Science in Christian Perspective
Extending Leadership Training for the Church in the Seventies
C. PETER WAGNER
Fuller Seminary School of World Mission
and Fuller Evangelistic Association
Pasadena, California 91102
From: JASA 24 (September 1972): 105-110.
This article is based on material given at the 1971) Evangelical Foreign Missions Association Executives'
Retreat. Winona Lake, Indiana; is also published as a chapter in An Extension Seminary Printer by Ralph
Covell and C. Peter Wagner (Williatn Carey Library).
New Forms of Ministerial Training
Interest in new forms of ministerial training is increasing not only in third world nations, but also in Europe and the United States. Discussions concerning possible adaptations of the extension seminary are being conducted at some major seminaries in the USA, where an extension workshop was held in Wheaton its 1968. Dr. Ted Ward has observed that "theological education by extension is rapidly moving to a leadership position among the educational movements of the day."1
In the secular world, where educators have realized that their institutions will not be able to sustain growth rates equal to those of the population explosion, methods which have been found helpful its the extension seminary are being applied. In January, 1971, "The Open University" in England began courses leaching to a BA. degree. As The Expository Times reports, "This will prove a real godsend to older men and women who feel equipped to proceed to degree work, but cannot absent themselves from the duties which provide their livelihood, or to women who cannot discard the responsibilities of home and family.2
The Israeli government for a number of years has attempted to teach Hebrew to new immigrants by "taking the school to adults." The pilot projects consisted of residential schools, but when it became obvious that these would not keep pace with the needs, an extension program was inaugurated. By 1965 half of the immigrant students (1(1,500 of 21,350) were studying in extension ('enters called "ulpaniyot."3
Changing Patterns of the Church
One of the phenomena of today 's rapidly-changing world has been a noticeable change in patterns of the chords. The New Testament does not purport to give its a master blueprint for church form. Although some still do consider a particular church structure "more biblical" than others, a new openness toward differing forms of the church seems to be characteristic of Christians today.
The church, in its simplest form, is where the believers are.
The church, in its simplest form, is where the believers are. When the
Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship group meets on campus, for example, this is a
type of functional church meeting. Christian businessmen, nurses, military
officers, scientists, and others who have common secular interests form
associations which (in spite of predictable denials) become kinds of churches
outside the church. Some interdenominational missions in foreign cities become
functional churches when they hold their own Sunday worship in English.
Organizations such as the Gideons or Young Life or Christian Endeavor have
functioned as churches for some People.
Home Bible studies are becoming popular in some areas, and are considered "church" by many who attend them. Groups of Christians in the charismatic movement sometimes meet outside their own church buildings and programs. If a conflict occurs, some feel so loyal to their ad line meetings that they prefer to split from their traditional church rather than give up the new form they have discovered. The term "un derground church" is now commonplace.
In Red China faithful Christians can meet secretly in groups which must not exceed two or three-a form of the church reminiscent of the catacombs. In Indonesia groups of evangelical Christians from the Reformed Protestant Churches have begun what they call "by-pass" groups. They think they are by-passing the church, but in reality they have developed a new form of church. The Philippine Congress on Evangelism recommended the formation of 10,000 "cell groups" as the basis of future church growth there.
Rapidly-growing cities with limited real estate such as Hong Kong and Singapore have brought about the development of still another form-"churches in the flats." Malcolm Bradshaw anticipates that "land area for church buildings will be scarce and prohibitively priced. Life patterns for high-rise flat dwellers will not likely he conducive to crossing town for the 11 a.m. Sunday service."-' The newly-emerging forms of house churches which own no real estate of their own may even be closer to New Testament patterns than the "cathedral on the corner," according to Bradshaw.
Many missiologists believe that we are now on the threshold of the greatest ingathering into the Christian Church that the world has yet experienced. McCavrao, with his characteristic optimism, has recently said that we are today witnessing "the sunrise of missions." President Doan-van-Mieng of the Vietnamese National Church is entirely serious when he claims that the Lord has spoken to him and to the church lie leads to set their long-range goal at winning ten million Vietnamese for Christ. If these men prove to be right, this degree of accelerated church growth will undoubtedly produce new sets of changing patterns of the church. Leaders will do well to he alert for them.
Changing Patterns of the Ministry
As Christians recognize and encourage changing patterns of the church, they realize that an immediate corollary of this will be new forms of the ministry. Bradshaw says that in the exploding cities of Asia, "full-time ministers will no doubt continue to be needed. Yet the brunt of the responsibility for shepherding the small house congregations will of necessity fall upon the shoulders of a new task force of semiprofessional ministers . . . Self-supporting status will be essential because most churches will be too small in numbers to support a full-time pastor."5
In a recent hook on Indonesia. Eric Smith urges his Baptist colleagues there to set Lisa goal the planting of 50 new churches a year. But he recognizes that "Baptists cannot provide places of worship and trained pastors for fifty new congregations a year for the next ten years."6 Thus, he recommends house churches
and unpaid pastors. "Unpaid or slightly paid non-seminary trained pastors should he recognized and allowed to function fully as pastors, leading their congregations with full freedom, drawing their authority from the Lord and the congregation they lead."7
This type of creative thinking is by no means confined to Bradsliaw and Smith. On all six continents Christian leaders have become convinced that a total rethinking of the form and function of the ministry is long overdue.
Basic to the newer ideas of the ministry is the concept of ordination. Some younger churches have found themselves with a two-level hierarchy they had neither planned nor desired-ordained and un-ordained ministers. Functionally they are doing the same job in many eases, but for one reason or other ordination is denied to some, relegating them to a second-class status. Some churches insist that ordained ministers he fulltime, thus excluding the biblical pattern of a tent-making ministry. Educational levels form another rather artificial harrier in certain circumstances. Institutions have been created with academic levels which exclude many functional pastors on principle. In some eases, more emphasis seems to he placed on academic attainment than on spiritual gifts.
The widespread concern in many younger churches to "raise the standards of the ministry" seems to be somewhat misguided, since again it is usually linked directly to certain academic levels. An uncritical application of this principle could well serve only to cripple the ministry rather than upgrade it. The use of the term "lay pastors" is well-intentioned but tends to accentuate their second-class rating. In one church 1 know this was carried to such an extreme that, whereas both ordained and un-ordained pastors could pronounce the benediction, only the ordained pastors were allowed to raise their hands while doing it!
Raising the standards of the ministry usually stimulates the desire to "upgrade the seminary." This unwisely has become one of the major goals of theological educators in many parts of the world. It is commonly interpreted as meaning raising the admission requirements another notch and if possible eliminating a lower notch. The net result is that the gap between first and second class pastors is widened even more, and the institution runs the risk of educating pastors right out of the system. This is one reason why so many of the best educated ministers in the younger churches buy one-way tickets to the USA. They no longer fit in their own system.
More important than higher and higher academic requirements should he spiritual and cultural standards. A man of God who is fully accepted by his peers as a leader who has spiritual gifts which equip him for his task, and who leads his church forward in winning people to Christ and planting new churches, is the man who should he studying in our institutions regardless of his previous academic opportunities. Unhappily, many who fit this description have not been eligible for our seminaries, and therefore have been excluded from the possibility of ordination.
The vested interests of the ordained clergy have at times prevented broader concepts of the ministry. In some cases consciously or unconsciously, ordained men have created something of a "preachers' union" and decreed a closed shop. Since either the mission subsidy' fund or the number of well-paying churches is limited, new competition is discouraged in one way or another. The danger of thus mentality' is evident, especially when applied to planting new churches. Some denominations discourage the organization of a church until a pastor is available, thins making the rate of church multiplication dependent upon the ability of a seminary to produce graduates. This thinking need's to be changed. It can become an unwholesome deterrent to healthy church growth.
Changing Patterns of Leadership Training
Once changing patterns of the church and the ministry are recognized the problem of ministerial training must he faced. Here again we find changing patterns in today's world. Both Bradshaw and Smith recommend for their specific areas of Asia what is now known as the extension seminary. This has been used by some institutions in Latin America since 1962, and estimates indicate that some 30 institutions there are using these methods to train something over 5,000 students. As to Africa, Gerald Bates of Burundi writes, "The extension seminary and its use of programmed learning offer a viable alternative to some present forms of education which are falling far short in the matter of leadership training, particularly for the pastorate, in Africa."8
Recent studies have shown that in spite of vast cultural differences between them, churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America share with remarkable correlation a set of deficiencies its their traditional theological education programs. To one degree or another these might he corrected by adapting extension seminary principles to their particular situation.
What are these principles?
Philosophy of Extension
The extension seminary involves first of all a change in mental attitude for those who have been involved in traditional institutions. If we were to seek a slogan for this change, I would call it "the humanization of theological education."
This implies that our past efforts at training the ministry have not quite been human enough. I think that most of us who honestly examine ourselves on this matter will admit that this has often been true. At least the recent workshops in Asia have reflected a new openness on the part of both missionaries and nationals to recognize past shortcomings and face the future more realistically. This process is all part of what Ted Ward calls "a profound alteration of institutions of long standing and rich tradition .
For one thing we have tended to he institution-centered rather than person-centered. We have wrongly asked "how?" before asking "whom?" We have started with an institutional structure which we may have adapted slightly to the culture of our particular field, but which was nevertheless heavily laden with the inevitable cultural baggage. Then we have established our requirements for admission and opened the doors. Those who could fit the requirements could come in but the others stayed out. In other words, the person to be trained had to conform to our institution.
The extension philosophy involves starting with the person rather than the institution. If a given person should he receiving ministerial training, the institution should see that he gets it. No possible alteration of the structure of the institution should be discounted which will enable more of Cod's chosen men to take theological studies. As the seminary or Bible school conforms to the student to be trained rather than viceversa, it is to that degree humanizing theological education.
Theological educators are now coming to recognize that the task of the seminary is not to snake leaders. As John Meaduweroft of Pakistan puts it, "By some kind of metamorphosis a young fellow who has no qualities of leadership is expected to emerge from the chrysalis of the seminary as a 'leader of the community.' And so he also considers himself to be. The fact, however, is that nothing will make a man is leader if he does not possess the attributes already."" The calling of the seminary is to train the leaders that God
On all six continents Christian leaders have become convinced that a total rethinking of the form and function of the ministry is long overdue.
has already made. If this is admitted, the question prior to all others is:
Whom do we teach?
That God, and not man, sovereignly distributes gifts of the ministry to the members of the body of Christ "as it bath pleased Him" is clear from I Corinthians 12. The task of the church is not to endow these gifts but rather to recognize them, help develop them, admonish Christians to use them, and publically authorize their use through the laying on of hands. Our seminaries and Bible schools should set their sights on this objective-training men and women who are the gifted ones of God for the ministry: pastors, teachers, evangelists, and others.
Especially in the younger rapidly-growing churches of the world, these gifts are must evident in men and women somewhat older than the students we have usually been training. Cultures which respect age more than we do in contemporary USA ordinarily will not allow a younger person to assume a position of true leadership (although at times a leadership title may be granted). Qualifications for leadership usually include maturity, marriage, a family, the ability to earn a living through a contribution to the community, and church responsibilities properly executed. Some of these leaders have been recognized by their people but cannot be ordained by their churches because they are unable to conform to any known institution. Others have had some theological training earlier in life and have been ordained; but with the rising standards of education they feel the need of more studies. A leader of the Indian church says: "The average pastor in India dues not know how to lead a soul to Christ or to preach expository messages." Those of us in theological education need to he concerned about this kind of situation.
This points up the need for in-service training, perhaps to an even greater degree than for pre-service training. Nevertheless our concentration to the present has largely been on the pre-service variety of training. The recognition of this basic principle was one of the factors that sparked the Presbyterian Seminary in Guatemala to launch the first extension program eight years ago.
How the Seminary Extends
As the extension seminary principles have developed over the past few years, the sense in which seminaries have "extended' has become clearer.
From the beginning it should be kept in mind that we are suggesting an extension, not an extermina tion of the present structures. Years of sharing extension principles with others have taught us that most of the initial opposition to the ideas comes from those who interpret the extension program as a threat to their existing institutions. They have made an "either-or" ease of extension versus residence. This is unfair and hasty. The two programs are complementary, not contradictory. Most (although not all) residential institutions are serving a very useful function and should be continued. But few (or perhaps none) are doing as much as they should or could do. In order better to accomplish their goal of training the ministry for the church, they should think in terms of extending their present ministry.
Theological educators who are willing to become student-centered rather than institutioncentered in their outlook will want to consider extending their present structures in six ways:
1. Geographical extension. This refers to the place or places where students are taught. Due to any number of circumstances, many gifted church leaders leave their own homes and move into a residential institution. If they are to he trained, then, the institution must move to them. This may mean that a professor in Bolivia travels six hours on the train to meet a group of students every' week, or that his counterpart in West Kalimantan contracts the Missionary Aviation Fellowship plane for two days a week to visit three centers, or that the students from one area meet their teacher under a bridge in Guatemala. By whatever means are necessary, the professor moves out to his students.
Some professors, accustomed to the more sedentary and contemplative life of the ivory tower will say, "this is not for me!" But scores of others are saying, this is what I have been looking for."
2. Extension in time. Schedules in the extension seminary are drawn up after asking the student: When cm you study? I know of one weekly meeting at 6:00 am., another at 10:00 p.m., and others in between. Urban centers usually meet at night since students are tied to strict daily schedules. Rural centers often meet during the day since farmers' schedules are more flexible. After the sun sets, farmers usually think more of bed than of bunks.
The time factor is not only important as to the hour, but also as to the seasons. One center operating among potato farmers inadvisedly scheduled its courses to run through the potato harvest. It soon had to close down and rearrange the program. Whereas ordinarily all extension centers adhere to the academic year of the base institution, ample room for adjustment must he allowed.
Some students have more leisure time for study than others. Thus the speed at which students take their studies will have to vary. This variation is usually not made according to the rate at which a student completes a given subject, but rather according to the number of subjects the student handles in any given semester. If he can afford six hours a week, he can take just one subject, but if he can afford eighteen hours a week, he can take three.
3. Cultural extension. As the insights of cultural anthropology filter down to grass rants, more people have become aware of patterns of culture and sub-culture all over the world. Even people living within the same city group themselves into distinct sub-cultures as a short drive from Beverly hills, through Watts and to East Los Angeles would prove. Molds of thinking in each sub-culture are different, and proper theological education ill be tailor-made for each one. Institutions that are not extended will often require that a student from one culture take his training within another one. Experience has shown that this cultural extraction is not ideal.
A Korean professor has recently said, for example, "The training of national theological faculty members
can best be done in their own countries. We must get rid of the mentality of being students of Western theology. Asians are leaders of the theology of Asia."
Observations like this do not relate only to those vast cultural differences between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. They exist also within the same country'. Leaders of rural churches in South \'iet Nam, far example, were recently discussing the problems that sending their ministerial candidates to study in the city' raised. They' said, "When our men return to the country they are not the same. They want their salary in cash, not in rice and chickens; they won't walk through the rice paddies because they will get their trousers wet; they are not even able to sit and talk with us because they have brought their city schedules with them and no longer have any time."
The calling of the seminary is to train the leaden that God has already made.
The extension seminary attempts to adapt to people who need training by
making sure that the teaching is relevant to the culture in which they have been
called to minister in the future. This is one reason why the leaders of the
Latin American Inter-text program have rather firmly insisted that their
materials all be prepared originally in either Spanish or Portuguese in spite of
a great deal of pressure from other parts of the world to do them in English.
Not only will this provide material in the most useful languages there, but it
will also tend to force authors to develop their materials in thought patterns
characteristic of the culture of their students.
The extension seminary enables students to take full theological training while continuing to live within their own culture. This reduces the danger of deculturization, known in one of its international aspects as the "brain drain." While it is true that many examples of dedicated people who have studied in a second culture and have returned successfully to the first can he found, most theological educators and church leaders agree that the trend is in the opposite direction.
4. Academic extension. It has already been mentioned that many of us have fallen into the mentality that certain minimum academic requirements are necessary for the Christian ministry, and that these requirements should be universally applied. Further analysis, however, will probably indicate that academic standards for the ministry are better determined by the academic levels of the people in the pews than by the seminary board. It may be true that college and seminary are basic for a USA suburban pastor, and that seminaries now need to replace the B.D. with a professional doctorate to keep their graduates on an academic par with the increasing number of PhD's in their congregations. This standard is not necessary among the mountain peoples of Taiwan, however, not perhaps even for effective ministry in the black ghettos of the inner cities of the USA.
Thousands of leaders of third world churches have been able to attain only minimal levels of general education, and they find themselves in no position to return to school. Should these men he excluded from then logical training on those grounds, when God himself has placed them in the ministry? The seminar must extend itself to such men. Some extension programs have geared theological education to as low as second grade levels, especially when the church in question will grant ordination (or whatever form of ministerial recognition is employed) to these leaders. Others, such as the Preshvterians in Guatemala, have developed subsidiary programs to raise the general education levels before they begin theological training. Either way extends the seminary academically.
5. Economic extension. The expense involved in training men for ordination (whether this term is understood formally or functionally is irrelevant here) in the younger churches is higher than many of us may think. A competent observer has recently stated that on a world scale the cost of this educational system may be second only to that of training physicians in the USA. When the cost of providing missionary professors, buildings and grounds, the low student-teacher ratios, and the high drop out quotient are all considered, this might well he the case.
On most mission fields where indigenous church principles are applied, missions have found that the last aspect of the church-related work which can be turned over to the churches is the ministerial training program. This is due largely to the economic structure which is entirely out of keeping with what the churches can afford. If a less expensive way to train ministers could he found, some of the national churches could exercise greater responsibility in this crucially important aspect of their ministry.
The extension seminary may prove to he a step in that direction. Studies that have been made indicate a reduction in costs, although more research is needed, The George Allen Theological Seminary in Bolivia, for example, has found that their urban residence program cost about $90.00 annually per student-subject, the rural residence program about $30.00 per student-subject, and the extension program about $15.00 per student-subject. Other than the initial cost of setting up the extension centers, most of this sum represents travel for professors. The students pay their own way-travel expenses, room and board, and textbooks. They also help reduce general costs by paying a monthly tuition. This sounds like something that any church can afford.
We are suggesting an extension, not an extermination of the present structures.
6. Ecclesiastical extension. The widespread divorce of the seminary from the local church has been recognized by leaders of many denominations in recent years. Whereas this has beers a point of criticism, few have been able to devise methods to reverse the trend. Placing theological training hack in the local church has been a by-product of some extension seminaries. In many cases classes are actually held on church premises. Seminary professors visit the churches and interact with church members as well as with students, keeping themselves in direct touch with their thinking and attitudes. This makes them ever so much more effective as teachers. Students, for their part, are not extracted from their local church for an extended period of time, but they continually relate their studies to the realistic conditions of the grass-roots level.
The enthusiasm for extension methods which shows through on the part of its advocates should not leave the impression that this new system has no problems of its own. The extension seminary is not a panacea for all ills. Those involved in extension still have munch to learn, and they intend to keep their minds open for suggestions for future improvement and innovations. In God's providence, extension may have come as something needed for the present moment in certain places, but perhaps just over the horizon He has a still newer form another day. Many have been raising questions concerning the extension seminary. .Some of them can he answered, some not as yet. Here is a sample of current dialogue;
1. Does the extension seminary really work? Since most of the current programs have begun only during the past two or three years, this question cannot yet be answered. The proof will come when graduates from extension departments actually become active and ordained ministers in their churches.
2. Does the extension center provide sufficient opportunity for personal interaction between students and professor? Admittedly the teacher-disciple relationship with the professor in residence with his students and in close personal contact with them day after day cannot be maintained in the extension seminary. On the other hand, as we all know, a residence program does not necessarily solve the problem since many busy residence instructors have become so impersonal that they only see their students from behind the lecture desk and know their names as entries in the roll book.
As extension programs develop, undoubtedly some professors will gain a reputation of excellence in this new field. One of their qualities might well be their ability to overcome this difficulty of the extension method, and find ways which lead to a maximum of personal as well as academic influence on their students.
3. Is not flexibility in the presentation of subject matter reduced by the use of programmed texts? A daily classroom contact with the students in the residence system allows for that existential moment when a problem emerges in class and provides the springboard for a flash of new insight and communication. Sometimes more is accomplished during those moments than throughout many lecture periods. The reduction of this possibility is no doubt characteristic of the extension method, although the same dynamic can and will occur during the weekly meetings.
4. The rate of study is usually lengthened in extension, where the time to finish seminary is stretched to five, ten, or even more years. Is this not a disadvantage to the student? It is true that extension is a slower process than residence. If a person can afford time to study five subjects at once, the chances are he can go to a residence institution and finish in the usual three years. But since most extension education is in-service training, the student is not in a great hurry to finish. Continuing education through which a person studies something year after year is beneficial to any-one who is conscientious about keeping up with today's world. Furthermore, even if it is slower, taking only one or two subjects at a time is infinitely faster and more beneficial that) taking no subjects at all.
5. Can progrmmed materials really do the job in the more subjectire and more advanced studies? Educational psychology has not given a final answer to this question as far as I know. If the delicate nuances of theology, for example, cannot he adequately taught by self-instructional materials, it will be a distinct disadvantage of extension. We must keep in mind, however, that for many church leaders the basic choice does not lie between residence or extension, but rather between extension or nothing at all.
6. How call you provide research library facilities in the extension centers? You can't. Functional libraries call he provided in the extension centers, but especially on the higher levels of training where the students are expected to engage in research, access to the central research library becomes more necessary.
7. For many, one of the most valuable aspects of living in a residential situation has been the opportunity for "hull sessions" in the dormitories with other students. Can the extension seminary provide a substitute for this? Not really. To a point the time spent together in the weekly meeting is a substitute, but extension can never catch up to residence ill this valuable aspect of ministerial training.
These questions and others like them only point up the fact that extension education does not have all
the answers. Nevertheless, the system does seem to be a part of the solution to many previous shortcomings in traditional theological education. With the building of interest in Asia and Africa as well as in Latin America, it could well he that during the decade of the 1970's, extension seminary' methods will be widely used of God for the training of the leadership of a growing church, and will actually emerge as the predominant method.
1Ted & Margaret Ward, Programmed Instruction for Theological Education by Extension, CAMEO, East Lansing, 1970, P 115.
2"The Open University," The Expository Times, April, 1970, p. 224.
3Ministry of Education and Culture, Israel, School Comes to Adults, Jerusalem, 1965, p. 57.
4 Malcolm Bradshaw, ''Theological Education by Extension," leaflet.
6Ebbie Smith, God's Miracles: Indonesian Church Growth, Pasadena, William Carey Library, 1970, p. 195.
7Ibid., pp. 195-196.
8Gerald Bates, "The Extension Seminary, Its Potential for African Young Churches," mimeographed paper, Lansing, Michigan State University, 1970, 13 pp.
9 Ward, op cit., p. 1 15.
10John C. Meadosvcroft, ''Theological Education by Extension," mimeographed paper, Cujranwala, West Pakistan, 1970, p. 6.