Friday, September 25, 2009

Are Our Pastors Adequately Equiped for Ministry?

Random Musings on theological education #2 : Are the curriculum designed to equip pastor for ministry?

In random musing #1, I asked the question whether studying ancient languages (Greek and Hebrews) are essential for training of pastors who will probably not be using these languages in their ministries. Now I will ask whether the curriculum of local theological schools are designed to equip pastors for their role of being shepherd to their congregations or parachurch organisations. Here I will confine myself to the Master of Divinity (M.Div) program as it is taken by many churches as the entry level for ordination and pastoring.

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in the United States developed the following standards for M.Div in June 1996. Since then, many of the theological schools have been revising their curriculum to conform to these standards [see Foster et al, Educating Clergy: Teaching Practices and Pastoral Imagination (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006)]. The standards are that the curriculum should consists of four equal parts:

(1) Religious Heritage - the teaching and understanding of theology, traditions, languages etc

(2) Cultural Context- understanding the culture of the church and the local context or cultural realities in which the church is in.

(3) Personal and Spiritual Formation - development in personal faith, spiritual maturity, moral integrity and public witness.

(4) Capacity for Ministerial and Public Leadership - development of skills for leadership and ability to do theological reflection on their ministries.

These four categories are essential in developing a well equipped pastor and I can see why the ATS is eager to revise their curriculum to fit it.

What about our local theological school curriculum? I did a very rough survey using information from their websites about their M.Div program, using the credit courses as a rough indicator. It must be noted that I am just looking at the formal curriculum and not the informal and null curriculum of these schools. These are established theological schools in Malaysia and Singapore.

School A has a M.Div program that require 98 credits to qualify, School B (90) and School C (114).
School A have four majors (Christian education, Biblical studies, Intercultural studies, Pastoral ministry). School C has four majors (Pastoral, Missions, Child Development, Youth).

It may be observed that in school A the major emphasis in the "Religious Heritage" category is balanced by "Ministerial and Leadership." "Religious Heritage" are often core studies in OT, NT, biblical languages, historical and theological foundations. School B seems to weigh heavily in the "Religious Heritage" category. School C is interesting because it manages to reduce the "Religious Heritage" category and give room to cultural context and spiritual formation.

The major contribution to the category "Cultural Context" comes from practicum and internship programs.

There is very little formal programs for personal and spiritual formation in these curriculum with the exception of school C. While it must be acknowledged that all three schools are aware of the importance of spiritual formation of their students, not being in the formal curriculum means that it is often not given priority or treated as an optional add-on. It also means that there is no attempt to measure or assessment its learning outcomes.

Somehow the impression from this rough survey seem to indicate that our local theological curriculum is heavy with cognitive and skills development but weak in personal and relevance. This has important implications in the type of graduates produced. This is something worth thinking about.


Matthew Green made a similar comment on his blog, Reflections of Spiritual Formation

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Anonymous Matthew R Green said...

Wow. I made almost this exact same post about a month ago:

9:56 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Matthew,

I agree with your sentiments in your post which I have just read. There is a great need to revamp our theological education curriculum which I feel is geared to produce pastors for the early 20th century rather for the 21st century. Now it is producing square pegs for round holes. I have taken the liberty of posting your post on my main post.

I hope you will follow my further posts on this series and I do appreciate your valuable comments.

2:20 PM  
Blogger blogpastor said...

My experience of theological education slanted heavily on religious heritage, and some on cultural context, but too little on personal and spiritual formation nor leadership.

The ATS guidelines are the way forward.

If only more accreditation associations will follow suit and give a 5 - 8 year period to do the changes to curriculum, staffing etc.

Thanks for this post as I have been feeling that most theo education curriculum are not equipping people for modern demands of ministry.

6:37 PM  

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