As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
“We need to develop in young leaders the ability to recognize and nurture a calling of God into the ministry, even amidst career options that are much more lucrative”, says Dr. Steve Patty after conducting a wide-ranging study.
With the fall of communism, one of the great advantages the evangelical church in Central and Eastern Europe had was the opportunity to openly reinstate theological education and ministry training.
While much has been accomplished, there are growing concerns about the future relevance and viability of theological education and ministry training in many of its present forms.
Dr Steve Patty recently conducted a wide-ranging study of theological education in Central and Eastern Europe to address some of these questions and discover what the next positive steps might look like.
Evangelical Focus recently spoke with Dr. Patty about this important research.
Question. Please tell us a little about where you come from. What is your background, especially relating to Central/Eastern Europe?
Answer. I live in Portland, Oregon, but for 12 years during my youth and early adulthood I lived in Germany. Both of my brothers have been living and ministering with Josiah Venture in Central Europe. My older brother, Dave, is based in the Czech Republic. My younger brother, Josh, lives in Slovenia.
My background is in higher education. I chaired the departments of Youth and Educational Ministries at a Christian university in Oregon. During most of the 13 years I spent as a professor, I would take groups of students through Central Europe to witness what the Lord was doing in these regions. Many of those students have gone back Central Europe after graduating to serve the local church.
Q. What led you to initiate this study?
A. Theological education is essential for the health of the church. But in many areas theological education around the globe has been languishing in the early stages of the 21st Century. The leaders of Mission Eurasia (which focuses on developing the church in the regions of the former Soviet Union) and Josiah Venture (which aims to reach the emerging generation in Central Europe) decided to commission a study to see if they could better understand the context and climate of theological education in Central and Eastern Europe.
We decided to explore how four kinds of people interact with theological education:young people who might choose to pursue theological education, emerging leaders in the church, regional and denominational leaders, and professors and administrators within theological education. We hav interviewed eople to provide a tapestry of insight into the state of theological education.
Q. Was there anything that particularly surprised you as you engaged in your research?
A. A number of insights from the research were particularly striking, if not surprising.
The dedication of those who have taught and administered theological higher education in these regions is remarkable. In some contexts of higher education, there comes a certain cynicism and ennui over time. Schools are institutions, and being embedded in institutions for lengthy periods often fosters a sense of dryness and disconnection. I heard concern, maybe even frustration and discouragement at times from educators, but I didn’t hear callousness or ambivalence. Those whom God has called to serve in theological education have a deep passion and heart for the people of God.
Another insight that was striking had to do with the array of assumptions and expectations of young leaders who should be thinking about formal theological education. It was surprising that most of them were neither considering theological education, nor were they anticipating being a part of the ministerial as a profession. The idea of ministry was exciting, but the ideas of the schooling needed to become a pastor and being a pastor itself were not interesting to most of them.
Q. What do you see as some of the greatest obstacles regarding the future of theological education in Central and Eastern Europe?
A. Here are a few:
- Economics of the Academy. The resources needed to invest well in the theological development of the next generation in the current approach of formal education are significant and, for many, a significant barrier to access.
- Career Orientation. Somehow we will need to develop in young leaders the ability to recognize and nurture a calling of God into the ministry, even amidst career options that are much more lucrative.
- Sectarianism in the Church. If the factions within the evangelical church require an educational system that is designed strictly for their own theological distinctions, it will be difficult to get the momentum of a critical mass and the economies of scale needed to build a broader evangelical movement of theological learning.
- Pedagogical Style. As in other parts of the world, the way in which theology is taught is in need of refreshment. Many professors teach similarly to how they have been taught, in lecture and presentation. This is difficult for the younger generation to receive.
- Nurturing of Professors. Teachers of theology will need to be encouraged, connected, and resourced to maximize their effectiveness in developing a new generation of leaders for the church.
- Educational Strategy. In order to overcome some of the barriers to access and provide ongoing formation for students, the way theology is delivered will need to be reconsidered. The assumptions of formal schooling will have to be examined and re-examined. We will need to think carefully and creatively about alternative models that will uphold the standards of quality while adapting to the realities of contemporary contexts.
Q. What are some of the standout reasons you found which give you hope for the future?
A. There are many reasons to have hope for the future.
a) Leaders in both the theological academy and the church are deeply committed to the theological formation of the next generation of leaders.
b) There are many innovations and new models emerging from all over Central and Eastern Europe, many of which are very promising and worth adoption by others. (The report catalogues some of these “bright lights,” but there are certainly more to be discovered.)
c) Leaders and churches are working together with more unity than ever before.
d) The young generation is passionate and dedicated to bring the gospel of Christ to others.
e) The study of theology, no less than any time in history, is pertinent to a life of faith and service.
Q. How do you see this study benefiting theological education in Central and Eastern Europe in the immediate future?
A. Our hope is that the findings from this report will get into the hands of many people who care about the future leadership of the church.
For many, these findings will confirm what they have been seeing and experiencing. For others, this report might illuminate aspects of the challenge that have been overlooked. Our desire is for these perspectives, ideas, and illustrations to stir within leaders some possibilities for the future.
We hope it will provide new ideas, suggest new solutions, and frame new ways of approaching the future of theological education. We trust that it will encourage those who have been serving faithfully in theological education and prompt an array of responses for the future.
Q. What do you hope to do next? What are your plans for the year ahead?
A. We are intending to gather groups of leaders in these regions to consider the findings and their implications. These forums will happen throughout the regions of Central and Eastern Europe to encourage reflection and action going forward.
MORE ABOUT STEVE PATTY
Dr. Patty's report, “A View of Theological Education in Central and Eastern Europe,” has been published in book form and is available for purchase.