How Bible Colleges Should Serve the Church
“O God, please help transform Your churches and Bible colleges here in Africa, making them able and devoted to equipping church leaders to understand Your Word and to preach it faithfully, so that Your people in Africa will honour You and live according to Your will.”
This prayer was on the minds of the 120 delegates, representing some 40 Bible schools, at the end of the 11th annual Bible College Consultation. This event was hosted on 14-16 June 2022 by Mukhanyo and the Theological Education Association of Southern Africa.
Fifteen speakers addressed nine plenary sessions and eighteen workshops in which the many present challenges were discussed, especially concerning the relationship between churches and Bible schools. The theme of the consultation this year was “Serving the Church in Bible Education.”
At the end of the three days together, the main conclusion was that churches and Bible colleges in Africa need each other. Yet there are various reasons why vital synergy, collaboration and cooperation are seriously lacking.
The keynote addresses and some workshops are recorded online at www.teasa.co.za. Here are some extracts of the many salient points made by some of the speakers and workshop facilitators:
The reasons why churches and Bible colleges do not cooperate as they should was addressed by many speakers. In the words of Prof Joseph Mutei, dean of students at St Paul’s University in Kenya, theological education in Africa is in crisis; it is not healthy and vital: “As a discipline, theology is bankrupt.” While around 90% of pastors have little or no theological education, churches are attacked by worldly challenges such as secularism, the prosperity gospel, nominalism, syncretism, and compromised Bible teaching.
What should be done? “The prominence of theological education as a tool for church reformation is paramount.” Prof Mutei mentioned the need for collaboration, lifelong learning opportunities, sharing of library services, more research, as well as good literature, and also for the youth.
To address the state of affairs, it is necessary to refocus the mission of both churches and theological education. According to Dr Brian DeVries, principal of Mukhanyo, the response can be summarised under five actions: review, refocus, regroup, revive and reform. Why is synergy often so limited? Colleges find fault with churches, and churches are doing the same with colleges. But both should stop blame-shifting and instead work together to address present challenges.
Churches and colleges need each other. Furthermore, Christ commands church leaders in Matthew 28 to teach all nations. Christ also provides grace for this mission, promises to give wisdom, and leads us through various ways and means, because He knows what churches and colleges need.
Rev Ronald Kalifungwe, a senior pastor and lecturer at the African Christian University in Lusaka, argued that what is urgently needed is the right kind of mentoring (in Jesus’ way) for the right kind of leadership, both in the church and in theological institutions.
Dr Charlie Rampfumedzi, principal of Christ Seminary in Polokwane, said colleges need a curriculum keeping the requirements in sight, including the right students who are qualified to study, and gifted teachers who develop teaching strategies to produce fully equipped students. To qualify as a church leader a person must be knowledgeable (content), able to apply the content (competent), and be a changed Christ-like person (character).
Curricula should be reviewed according to three perspectives, argued Dr Richard Seed, an education consultant and lecturer at George Whitfield College. These three perspectives are the coherence of the curriculum, the progress of student learning, and feedback from external stakeholders.
Rev Joster Jumbe, lecturer and translator at Zomba in Malawi, believes that biblical principles should be used to confront the many unbiblical churches. This should be done with various methods: open-air evangelism, translation of sound biblical books and tracts in local languages, inviting church leaders for lifelong training and organising study centres.
Rev Brian McLean of the John Wycliffe Theological College led a workshop that highlighted five training lessons about reform: according to the Bible, for the church, aimed at the heart of students, consequential to impact all aspects of society, and for evangelistic witness.
Instead of employing pragmatic methods to grow the church, church leaders should simply use God’s ordained means of grace: the faithful preaching of God’s Word, administration of the sacraments and prayer, according to Rev Antonio Coppola, senior lecturer manager of Mukhanyo’s Durban Centre. God promises that the use of these ordinary ways will revitalise His church.
At the end of the three days, delegates were asked for their comments. Was the Consultation worthwhile and did it help them in their mission and training work? The answer was unanimously positive! Many are looking forward to next year’s Bible College Consultation.