The way you talk betrays the way you think. The way you think determines the way you act. Words are therefore very important and no more so than in theological education. The problem is that we are talking about it in the wrong way – in the language of business.
The “products” of our colleges used to be the students. Now, they are the courses because these are the things we sell in the marketplace. We enjoy talking about “delivery” of our products (even home delivery) which, when you think about it, is a terrible word to use for a process of education. But each college or seminary now has a marketing director to design the company logo, print the catalogue of products, attend a company stand at exhibitions and place advertisements for our products. What is especially important is our organisation’s “niche marketing” and so our websites are designed professionally for this to come through.
There is plenty of talk nowadays of the student as consumer of higher education and consumer satisfaction (which is increasingly measured), not least because they have a choice and can take their money elsewhere, to other colleges or universities selling similar products. Quality control of the manufacturing process becomes important and careful specifications in “graduate profiles” are used to test the goods leaving the factory.
It may be that we have been so worried about the academisation of our colleges that we have allowed the commodification of our processes to slip in under the radar un-observed.
How has this happened? For five reasons;
- Our increasing closeness to the secular academy which is going in this direction at high speed.
- The number of businessmen and secular educators on our college and seminary boards – some of whom cannot make their expertise available carefully enough.
- A genuine desire to be accountable and professional in our financial dealings.
- The financial climate which causes many colleges to struggle in as many ways as possible to break even.
- Over provision in some areas of theological education, too many colleges with too many places to fill and too small a pool of potential students.
There is, of course, much that is good in this development. We can talk of faithfulness, contextualisation into our contemporary society, wisdom in difficult times and the preservation of colleges with long traditions and great ministries.
But there are serious problems about the way we speak and act in this area. Few can doubt that this is becoming an over-contextualisation which has crossed the line into syncretism. We should be more different from the world. There is also a careful difference between what the students want and what the students need which, in humility, teachers are there to discern. Vast amounts of money are now spent on this business/marketing side of the college, especially in the employment of marketing directors, advertisements, etc. And now we are all doing it, we are all back in the same level playing field we were in before, but all are spending much more money.
Above all else, however, this commodification of theological education endangers the very educational process of godly thoughtful student development. Potential students need to make godly decisions about where they should study, not be cleverly enticed. Students and teachers need to be able to sit before the Word of God and the ideas of theology not entirely knowing what will come out of the encounter. They need to have exciting times in the presence of God regardless of the testing process. They need to be accompanied on their development not squeezed into a set of specifications.
None of that is promoted by the language of the factory – but maybe these are the very things which will attract godly students.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized