I was recently made aware of a review of Ministerial education for Churches of Christ in Victoria which seemed, upon close examination, to actually be a hatchet job on my theological alma mater.
My wife and I are no longer in ministry in Churches of Christ, and in fact were ordained for ministry in the Anglican Church in 1998. Such a change may disqualify me from making credible reflection on the report recently presented to the Vic-Tas Conference Council, but in just the same way that when people migrate to other countries than the place of their birth retain a strong affinity with their "homeland" I, on the recommendation of my Archbishop, took my Churches of Christ heritage with me into the Anglican Church and retain my affection for the faith community that nurtured me. So I feel I may have some qualification to make comment.
I have taken some interest in the general drift towards a non-denominational conservative evangelical ethos across the nation, so far as Churches of Christ is concerned, and have often wondered at the propensity of congregations to call as their ministers people (usually men, I notice these days) who have not history or schooling in the particularities of the history and witness of Churches of Christ. A decade or so ago, it was the case that fewer than 40% of the ministers serving Churches of Christ congregations in WA were trained in a denominationally linked seminary or done any further study to gain that denominational ethos. Why should it be surprising then, then that as a people Churches of Christ no longer knew what they stood for - unless you had come to the view that all that stuff was now archaic or an anacronism in a modern world?
Your report may closely reflect the political realities of Churches of Christ on the Eastern seaboard, but as a first-time reader, I could not help but feel that not only did the terms of reference pre-determine the outcome of the review, your own language in writing the review reflects a tendency towards the outcomes - what a surprise.
Three issues that were not well acknowledged by the report came to my mind:
* The liberal theological stance of CCTC is a matter that the Conference of Vic-Tas has wrestled with since the College began in 1908. The Author would have witnessed the frequent villification of Principal Lyle Williams in his day. The preamble draws attention to this as a general phenomenon yet the recommendations seem to persue an agenda by which it is hoped this "gap between churches and theological colleges" can be eliminated.
* And it seems to me from my own experience as a graduate of the College that they have a long history of seeking to remedy the general criticism in your preamble of seminary education as cloistered and academic. Much effort has been put into ensuring that graduates are well prepared for the practical realities of the ministry they are preparing for. This did not compromise the determination to develop good faculties in critical thinking. Perhaps the commendation of the SFE program and some other aspects give this issue some credit.
* Finally, the College has been the bastion of preserving and promoting the theological and ecclesiastical heritage of Churches of Christ that was vouchsafed to us all by the Cambells. This has been done out of a conviction that we will lose our way into the future if we do not know where we come from.
One thing that did surprise me about the review was that the author relied almost entirely on data gathered from the respondents to a survey and interviews. As a social scientist I would have compared that feedback with any of a whole lot of demographic data that could have been obtained from various sources (Conference Handbooks and NCLS data) in order to assess whether the sample is representative on other criteria. For example, the number of people in solo vs team ministries in the sample could have been compared with data from the Vic/Tas handbook of all member congregations. Similarly, the sample could have been compared with the whole population of ministers for whether or not they graduated from a Churches of Christ seminary. Finaly, in this respect, the claim in the Excursus on p.19 that larger churches are less likely to be led by a denominationaly trained minister along side data from your own churches could have been compared with actual data. To what extent is the claim made consistent with the reality in your states?
Two more minor details are worthy of my attention. On p.24 in evaluating ministry training, I wonder to what extent the claim in the last sentence of the paragraph - "It is in the practical areas of ministry relating to leadership and management that graduates felt under-prepared." - is consistent with the data. The table on that page simply identifies Church Administration/ Magement as the area with the lowest rersponse "Satisfied or Very Satisfied" - quite a different piece of data than an indication of being "under-prepared".
Secondly, on p.29 a dot-pointed list summarising findings regarding CCTC made reference to four significant strengths in the program of ministerial training at the College, but three seem to allude to unfounded negative impressions -
* reference is made to "charges" - where are these referred to elsewhere in the review, and who brought the charges? And on what basis is it concluded that the College encourages so-called liberality of thought without a care for the good or ill consequences of it? Yet the "charges" are "sustained."
* the observation is made that CCTC graduates are more likely to preside over smaller congregations with the implication that their liberal theological views are the reason for this, but with no basis or data to back it up;
* and given one of your later recommendations, the observation that CCTC graduates "are more likely to value academic rigor, endoresement and ordination" is also an implied criticism that is lacking in explanation as to its meaning.
Finally, I would like to offer some reflections on the Recommendations, not least because I have some concerns about many of them individually. My first issue with them, though, is that while the so-called PURPOSE of the review (Terms of Reference p.45) is to obtain a broad-ranging assessment of the ministry training and formational needs of the states into the future, yet the the almost monocular focus of the recommendations on macro and micro reform of CCTC would suggest either that the review has failed, or that it was executing another agenda - as one of my colleagues put it "A hatchet job".
So, to the actual recommendations, if I may be afforded the privilege of commentary:
1. The appointment of Dr Andrew Menzies as Principal was neither "a break from past traditions" nor, in the view of many of my colleagues, "a positive move". Former Principal, Dr Greg Elseden came from a Baptist tradition but shared his theological education with many CCTC graduates, through the ETA, and was a champion of the distinctive witness of Churches of Christ. It was not a surprise, then, when he moved on from the College that he toook a ministry position in a Church of Christ in South Australia. However, Dr Menzies' former position as Chairman of the Board of Tabor College and his other ministry experiences seem from this vantage-point entirely disconnected from Churches of Christ.
2. Regarding the purpose of CCTC, and I am not fully aware of what it means for CCTC to be a "partner department" of the Vic/Tas Conference, I think it is innappropriate to refer to Vic/Tas as "the parent organisation". Nothing could be further from the truth. I concede that there may be room for collaborative discussions that might bring a closer alignment between the purposes of the College and the needs of the states, but it must be remembered that CCTC serves a wider consitituency than Vic/Tas Churches of Christ.
3. Renaming the College? Yes CCTC is cumbersome, but it declares very clearly what it is about - the Churches of Christ Theological College. While the former name had some ambiguity as to its denominational ownership, it had an historical connection that was worthy of its day. Is it thought that people really believe that the departure from the name "College of the Bible" heralded a departure from its solid foundation of biblical scholarship? Is that what is behind the concern about changing the name?
4. Recommendations about Leadership Expectations, I think, is evidence of the pervasive influence of management-speak within the church, and it is, I believe completely contrary to Gospel Values. As an anecdotal observation I offer the view that those I know in business and the church who have done specific graduate study in the field of LEADERSHIP demonstrate a complete inability to work in teams and are so ego-driven that they leave behind them, in business and the church, a huge toll of damaged human beings, the collateral damage of their turbo-charged egos. The first recommendation on p.39 - Local Church Governance - identifies a significant stumbling block of a different kind in achieving this goal.
5. The curriculum comes in for some commentary and recommendations on your part. I wonder why a program of ministerial training should seek to reduce the studies in pastoral care (something fundamental to pastoral ministry) and replace these with studies in leadership. Perhaps some Old Testament Biblical studies could be jettisoned for the sake of LEADERSHIP studies.
6. Integrated Theological Studies - I am not sure what the review is really alluding to here. I suspect the proposition is borne out or a reframing of old questions concerned with a perceived lack or relevance and practicality. Since in other places the review seems to mark CCTC rather well in this area, I am not sure of the point.
7. The Classroom - it has been the bane of higher educational institutions for generations that those who may be best qualified academically in a field do not necessarily have the requisite skills to impart that expertise effectively in a classroom. Yet Higher Educational institutions continue to gradute competent and functional practitioners - I suggest that the same is true for all seminaries, regardless of denomination. The suggested remedy for this, I should think, falls within existing practices of the college. I teach at VOSE seminary here in Perth and at the end of each semester course I teach feedback is sought from students that address the three dot-points you have offered. I would be surprised if the CCTC was not also involved in this cycle of continuous quality improvement as well. However, the suggestion of spilling all staff positions at the college, presumably not including the Principal, is unnecessarily threatening - we all know what it means when it is said "all current staff be encouraged to reapply for their positions." The spill is a mechanism to get rid of pre-determined staff withou going through due process of performance management.
8. Public Relations - the image that is portrayed by any institution through its PR machinery is dependant on three things: a. its own mission and vision; b. its goals around market-share; and c. the resources it makes available for the task. I think the review may have identified some issues that need to be addressed by the college, but in the end it will all depend on these three things.
9. CCTC Governance - if the context of this review is a community of churches that is vague about its denominational identity and direction, how is the recruitment of non-CCTC graduates and new-comers to the denomination going to strengthen the Board? Or is this meant to to be an educative process for those new-comers so that they could discover the merits of a denominational identity?
10. Post-Graduate Studies - the review mentions ACOMs MA in Leadership Studies but says nothing of the existing post-graduate courses offered through CCTC. The Grad Dip Min is an ideal starting point for any from outside the tradition and the MMin and MTheol courses all provide pathways to discover more about ministry.
11. Local Church Governance - Could I suggest that in respect of the issue of a failure of leadership in the church, this recommendation is far more responsible than anything the College may or may not do? So long as this "Democracy gone mad" (as Bill Tabbernee sometimes called it) is left unchanged, ministers will continue to have their expertise and leadership stymied by local governance issues. Having said that, I am concerned about an emerging style of local church governance that places both power and authority almost completely into the hands of the Senior Minister and his own select group of elders - after all, the people have called him to lead, they should sit back and let him do so. This model may suit the turbo-charged egos I mentioned above, but it does not necessarily provide leadership. As has been said elsewhere, "if there aint no-one behind you, you aint a leader."
12. Ministry Formation/Endorsement - twenty years ago I persuaded the Advisory Board in WA to introduce a system of formation and endorsement similar to that in Vic/Tas. The focus of this was almost entirely on formation into the traditions and witness of Churches of Christ for those who had come from other traditions. There was similar resistance here to that described in the review, but I find it hard to understand the grounds for complaint. When I sought to join the Anglican Church I was required to attend regular formational sessions about what it meant to be an Anglican for nearly two years. There is nothing that prior learning by an "outsider" can do to diminish the demands of this. So long as you propose an open pathway for all-comers to take up ministry in your church, you will continue to lose sight of the heritage that you supposedly give witness to.
13. Ordination - I was surprised by the naivete of the question about ordination. Ordination has always been a function of the national body of Churches of Christ because of the view that those ordained were ordained for ministry in the whole church. (Remember I sat on the Federal Executive for a few years and my wife was a CCTC Board Member for a few years) I don't think it is a problem, really, for the state to organise ordination so long as the ordination is regonised across all jurisdictions. In WA, graduates from the many training pathways here, have the opportunity to be ordained, but the State organises the ordination on behalf of the National Council. Perhaps the same could be set up in Vic/Tas.
14. Recommendations Regarding ACOM - There is a long history, I believe, of attempts to facilitate better co-operation between CCTC and ACOM but it is my observation that these have failed for two basic reasons - a lack of trust between the parties; and a determination by ACOM to become a national college despite its lack of national jurisdiction. This empire-building passion of ACOM is something I felt quite personally in WA when I helped to set up the Churches of Christ Ministry Training Centre here. Without any consideration or consultation, just as we were seeking to implement a multi-pathway approach to ministry training in this state, including the use of visiting lecturers from both CCTC and ACOM, they set up an ACOM off-campus centre at the South Perth Church of Christ. This completely undermined the initiative we were taking but our system of congregational autonomy left us with no capacity to prevent it - and ACOM knew it. Having said that, I agree that it would be a good thing if this culture could be broken down and replaced with one of greater mutual trust. However, winning back trust when it has been broken is a very hard thing to do. My greater concern about the recommendations about ACOM in this report is that they reveal to me what seems to be the real agenda of the review. Indeed, given the author's past experience as an off-campus centre leader in Wollongong, I am surprised he didn't disqualify himself from conducting the review because of the possible perception of a conflict of interest. In crude language, the thrust of these recommendations seem to be to cut CCTC down to size and give ACOM free reign as a competitor in an open theological market.
As I mentioned above, the focus on CCTC in this review of Theological Education and Ministry Formation in Victoria and Tasmania seems to betray a pre-determined outcome for the review and for this reason, its significance will be diminished. Had the review given consideration to the many pathways potential ministry candidates choose to follow in their preparation for ministry in Churches of Christ and offered recommendations about ways to better integrate them with your traditions, then discussion of the contributions that both CCTC and ACOM could make to that end might have been meaningful. Instead, the review comes across very clearly as a means for straightening out CCTC - at last - and as a platform for the author to promote his well know views on leadership.
I trust you have taken the time to read through all this. Once I got started I felt I needed to address all those things that concerned me rather than trying to synthesise them into a few brief comments that had insufficient content to make them meaningful.
I would be interested in your response to the issues I have raised.
ROBERT INCHAUSTI: SUBVERSIVE ORTHODOXY
3 years ago