A stakeholder’s voice

A letter from the General Secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance

We are pleased to publish the following short feedback by Thomas Bucher, General Secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA). Concluding thoughts given at the end of the General Assembly of the European Council of Theological Education in Rome, November 2019. This GA’s topic was Quality in theological education.

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Dear friends,

Thank you for this opportunity to join you for your council. I felt very welcome. The opportunity to get to know many of you and to hear what is on your hearts has been a real blessing to me. And to understand a little more what you want to achieve by wrestling with various aspects of Quality (Q) has been enlightening.

I am speaking in two roles.

One as the General Secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance: The EEA exists to foster unity and evangelical identity and provide a voice and platform to evangelical Christians. It does that by Connecting for Common Action, Equipping for European Impact and Representing with a European Voice. You can find out more about the EEA on its website.

My second role being a highly engaged chairman of the board of a local reformed church in the city of Zurich. The second role takes about a day per week. Our vision: We make the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church accessible to people

Observations, Comments, Questions

Theological competence is much needed on all levels. I commend you for striving for Q. Allow me to share some observations, make some comments and ask some questions.

1. At this ECTE gathering the result of a little survey done in 2018 among individual churches and National Evangelical Alliances was presented. It was interesting to note the top two outcomes.

  • a. Theological education needs to do better in character education and spiritual formation.
  • b. Theological education needs more emphasis on practice.

At the end of November, I was at a meeting called by some movers and shakers in the state church in Switzerland. People who think theological education of universities in Switzerland could be improved. They have been inspired by what they have seen during visits with the Anglican church in London and how this is supported by St Mellitus College in London which states as its vision: Our vision is to offer theological education and training set in the context of prayer and worship that combines academic excellence, a focus on missional leadership, the shaping of Christian character, and the flexibility to fit around busy lifestyles.

The spiritual landscape in London has changed in the past years and that has even been noted by the Economist which run an article in January 2016 titled Resurrection: The Economist reports on church growth in London

What’s happening in London underpins the findings of your survey.

2. The Association of African Evangelicals run a conference on theological education in October this year. It was triggered by the realisation that 85% of African pastors are not educated theologically. The churches in Africa are growing and thriving and they urgently need solid theology. And for most of them it is basic knowledge which helps them to serve their churches. This also means to not exclude people from theological education which do very well at the practical level but might not do so well academically. Something which I urge you to keep in the radar. It means to not make the condition to enter theological education prohibitive for practitioners.

I wish we had African church growth in Europe. But one thing is clear to me: theological education needs to serve the church. Which means the bulk of the students will not go into highly academic work but need to be made fit for serving in a local church.

3. The Bologna Process serves for many institutions as guidelines for higher education. Looking at the curricula of theological institutions and watching their students these days it seems to me that Bologna is misused to force feed students with too much information and with too little time to process it, let alone being able to root it in practice. I plead with you to resist this tendency and stay with wisdom which says less is more. The Pareto principle should be applied in education as well: 20% effort turns into 80% of the desired result. And 80% is often what is needed, not more but also not less.

4. This leads me to my next point. Q was the theme of this gathering. It is good to thrive for Q. However, when my wife did her nurse training over 40 years ago there were 5 nurses at the bedside and 2 people in administration. These days administrative work probably takes 5 people and 2 nurses are left at the bedside, caring for people. Theological institutions need to get the balance right. Q is to be pursued but not at the expense of direct interaction with students and personal investments into their lives.

5. And as mentioned above most students need to be made fit to serve the church and wider society. When they leave theological education, it should be a smooth transition to the practical work. This can only be achieved by giving them enough exposure to practical work during their studies. Ideally this means being part of a church and be involved practically.

6. Which leads me to my last point. Students finding out that they want to do advanced studies it should be easy to do so. We need academics who are highly trained and skilled to interact with other academic circles but also people who have time and space for research. Having space to do research was mentioned to be a challenge for Q during this conference. We need evangelicals who are highly competent in their field of expertise. This has a price tag which we should willingly bring up..

Concluding I want to quote the German sociologist Hartmut Rosa. He stated in an interview: ‘We need eternity as a counter concept to modernity-acceleration’. I believe if theological education keeps this in mind and pursues it, it will surely go in the right direction.

I often call the European Evangelical Alliance a dancefloor. People coming and bringing their contribution to the dance floor. Sharing it and taking time to feel the rhythm and the music. Doing things together but also leaving again enriched and equipped to do their own dancing on their local dance floor.

I invite you to contribute to and join more often this dancefloor. We need theologians, we need good theological reflection in these demanding times. The brothers and sisters in the EEA working on various themes through over 15 networks need you.

Thank you again for this opportunity to be part of your gathering and to give some feedback.

May the Lord bless you,

Thomas Bucher – EEA General Secretary

Rome, Saturday 30 November 2019

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