Training for ministry is not just about “what” but “who”

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Over time, the pendulum swings back and forth in terms of what is considered a good education.  A few years back, schools were all about so called “child centred learning” where children were to be encouraged to explore and discover for themselves. Teachers were not “the sage on the stage” but “ the guide at the side.”  The purpose of education was to give the kids the necessary skills to thrive in life (because skills and talents were taught not inherent).

The pendulum is swinging back. You see it in the work of authors like Ed Hirsch and schools like Michaela.  As I’ve mentioned before, the argument is that we shouldn’t teach skills -at least at primary level. The job of the teacher is to give the children enough knowledge for them to apply it.  There are benefits to this and I rarely meet a teacher who disagrees with the need to get good foundational knowledge in place. However, they would still insist that there is more to education than getting kids to learn “knowledge” parrot fashion. Indeed, I’m sure that the pioneers of the new approach would agree. There’s a time when you need to learn how to link and apply knowledge (yes that’s about learning a skill) and there’s a time when you need to talk about the why as well as the what. Why is it important that such and such is so? Why is it crucial that x is true and y is false?  What are the implications we can draw from the evidence (facts/knowledge) in front of us.

So education is not just about what but about how and why.  This is important for theological training/training for pastoral ministry too.  However, I want to suggest that we need to go a stage further. When we talk about theological training, we don’t just want to talk about what, how and why but who.

Here I’m thinking about who is training who.  This matters because we want to make sure we are training the right people to be pastors.  So, do the methods we use to communicate theological training and assess it draw those, and only those, who meet the qualifications we find in 1 Timothy 3?  Or do we primarily filter people by their academic qualities? Is there a risk that our training primarily identifies those who love learning, who enjoy reading, listening to talks, writing and debating?  Do we filter out people who have a good reputation in their community for godly living, who have discipled their own family well, who exercise self control, who are warm, loving, hospitable -people persons and yes who are able to teach God’s Word well to others?

Then there is the who teaches. What I mean here is that a significant aim of theological training has to be about what is often referred to as formation these days. Ultimately our concern is “Christlikeness” but there is something significant in terms of the New Testament emphasis on people like Timothy following the example of Paul and setting an example to others. So, the student rightly becomes an imitator of their teachers. 

This means that it isn’t just about the content that is taught but also what is being picked up form relationships and interactions.  Do our training methods give those training the opportunity to pick up not just what we think and what we do but how we think and do, something of our character. Do they get what we are passionate about? Do they see humility, gentleness, kindness modelled? Is there the opportunity for them to imitate us and if they do, will they be imitating the right things?

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