Menu Home

Making the most of theological education

Andrew Reid
What is theological education for / what does it do?
1. Tools not answers
2. Brain education — it kickstarts a process of theological thinking with the dedicated study period it provides.
3. A place to form ministry networks — support for future ministry — contact with people thinking through the same stuff (e.g. Moore residential community, now in pockets as not everyone can be residential)
4. Setting habits for a lifetime of ministry
Others’ suggestions: personal formation (some theological colleges try not to do this)
How to make the most of it…
1. Establish a spiritual life in the midst of study.
Don’t assume that something will change later — there will be no magical day when you’ll ‘have time’!
The nutritional value of discipline!  I.e., legalism is not a danger!
Spiritual life must match personality — journalling?
2. Read your Bible well and widely.
Its the best resource for ministry.
Andrew currently reads 2 chaps OT + 2 chaps NT + a Psalm every day. (If nothing else, read a Psalm and pray through it)
Tim Chester’s ‘You can change’
Read aloud / memorise it
Read a book or a chapter a week from OT and from NT
3. Choose essay and exam topics carefully — go for broad, avoid focused, even if you might not perform as well.  Because this is the level on which ministry generally happens.
4. Make friends who will stay for life, and commit to them — especially as a man.
5. Ask what you’d like written on your gravestone — what will shape your life, what will your values be, what is important to you and thus what goals will you set, and what will you be remembered for? — And epitaphs are only short! E.g. ‘A good husband’, ‘A prayerful man’. IMPORTANT:  This is a question about BEING, not about DOING. Who you will be carries with you whatever you will do.
6. Deliberately choose subjects (where you can) that will develop the skills you know you need — e.g. evangelism, thinking, exegesis, etc.
7. Develop reading habits.  If you’re not ‘a reader’, learn to be an adequate reader — learn to read smaller things.  Xnity is a ‘book faith’, inevitably involving reading of some sort or another.  This is why Xns have always been at the forefront of education.  (1) Read more broadly than you are required by your subjects and set texts. This will tick things over alongside your subjects. (2) Choose some key books to read that are not required for essays. By the time you’ve finished a degree, you should have read five types of books (a) a history of Israel/the church, (b) a book on doctrine/theology (Milne’s Know the Truth is a simple one), (c) read a NT & OT introduction, (d) some book on the area of ministry you’re headed towards. (3) Choose an area or topic or ministry area that will be your area of expertise — something that you will be most equipped in. Andrew = hermeneutics, his area around which everything else revolves. Value (a) it’s manageable (b) it’s satisfying/fulfilling/gives you a sense of achievement — you don’t become burdened by not keeping up with everything, which leads to anxiety and feelings of failure!! It’s being an expert for your own sake more than anything — something about which you can come alive and be purposeful: Doug on Luke, Paul on Deuteronomy, Andrew on Samuel, Lindsay on Wisdom Lit. Broadness, on the other hand, is an exercise that will keep you alert intellectually but is less valuable.
ASIDE: 2-3 types of people in ministry. (1) those without rationale who take a haphazard approach because they haven’t done self-reflection, (2) those who are broadly multiskilled, i.e. usually above average across a range of things (quite rare) — e.g. admin + preaching + pastoring. (3) single-skill people who do one or two things well or exceptionally.
Point being: reflect on yourself so that you and others may benefit and grow!

Andrew Reid, our Old Testament lecturer, has shared some thoughts on how to get the most out of theological education.

What’s the point?

Theological education is about training to serve others, which involves things like:

1. Tools, not answers The point is not to collect ‘the right answers’ but to develop a set of tools with which to think coherently about the big questions of life and ministry.

2. Brain education Theological education is just the beginning of a lifetime process of theological thinking.  It doesn’t leave us fully formed but, as a period of dedicated study, it should set us on the right trajectory.

3. Ministry networks This period of study provides invaluable contact with others who are thinking through the same stuff, forming a wonderful support for future ministry life.

4. Lifetime habits Tying in with the above, theological education provides key personal formation for ministry life.

Making the most of it

1. Establish a spiritual life in the midst of study Don’t assume that something will change later — there will be no magical day when you’ll ‘have time’ for God!  Work hard to develop devotional habits that stick.  There is no danger of legalism here, only the nutritional value of discipline.  Be aware of how your attempts match up with your personality and don’t try to force yourself into unmanageable habits.

2. Read your Bible well and widely Your personal Bible reading will shape your prayer life and form your single best resource for ministry.  Ensure you are regularly covering the whole Bible and making your reading count, whatever form your reading takes (you might cover a book a week or a chapter a week, you might listen at the gym, etc.).

3. Choose essay and exam topics carefully Choose broad topics rather than ones with narrow focus, even if they are more difficult and may lower your result.  The reason: this is the level on which ministry happens.  You are more likely to be asked, ‘What are the Gospels?’ than to be asked to explain whether logos attributes deity to Jesus!

4. Make friends for life Commit to people with whom you will continue to share relationships — this is especially significant for men.

5. Start writing your own gravestone What will shape your life?  What will your values be?  What is important to you and what goals will you set?  What will you be remembered for?  Epitaphs are only short: ‘A good husband’ or ‘A prayerful man’.  Importantly, this is a question about who you will be, not what you will do — and who you will be flows into whatever you will do.

6. Choose subjects for skills Where possible, pick subjects that will develop the skills you know you particularly need to develop — evangelism, thinking, exegesis, etc.

7. Develop reading habits If you’re not ‘a reader’, learn to be an adequate reader.  Christianity is a ‘book faith’, inevitably involving reading of some kind.

a)  Read more broadly than your subjects and set texts require.  This will keep your head ticking over alongside your subjects, adding to your formation.

b)  Choose a few key books to read that are not required for essays.  By the time you’ve finished a degree, plan to have covered five types of ‘extra’ books:  (1) a history of Israel and/or the church, (2) a book on doctrine/theology, (3) a NT and an OT introduction, (4) a book on the area of ministry you’re heading towards.

c)  Choose a single thing to be your area of expertise — a topic or ministry area that you will become most well-versed in.  Why?  It makes your learning manageable and satisfying.  Trying to keep up with everything in detail is a burden that leads to anxiety and feelings of failure (unless you have a Carson-sized brain and study leave).  This is for your own wellbeing more than anything, providing something about which you can be particularly alive and purposeful.  While broad expertise certainly promotes intellectual alertness, it probably has less ministry significance.

Who will you be?

There are perhaps three types of people in ministry:

  1. Some take a haphazard approach because they lack self-reflection and a rationale.
  2. Some rare people are broadly multiskilled, having above-average skills in a range of areas (eg, admin + preaching + pastoring).
  3. Some are single-skilled people who know how to do one or two things well, even exceptionally.

The point is this: make sure you self-reflect so that you and others may benefit and grow.

… Some previous thoughts on all these things are here.

Categories: RRoundup Written by Arthur

Tagged as:

Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: