This is a guest post but the author has requested that he remain anonymous. Views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of this blog.
Day one of bible college and a set of fresh faced, young students are gathered to explore what it means to be a leader in their local churches. The tutor comes in, prays, does a short bible reading, unpacks it’s meaning then asks us to participate in the following exercise:
In this exercise I want us to look at 6 short example essays. These are NOT real essays but are the type of thing the faculty and I have received in the past. I want you, in groups of 4, to analyse each essay and come back to me with everything you picked out that was wrong.
After half an hour or so, the groups came back together. The tutor began to go round the room, asking the groups to produce their findings. It wasn’t that hard to find what was wrong as some of the essays were blatantly ridiculous. The discussion quickly escalated into mocking and sneering at the thought that there are people out there that would dare to hand essays in like this.
At that moment, I suddenly realised there are people that I will be pastoring in the future – indeed, am pastoring now – who would write essays like this. The mockery and sneering tone turned my stomach and made me realise the type of people (on the whole) that Bible College is aimed at. I’m not talking about people who mock and sneer (I’m northern, it’s in my DNA), I’m talking about how this exercise made clear that, on a whole, in order to succeed in Bible College – even on vocational courses like the one I am on – you already have to be well educated, well read and able to produce well written essays.
My question is this: Is that biblical? Have we created a culture in ministry training that only allows for the academic elite to prosper and leaves behind those who are less academic but nevertheless biblically qualified?
I’m a person that falls under the bracket of “not academic.” I had to work hard educating myself in order to to keep up and understand all the content (that is genuinely very good) geared toward people with degrees and higher. I am not saying the content of these courses is what needs to change. It is the way these courses deliver their content that needs to change. I do not claim to have all the answers but those who are running these courses need to be asking themselves a question: how can we create accessible, accredited courses for those with little to no previous formal education?
Again, I want to stress that I am not talking about “dumbing down” content or only teaching the basics. Just because people have little previous education does not mean they are thick! I am talking about making the content more accessible by factoring in that people may not be used to the intensity of an academic course. Here are some thoughts about things I believe need to be reconsidered.
Strict time constraints and deadlines
I am a tradesman who completed a 4-year apprenticeship. The best thing about it was that I did it at my own pace and most of my learning happened whilst I was actually doing the job with a mentor watching over me. When I made mistakes, I learned from them; when I forgot how to do stuff, I asked questions. People were patient with me as I learnt my trade whilst (not so gently) correcting and training me along the way. For some people, learning takes time. Putting strict time constraints and deadlines in place just makes people more bothered about meeting targets and less bothered about mastering the content. It may even lead them to resent the subject altogether.
Too much reading over short periods of time
I love to read. But guess when I started reading properly? Not until I got married! And it was a slow process. When I started reading I wasn’t churning out a book a night like my wife does. I’d like to process what I was reading, reflect on it, take it in. The problem on Bible courses isn’t the books or the content, it’s the MASSIVE chunks you have to read in such a short space off time. For slow readers like me, increasing the amount of time to allow for processing and reflection would help.
I got an A on an GCSE English paper I did once in class. It was mock exam so it didn’t count to my final mark. But I remember the teacher saying that my grammar and spelling are atrocious and I’ll probably drop lots of marks in the actual exam (even this has been edited for me!). He then went on to praise the piece for its content and understanding. So my suggestion for Bible College essays is this: how about we stop marking based on grammar and spelling. Instead, why not ask the right question of the essays being written: what do they say about the subject they are written on?
There’s just three things to get us thinking. I can almost hear, already, the cries of Professors and Doctors, ‘How can we teach good, solid theology without dumbing down the content!’ A wise man recently told me, the best types of teachers are those who can take deep, complicated truths and present them clearly enough for a child to understand. He was a professor. I think that’s where it starts.