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By Chris Sugden
Evangelicals Now
December 17, 2020

90% of pastors have no formal theological education, a specialist in theological education in the Global South has told an international consultation. Dr Manfred Kohl, who has experience in supporting and financing ministry training, explained that for this reason he funds only people -- and not buildings. He also challenges institutions and their funders to think radical thoughts about theological education.

Representatives of theological education networks from the South Pacific, East and South Asia and across Africa -- speaking for over 300 institutions -- met with a large number of funding agencies including major Anglican organisations to address these questions at the event.

The consultation was arranged by the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life (OCRPL), and chaired by Dr Joshva John, co-dean of OCRPL.

Chris Sugden writes: This situation prompts evaluation of how effective theological education is. In Africa Christians form a sizeable community, if not the majority in some countries. Yet Africa remains the poorest continent. How might theological training enable people to lead Christian communities to engage with their neighbourhoods so that they can transform them spiritually, socially, and economically? Dr Sas Conradie of Tear Fund has been working for some months alongside OCRPL with networks of theological training institutions to explore training curricula that enable such 'holistic' theology and mission.


Online education is here to stay. Theological Education by Extension has been in place in the Global South for over 40 years, using local pastors as mentors for small tutorial groups of trainees embedded in the life of their local churches. Residential education was required to bring students and qualified lecturers together in one place with the physical books needed for study. Digitilisation and the Internet now have the capacity to provide both a wider range of resources ( through online libraries) and access to a global cast of 'lecturers'. The development is the same as the 'replacement' of the stage coach by the railways.

A number of points need to be noted. Investment is needed in providing access to good Internet connections either in an already existing institution or by using commercial centres. Students need to have their own laptops or iPads. While expensive, these cost less than travel to and residence in an institution.

The need to train 'students' to enable their Christian communities to be agents of transformation requires that they take part in placements to experience and be involved in such activity on the ground, much as medical students do placements on hospital wards.

The need to form character as well as feed the intellect requires 'blended learning', where students develop 'face-to-face' relationships with fellow students and mentors. One speaker suggested that each trained pastor should have two or three mentees, and every theological graduate have one.

Extension Education has for long been regarded as a second-class citizen in the world of theological education. However, when people take their driving test, as one speaker pointed out, the only issue is whether they can drive, not where they learnt to drive nor who taught them. What matters is whether people can teach and minister Biblical Christian faith and practice. Ways of accrediting this need to be developed.

Much theological education in the Global South is supported not by their churches but by the West. This makes it vulnerable and already one government threatens to close any Christian institution receiving foreign funds. The challenge is for students to find resources and support from friends, family and local churches.


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