate your beliefs in the light of Christian history
- Develop a sound basic understanding of Christian history and historic Christian faith
- Evaluate current theology and practices in the light of that history
- Pursue a robust understanding and theology of ministry, leadership, church, worship, mission, training, and discipleship
This is about our theological education and ministry training helping you develop a deeper commitment to passionate, alive Christian spirituality and Christian character. It’s about embracing personal and spiritual formation. This includes forming Christ-like qualities of character, and integrity that reflect Scriptural perspectives.
What personal and spiritual qualities are we seeking? There are many things. Here are some examples:
- Conduct yourself in a way consistent with Christian teaching and values
- Be emotionally mature, including healthy self-awareness and self-acceptance
- Foster awareness of behavioural patterns, motivations, and growth areas
- Cultivate spiritual disciplines (including prayer, reflection, Bible reading, and other personal encounters with God)
- Align theology with personal application, ministry praxis, and spiritual growth
- Demonstrate a vital personal faith in every area of life (private life and ministry)
- Have an authentic spiritual fervour and passion for God’s kingdom and his righteousness
This is about our theological education and ministry training equipping you with competent mission and ministry skills.
Effective pastoral and leadership and interpersonal skills are vital. What behaviours and skills are we reaching for? Here are some examples:
- Help you develop competent interpersonal relationships and ministry skills
- Identify, develop, equip, and release others to ministry and mission, with integrity
- Value the equipping role of Christian ministry
- Develop a culture of discipleship in your ministries
- Understand and demonstrate the skills of servant leadership
- Pay attention to developing the next generation of leaders, who can likewise build up and develop others
- Demonstrate skills in spiritual caregiving
- Nurture persons and families and congregations through crisis and change and difficulty
- Put theological and ministry learning into conversation with cultures and contexts
These lists may give the impression we’re reaching for the perfect graduate. We are not! Graduates and students come in all shapes and sizes (as do pastors, theological educators, and disciples!). We all have unique skills and passions and callings. But having a clear commitment to the ABCs (hearts and hands and heads) keeps our theological education and ministry training focused.
4. Our education equips for discipleship and mission
To be truly missional, and to genuinely make disciples, theological education must shape its curriculum around discipleship and mission.
Theological and ministry education must equip leaders and churches to take part in the mission of God as disciples of Jesus Christ. Such training should be outwardly oriented. It enables people to engage fully in God’s mission in the world. Such education is located in the lives and contexts and cultures of our society. It should be discipleship focused. It enables people to follow Jesus Christ and his mission in the world. Such education forms the whole person to serve the whole mission of Christ. We want to equip disciples who take Jesus’s message, mission, justice, and love to the whole world.
I hope that our Stirling Winter School Online 2020 will inspire and equip you for discipleship and mission during these challenging and changing times. Join us.
Grace and peace,
 Some of these thoughts on theological education were first published in my book Global Church in Chapter 12 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).
Graham Joseph Hill is Interim Principal and Director of Research at Stirling Theological College (University of Divinity) in Melbourne, Australia. He has planted and pastored churches, and been in theological education for twenty years. Graham is the author or editor of six books including Global Church (IVP, 2016), Healing Our Broken Humanity, (IVP, 2018, with Grace Ji-Sun Kim), and Salt, Light and a City (Cascade, 2017). He also directs The Global Church Project.