In a recent report released from The Association of Theological Schools on the numbers of students enrolled in seminary, CBF partner school Central Seminary was identified as one of the 12 fastest growing theology schools in the U.S. Central was highlighted as one that has seen attendance grow by more than 50 percent. According to President Molly T. Marshall, it is absolutely critical to offer relevant and contextual theological education to support Central’s mission and values. As a result, Central has overseen a record growth of more than 179 percent during the past five years. Central is devoted to the redemptive gospel, the mission of the church and to intellectual inquiry which encourages open-mindedness to the best insights of biblical and theological studies. For more information, visit www.cbts.edu.
By David May
I have always considered that the first theological seminary in the world was founded in ancient city of Ephesus with Paul the Apostle as President, Professor, Advancement Officer, CFO, Dean of Students and Janitor. It says in Acts that Paul “. . . left them [members of the synagogue congregation], taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:9b-10 NRSV).
In the Tyrannus Theological Seminary (TTS), I doubt Paul was worried about the headcount or FTE students (Full Time Equivalency). He was simply teaching the “word of the Lord” to a variety of different folks (Jews and Greeks) in a large geographical area (all the residents of Asia).
What Paul was doing was what he was always good at—contextual ministry and improvisation. If teaching and debating within the synagogue context was not working, “. . . some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation,” (Acts 19:9 NRSV), Paul would find a new strategy and improvise.
What Paul demonstrates is what Central models. Faculty members, staff and administration have worked to be nimble and flexible in the changing landscape of theological education. If Moore’s Law of technology change is that transistors on chips double every two years, the equivalent Theological Education Law is that educational strategies need revision every two years. Technology changes, cultural and society shifts and financial realities illustrate that after every graduating cohort an institution needs to reevaluate what works best.
This constant season of assessment and change is not easy for faculty. The ways in which we were educated and the comfortable methods we have used in the past often times will not be as effective.
A willingness to change, however, has opened up incredible opportunities for growth, not in only numbers, but in faculty members’ own learning and spirituality. For example, at Central, the Korean Missional Church Studies Program now comprises 60% of the student body, and provides new perspectives and enrichment to our theological vocation. The multiple sites of the seminary remind us of a world beyond a central campus’ wall. Our emphasis for computer-mediated learning means faculty members are learning new pedagogies and how to synthesize traditional methods of teaching with new delivery options.
For faculty, these changes, among many significant others, have meant juggling more responsibility, multi-tasking on a daily basis and a necessary willingness to improvise when situations and contexts change.
Being the second fastest growing seminary in the Association of Theological Schools is a nice accolade, but numbers are only one measure of success and are often exaggerated and imprecise.
Even though the author of Acts says “all the residents of Asia,” heard Paul teach. I doubt everyone in Asia heard Paul. The real importance from a faculty perspective is not the numbers, but how learners are becoming more and more competent in ministry thinking and ministry skills. The great hope is that learners are teaching, preaching and engaging the world with the same “word of the Lord” that Paul taught in the first theological seminary.
Dr. David May is Professor of New Testament and Director of Online Curriculum Design at Central Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.