Full-time theological education is a costly thing. Costly because it will often mean a geographical switch, including moving house and saying goodbye to much-loved friends and family. Costly because it will probably mean leaving behind the particular church you were involved with and at least pressing pause on the ministry opportunities you were part of there. Costly because it literally costs money, and at the end of the day someone’s got to foot that bill, whether it be a church organisation, supporters, or the individual concerned.
So, is it worth those costs?
As has been noted here, it seems there’s a bit of a trend at the moment for answering ‘no’. For a start, part-time, non-residential training is a whole lot cheaper. That means this issue is something the Church of England is particularly weighing up. But such ‘mixed-mode’ training also allows you to be part-time, perhaps working with a church for 3 or 4 days a week, which can seem like a benefit. It also allows you to remain in the same place, again, something that has plus-points. And obviously different people will have different circumstances, meaning that for some ‘mixed-mode’ forms are the only reasonable option. But does the mode of training impact upon its effectiveness? And as this helpful post on the CofE’s latest workings asks, how are we defining effectiveness anyway?
There’s also a trend of seeing one’s ‘time at college’ as not really about the training itself, and more just an opportunity to be involved in the ministry opportunities of the particular town or city the college happens to be in. I guess this is rooted in a scepticism or distrust of ‘theology’, but it also seems to smack a bit of arrogance and short-sightedness. Certainly I couldn’t imagine being ‘ready’ without the training I’m being given.
So given all this, why bother really investing in theological education?
Being about 80% of the way through a three year full-time spell at theological college, I’m already so glad this has been part of my training. I’m so glad that the Church of England generously funded me for two years, and I’m so glad that a bunch of friends and Trusts backed me from their own pockets so that I could stay for this third year.
Why? Well, I think the video below goes some way to explain and, in short, it’s because the end goal isn’t about me.
I’d spent two years on a church-based ministry training scheme (which was excellent) and three years working in a junior staff role for another church (again, a great experience and learning curve), but I’d still not swap these past three years, full-time at Oak Hill, for anything else. Being able to set time aside to think, to learn, to grow… to be formed, it has been a massive privilege.
But ultimately this privilege is not for my sake, there’s a much more worthy matter at heart: stewardship – seeking to be the best possible gift for the sake of the church…
You can read the accompanying document, featuring Don Carson, Tim Keller and others, here.