My Concern With Private Christian Colleges Training The Next Generation of Leaders

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Before I say anything else I want to say that I am not certain that the concern I am going to voice is valid. I am asking whether or not it is as much as anything else in this post. If you remember that Ken Robinson video I posted some time ago he believes that our education system in America and in Great Britain are so far behind the times it is not even funny. It is not just that they aren’t able to quickly maneuver to adapt and get students ready for a job market that is vastly different than it was 5, 10 or 20 years ago but that the very model they are based on is well over 100 years old. Now that would be great if the world we lived in mirrored the 1880s but it doesn’t. Our public education system has a problem and the path it takes to fix it is enormous and covered in red-tape, politics, and agendas that trump actually making the changes to make our educational system effective.

Now that brings me to Christian education. We rely on our private Christian colleges to train ministers that fill congregations in capacities varying from professional song leaders to preachers, teachers, small group coordinators and more. Private Christian education has done a fantastic job for decades. But how well are we currently training the next generation of leaders? Do our models actually match contemporary congregational and cultural needs in a world that has changed culturally and religiously from what it was 5, 10 or 20 years ago?

The concern I have with our private universities and their Bible departments is that it is entirely possible that many of those who are teaching ministry classes and who are equipping those in their teens and twenties to be ministers may not be aware of the shifts that have happened in ministry because they have not been in the trenches in years. In effect, some may be teaching ministry methods that are 10 or 20 years old that just don’t work today due to all the change that has taken place congregationally and socially. I don’t know how big of a problem that is but I do know that the world has made a dramatic shift in the last decade and I doubt that our institutions have been nimble enough to address it and re-position their approach to continue to be effective in training people for a new mission field. Outreach methods that worked in the 80s and 90s does not always prove effective today.

What is more many young people today do not have a high regard for institutions and learning ministry through those methods and yet private Christian colleges are where we continue to pour our time and financial resources into in hopes that they can help us ready ourselves for the future. Many young people are instead opting for short term missions, vocational ministry and para-church organizations and non-profits to feel like they are making a difference for the kingdom of God because they just don’t see how their talents can be used by the congregations they grew up in, which is what they know about congregational life.

In my mind a couple of things need to happen:

First, we need more equipping on the level of the local congregation. We cannot rely on the “big guys” to train people and send them to us. When churches hire people they are looking for a degree from an accredited university to make sure they are getting someone who is qualified and who has been adequately trained. Again, that is the old assumption that a degree means you have adequate training and that the institutions handing out degrees actually adequately train people. We have to be training people young and old on a congregational level and not just have the professional ministers do the ministering. That takes a shift in thinking and in how ministers spend their time. We need to do more equipping.

Second, the universities need to evaluate what is being taught and how effective it is in the real world. Tenure is a killer here. Sometimes the guys who are untouchable and unchangeable have been teaching the same thing for decades and it is required you take some of their classes to graduate whether they are teaching it effectively or not. Universities need to poll their recent graduates who are “out in the field” and find out how effective their training was…what worked and what didn’t. What did they need more of and what did they need less of?

Third, if the universities want to be more effective it would be wise for them to get more grass roots where they help congregations learn to train their own people without having to send them off to school. We get stuck in thinking things can only be done one way. Universities would be wise to learn from groups like Kairos and others who are planting churches on a regular basis and make sure their curriculum is up to par.

Again, I can’t point at a single Christian college and point out specific issues but I am concerned as a whole and maybe someone out there can shed more light on whether or not this is a valid concern. I am a product of Christian education and have a great deal of respect for these institutions. I have also known and respected dozens of professors who have taught Bible and ministry. I hope none of this sounds like a gripe fest because it isn’t. It is a concern and only that. It is out of that love and concern that I mention any of these things in hopes that if there are things we need to improve we can be open and honest about that and make the necessary changes.

What has been your experience in regard to these things? What steps can congregations and universities take to ensure their effectiveness?

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